How can Britain rebuild its civil society?

“How can we continue to secure the dignity, wellbeing and happiness of people after nearly a decade of cuts?” pondered the Chief Executive of one London council at a dialogue session for our latest research.

Cuts demand councils deliver better for less – but cuts also inevitably mean they will deliver less for less. This can already be seen in many of the inner city councils particularly impacted on by cuts, where service provision has been scaled back to “statutory at the highest level of need”.

In many areas the hope is that civil society – individuals and organisations which are driven by values of fairness and equality and take action to make their communities a better place to live – will step into this gap. That they will not only compensate for services no longer delivered by local government, but actively transform communities to make them more independent and ultimately, less likely to require public services in the first place.

Delivering on this preventative ambition is imperative, but cannot be expected to happen on its own. It certainly will not happen according to the rules, roles and responsibilities of old systems. Our recent research found that, at the moment, funding landscapes for civil society are fragmented, inefficient, and too top down.

As we argue in Building Bridges: Bringing Councils, Communities and Funders into Dialogue, to build a civil society fit for latter day austerity, the various funders of civil society must collaborate, and put communities in the driving seat to determine what good looks like themselves. To achieve this, several hurdles must be overcome.

First, the lack of clarity about where responsibilities lie, linked to the fact that different funders work at different scales. Many civil society organisations are funded by multiple sources, each with their own priorities, targets and reporting requirements.

For instance, many national independent funders (charitable trusts and foundations) make it…

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