Further to this post, Danny Kruger MP has completed his report on civil society and communities that Boris Johnson tasked him with producing and it has just been published…
I started to read Kruger’s report, Levelling Up Our Communities: Proposals for a New Social Covenant, but then decided I would first read DSC’s policy director Jay Kennedy’s analysis because on other occasions I have found him incisive and accurate. His commentary on Kruger’s report is no exception.
I have to say, I don’t envy Kruger the task that the PM set him — not ever, and certainly not in the current circumstances. But what a largely missed opportunity it seems to be. Frustratingly, it is well written and well argued. And its analysis of why and how successive policy formulations meant to harness the power of civil society have failed, and of the impact of a decade of austerity on communities and the organisations that serve them, is extremely strong — in fact, more acutely and critically argued than anything that Labour has had to say on the subject over the past couple of years.
It’s the proposed solutions that are the problem. For here, as Jay Kennedy rightly says, there is a profound sense of deja-vu.
On the one hand, half-baked ideas from policy initiatives and strategies now lost in the mists of time get a new outing; on the other, more recent policy initiatives — such as the Social Value Act — are refreshed or reinforced, sometimes in useful and innovative ways. For example, the report suggests that all public sector purchasing should have a ‘social value purpose’ (it already does, of course). There is also a recommendation for a Community Right to Serve law that would give local communities and their organisations a right to be involved in policy formulation and service design, and where appropriate to bid for service delivery contracts. Devolution and localisation plans are beefed-up with a proposal for Community Improvement Districts. There is even a suggestion that a new Civil Society Improvement Agency be established (informed by the Cabinet Office ‘What works’ team — an exercise in contradictions, if ever I heard one).
There is also less welcome stuff on data and the need for new and largely unspecified data and monitoring requirements that organisations in receipt of public funding should adhere to. There’s a nod to payment-by-results (good, he thinks) and Social Impact Bonds (also good, he thinks).
Whether the proposals contained here will ever gain traction within government is probably fairly unlikely — especially in the present circumstances. Which is a shame, because there are good and interesting proposals in here. Overall, however, the report is suggestive of a lack of any firsthand experience of the possible shortcomings of its proposals or of their implementational problems…
Although Third Sector Online says that the sector is cautiously welcoming of the report and its proposals, I couldn’t help thinking that in terms of the sector’s needs at the moment and of the historic role it must play in supporting community recovery in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, Levelling Up Our Communities is not enough.