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Government misses chance to integrate civil society into policy agenda

Post byAndrew O'Brien

What's a cabinet committee?

It’s probably just politicos like myself that get excited by the appointments to Cabinet Committees, but they are far more important than the much more prestigious Cabinet where only top level discussions take place. These committees handle the day-to-day decision making of government and are where the policy agenda of the government is hammered out between the various competing departments. Those committees on Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Economic policy are the most important, but there are a number of small committees which work on particular topical areas, such as the committee that has now been created on the European Referendum.

Charity is not all about poverty...

The government has today unveiled the structure of the Cabinet Committees, but the Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson MP, sits on only one committee – the Social Justice committee which considers poverty, equality and social justice. This is unfortunate, as it means in many cases, the voice of civil society will be out of the room when decisions are being made. Charities work across a number of areas and the Social Justice committee covers only a small range of the work that we do. It also means that the government is missing a great opportunity to integrate civil society into a number of key policy areas. Take health. Only last year, the government was facing challenges with the pressure on A&E services. Charities have been supporting many GP practice and hospitals around the country to reduce admissions, but at a national level, this work is not being properly integrated into plans for the future. Having the Minister for Civil Society sitting on Home Affairs Committee would enable the capacities and capabilities of the sector to be brought to the table. This government has also set up a number of ‘implementation’ committees to look at specific policy areas for example, health and social care. But again, the opportunity for integrating the work of charities has been missed. If we look at the committee on tackling extremism, it is common sense that the government will need to work with civil society, but rather than being at the top table, it is likely that charities will be used as an instrument rather than as part of policy development. The news over the past 24 hours has been debating the merits of the government’s proposals for 30 hours of free childcare a week for three and four year olds and the challenges of implementation. However, this ignores the work that many charities are already doing in this area and the role that they can play in leveraging in social capital through volunteering.

Giving civil society a seat at the table

The views of charities are likely to be canvassed across departments, but the views of the sector can often be lost in the cacophony of voices. This makes the role of the Minister for Civil Society important as a place to bring in the views of the charities and ensure that spending programmes and policies are constructed in a way that enables the sector to play its part. Although not all charities are the same, there are features in the work of charities and their structure that are universal. Having a Minister raising those issues and putting them into the heart of planning is important. Like the main Cabinet, these committees will be reshuffled over the course of the Parliament; perhaps we need to push the government to give civil society a seat at the table?  

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