Killing civil society with kindness?

Barry Knight

Since 1997, the Government in the UK has embarked on a remarkable experiment with the voluntary non-profit sector. Ministerial speeches have extolled the virtues of voluntary action. There has been more public money made available to the sector, a commitment to include it in public service delivery, a strategy to build the capacity of the sector, new legislation, a new enhanced Government Office of the Third Sector, and a host of ways to influence government policy. Never before has a government intervened so much in civil society with such apparently benign intent. This looks ideal, but do these gifts come at the price of independence and are voluntary organizations becoming a creature of government?

Opinions within the voluntary sector are polarized. One side, led by the Association of Chief Executives in Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), sees government policy as a major opportunity to gain access to money, revolutionize public service delivery, gain a seat at the table, and grow to scale so that the non-profit sector is a leading force in society.

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