Community sector larger than Civil Service?

According to the University of Ulster, several hundred of the 30,000 community based jobs in Northern Ireland could be endangered if the British government fails to access a minimum of £120 million set aside for Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein MEP, Bairbre de Bruin:

“The promotion and empowerment of the community sector must be a priority for the British Government if that sector is to be able to carry on its vital work of peace building and reconciliation. Without wishing to be alarmist, it is increasingly clear that if PEACE III funding is not secured then many community organisations and projects involved in peace building and reconciliation will find themselves in a precarious financial position. I have witnessed at first hand the invaluable work undertaken throughout the Six Counties (Northern Ireland) and the border region”.

But Jim Allister MEP of the DUP questioned the size (larger than the NI civil service) and effectiveness of the sector:

“I was astounded at the figures released yesterday by the University of Ulster showing that more than 30,000 people work for community organisations in Northern Ireland and the neighbouring counties within the Republic of Ireland. I wonder who all is funded within the community sector and what are these people doing to ensure there is a meaningful benefit to the communities in which they work.”

  • Conor

    To Jim.
    Can i ask what work your party has ever done in reconciling the two communities? im absolutley sure that the community groups are doing and will continue to do a fantastic job. as usual, it would be the DUP who have a problem wouldnt it?

  • The Devil

    Exellent, close them all down now

  • barnshee

    Devil

    Here Here

  • fair_deal

    “close them all down now”

    As someone who works in the sector I agree wholeheartedly – end all the funding, close down all the groups and destroy a huge amount of social capital.

    I and the others in the sector will look forward to the panic phone calls from politicians and public bodies within at least six to eighteen months and the resultant end to the bitching about the sector.

  • fair_deal

    From the Treasury’s cross-cutting review of the voluntary sector

    VCOs may therefore be able to deliver services more effectively to certain groups
    because their particular structures enable them to operate in environments which the State
    and its agents have found difficult or impossible. And these structures enable them to
    demonstrate more easily a range of specialised skills and experience needed to deliver services.
    The crucial features which VCOs, at their best, may be better able to demonstrate are:
    i. Specialist knowledge, experience and/or skills. This may come through direct
    experience of the user perspective. An example of this might be ex-addicts
    working on a drug rehabilitation programme or ex-offenders working with
    young criminals.
    ii. Particular ways of involving people in service delivery whether as users or
    self-help/autonomous groups. An example here would be an organisation
    working closely with users themselves or their families and friends to plan and
    deliver services.
    iii. Independence from existing and past structures/models of service. VCOs are
    not bound by structures or rules in the ways in which more traditional public
    sector agencies are. They are independent and so can try to deliver services in
    new and innovative ways.
    iv. Access to the wider community without institutional baggage. Public service
    workers are often perceived as representatives of an authority which certain
    groups have learned to mistrust. The VCS is independent of government and
    therefore free to be unequivocally on the user’s side.15
    v. Freedom and flexibility from institutional pressures. The sector can offer
    responsive services which are user-centred as they are not driven by budgets
    and targets within the public sector. At best they can be flexible and innovative
    rather than prescriptive.

  • Animus

    I was going to say the same thing, fair_deal, albeit more succinctly. The Gov’t uses the community sector to deliver services considerably cheaper than it would do so by its own minions. The cuts in some gov’t funds (the Children’s Fund for example) has led to a crisis in terms of programmes like Sure Start which deliver to the most marginalised communities. Isn’t it better to spend money on preventative measures which help minimise inequalities rather than the spend the money further down the line on the criminal justice system? I know I’m taking a bit of a leap here, but people like Jim Allister take for granted the advantages they currently enjoy.

  • GavBelfast

    I’m surprised it’s only 30,000 myself – I thought there was more than that in Derry alone.

    😉

  • Nestor Makhno

    I’ve always noted a certan distain (especially from politicans – and to a lesser extent their civil servants) towards the community sector. I wonder why this is?

    Both groups are (on the whole) funded by the public purse (astonishingly, in the case of our MLAs, even when they’re not in office) to deliver for the public good. The major difference seems to be that the community sector carry out their work for much less money and usually much more efficiently.

    Is such distain perhaps generated by a worry that the community sector are more reflective of, and responsive to, the great unwashed working class who are their main beneficiaries? More so perhaps than people like Jim Allister MEP of the DUP?

  • barnshee

    Fairdeal

    You produce the usual pseudo intellectual scoial work speak known to the rerst of us a claptrap.

    There is HUGE waste in all of the public sector large amounts of overlap between the Public/voluntary/community systems. It has to stop– the end of the “nojob” jobs would be a good start.

    What exact functions/services do these jobs perform?

    (If the govt wish to reduce unemployment by spurios devices then fair enough but say it like it is)

  • idunnomeself

    maybe they are told:
    ‘They are independent and so can try to deliver services in new and innovative ways, The VCS is independent of government and therefore free to be unequivocally on the user’s side and the sector can offer responsive services which are user-centred as they are not driven by budgets
    and targets within the public sector’

    and hear
    ‘give me public money, don’t ask any questions about what I do with it because I’m independent and when I fail it’s because I’m being innovative and you bureaucrats don’t understand what it’s like here’

    Of course there are great groups, doing good things, but they vary in quality widely. Often the VCS gathers the weakest sections of the workforce- unemployed people who drift in through volunteering and the like. Lots of them aren’t terribly effective. I’d say thats why they are suspicious. Experience.

    fair_deal
    I wouldn’t call people employed at tax payers expense ‘social capital’. Surely the voluntary ethos of social capital is the crucial factor?

    Actually a reduction in funding could increase social capital as the organisers of the groups would have to do things themselves, rather than spending their time applying for grants to get staff to do things?

    (Sounds a bit heartless I know!)

  • Animus

    Actually the UK Treasury produced that report quoted by Fair_deal, barnshee, but I see your point.

    Some jobs provided by the community sector:
    Counselling services
    Childcare
    Respite care
    Summer schemes
    Policy and advocacy work
    Environmental work (recycling, conservation, etc)
    A variety of arts groups
    Cross-community work, including some integrated education
    Domestic violence shelters

    Aren’t these all worthwhile endeavors?

    Some groups/individuals don’t have the ability or desire to work with government so rely on voluntary and community groups to assist them – disability and gay and lesbian groups, for instance.

    There is a huge waste in duplication, even among government departments, and huge gaps as well. The Taskforce on Resourcing the Voluntary Sector was looking at how to minimise waste while maximising output. That means some jobs will go, and rightly so. There is nepotism in all fields and some groups are crap. But most are carrying out valuable work that would not go on otherwise, at a far greater cost to society.

  • fair_deal

    barnshee

    “You produce the usual pseudo intellectual scoial work speak known to the rest of us a claptrap”

    That report was produced by Her Majesty’s Treasury NOT social workers. Part of the reports role was to see if it was worthwhile investing money in the sector and it decided it was. I have produced some ‘independent’ evidence you produce prepared bile.

    “There is HUGE waste in all of the public sector large amounts of overlap between the Public/voluntary/community systems. It has to stop– the end of the “nojob” jobs would be a good start.”

    1. Our public sector is too large. Agreed. However, slash and hope is not a strategic approach to diversification of our economy.
    2. Overlap – You have a fundamental misunderstanding of the VCS’s role. It exists to tackle system failure and achieve system change not replication or duplication. It succeeds when mainstream provision adapts its systems to reflect what has been proven to be successful. Where the state service fails e.g. school leavers with no qualifications and government training programmes are terrible (see recent PAC report on jobskills) community edcuation can achieve success with them or where there is a lack of public provision the VCS can provide to meet the demand e.g. in my spare time I volunteer in a youth club. We get about ten thousand in funding a year and the facility is in old prefabs. If the state tried to provide such a service the cost would be substantially higher
    3. Also the VCS is much cheaper than the public sector – Wages are often lower, hours longer, short-term contracts, pension provision patchy to poor.
    4. What duplication exists is often because of the disjointed way government bodies and funders work not with the sector.

    idunnomyself

    “‘They are independent and so can try to deliver services in new and innovative ways, The VCS is independent of government and therefore free to be unequivocally on the user’s side and the sector can offer responsive services which are user-centred as they are not driven by budgets
    and targets within the public sector’”
    “‘give me public money, don’t ask any questions about what I do with it because I’m independent and when I fail it’s because I’m being innovative and you bureaucrats don’t understand what it’s like here’”

    1. This point is not “have the cash and give us a call” but that centralised dictation how to allocate resources and what targets are important is not a perfect system. One size does not always fit all thus the VCS can help address the flaws and gaps of a centralised policy.
    2. Government does ask questions. Lots of them and usually repeatedly.
    3. Some programmes will fail some will succeed. Some businesses succeed some businesses fail. Some public services work others dont.

    “I wouldn’t call people employed at tax payers expense ‘social capital’. Surely the voluntary ethos of social capital is the crucial factor? ”

    1. Social capital in bonding and bridging form can be voluntary and at the taxpayers expense e.g. common use of a school can contribute to bonding and bridging capital in an area but it is still paid for by the public purse while a church facilities can do the same but are paid for by private donations.
    2. Most groups with paid workers began as voluntary and it was the workload involved that necessitate them moving to become employers.
    3. Social capital is in decline in modern democracies so an expectation that cuts lead to a return to voluntarism is questionable.

  • idunnomeself

    ‘3. Social capital is in decline in modern democracies so an expectation that cuts lead to a return to voluntarism is questionable’

    Did Puttnam ever manage to back this up? I’ve only ever seen him assert it.

    I think it’s clear that social capital decreases as the state becomes more interventionist. which would support my theory, not yours!

    State funding to support volunteering could increase social capital. The state starting to pay for what volunteers previously did decreases it.

  • fair_deal

    idunnomeself

    “Did Putnam ever manage to back this up”

    Yes in his book bowling alone he developed the thesis of the original paper of the same name with a range of American social science data.

    “it’s clear that social capital decreases as the state becomes more interventionist”

    The American evidence would not support that.

    “The state starting to pay for what volunteers previously did decreases it.”

    Ths state doesn’t pay for that. State funding can enable groups with voluntary roots to do more than they can solely with ‘free time’ of people. In areas of weak social capital the state provides it as the social capital has not been self-generating.

  • idunnomeself

    I’ve read bowling alone.

    I like his ideas about social capital and find them useful, but I wasn’t convinced by his evidence of decline, and in particular the assertion that it is happening in modern democracies (only? all of them?) isn’t well supported.

    I think there are other causes and effects.

    As I have outlined. social capital will decrease when a big, rich organisation (like a state) comes in and begins to perform functions.

    Eg the Foresters clubs died out when the welfare state was brought in.

    I have watched a community groups social capital shrink when they began to employ people.

    As I have said I find the idea of social cpaital very useful, and I know that much ‘community sector work’ is very valuable. But I don’t think that you can make the argument that funding community work increases social capital, and I don’t think Puttnam ever meant his ideas to be used to support these sorts of interventions.