On Wednesday, over 30 voluntary sector leaders came together in London to discuss devolution and the voluntary sector. Over the past few years, regions across England have been agreeing with government ‘deals’ on how to devolve control over critical public services and finances with the aim of stimulating economic growth. Manchester, with its ‘DevoManc’ is perhaps the most well-known example of this trend. However, our sector (despite employing nearly 1m people and contributing over £12bn to the UK economy every year) has often been on the margins of devolution. This is worrying as devolution is likely to shape the future for the communities and beneficiaries we serve for decades to come. The shape of local government is not an abstract concern; it is tightly woven with issues around accountability, service delivery and social exclusion. With this in mind CFG, NAVCA, Locality and Children England decided to host a Summit bringing together voices from across England – infrastructure, service delivering charities and foundations – to consider one simple question: what does our sector think good devolution looks like? It was a long day, focusing on areas such as voice and advocacy, public service reform and the financing of local government. However, in the end we managed to build a consensus around a set of principles for devolution, which you can find on our website. In a nutshell, participants wanted to see devolution carried out in a way that is democratic, ensuring that people understand how power is being transferred and how they can hold authorities and elected officials to account. They didn’t want to see devolution lead to ‘everyone for themselves’ – with the redistribution between rich and poor areas continuing. Regional inequality cannot be ignored just because devolution has taken place. Participants wanted better analysis and mapping of the assets and needs of areas, before financial agreements were made so that regions were not ‘set up to fail’. Finally, there was a desire for continued public service reform working with the sector, so that the needs of service users are taken into account. This is just a snapshot of the issues debated and discussed, but gives a flavour of what we need to be pushing for as a sector. Some parts of the sector have been alive to these issues and working on them for years, but other parts are only now beginning to think about the potential impact. Ultimately, a Summit is not going to achieve anything on its own. But in order to know how we want to proceed, we need to know where we want to go. This Summit has given our sector a chance to do some serious thinking about what we would like devolution to look like and gives us a chance to reset the devolution agenda. This couldn’t be better timed, given the arrival of a new government. CFG and our partners will keep pushing forward on this agenda on the months ahead, and if you’d like to be involved please email firstname.lastname@example.org PS. Make sure you have your say by taking part in our survey with NCVO, Locality, NAVCA and Regional Voices about how voluntary organisations have been involved in devolution.
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