Make or break time for the voluntary sector: NCIA goes out with a challenge
When do you know it’s time to call it a day? For the past decade the National Coalition of Independent Action (NCIA) has been sounding an alarm bell: voluntary groups are failing in their democratic job as an independent force for positive change, and must fight back. Now, after 10 years, we have decided to close. I’ll attempt to explain why.
When we started, our message was seen as scaremongering, eccentric and wrong.
Now, however, the consequences are only too visible. Charities work under contract to state and private sector bodies, muzzled from speaking out for fear of losing their funding, their ‘seat at the table’ or being in breach of the Lobbying Act. We don’t need to make the case any longer. Nobody can say they have not been warned.
We have tried to persuade mainstream voluntary services to defend their autonomy and speak out, with others, in pursuit of social justice, and against the erosion of our rights and the dismantling of our public services and civic spaces. Most have not responded to this call; indeed many have simply turned themselves into lookalike private businesses. Many charities now compete aggressively for a share of privatised public services, and form partnerships with profit-hungry global corporations on the back of zero-hours contracts. Whole workforces are being sacked and then re-employed on poorer terms and conditions. Much of the sector has acquiesced to government pressure to back off from the campaigning work that opposes damaging policies.
Despite this, it has become abundantly clear that the current government has become disinterested in charities when it has the likes of Serco and G4S to do its bidding. The new persona of charitable work has not been lost on the public either – trust has fallen and reputations damaged. Many in the voluntary sector now find themselves in a cul-de-sac of their own making.
NCIA has provided the evidence and an analysis for action but we know that we can’t rescue voluntary groups from the hostile world they now inhabit. Only they can do it, if they choose.
Our aim has not been to keep NCIA going for the sake of it, but to have a purpose out in the world, and to stop when we have done our job, or can no longer carry out that purpose. Closing is the right thing to do and we’re proud of our decision. A new space is needed to carry on this struggle and we know that it will emerge.
Although NCIA will disappear, others will continue to push for social justice, equality, diversity and the defence of rights, entitlements and decent public services. An open letter on NCIA’s closure, signed by more than 65 groups – including voluntary sector trade union Unite – shows the breadth of those voices which will not be silenced. We hope that this will encourage the faint-hearted that it is possible to speak up for better ways of doing things.
We can hear more and more voices of protest and calls for change to the status quo and a welcome rise in grassroots activism. The future lies with new alliances and ways of organising amongst voluntary and community groups, activists, unions, academics and others determined to halt the erosion of our social protections, the rise of gross inequality, the worship of profit and the demonisation of those damaged by such ideologies – both inside and outside the UK.
We leave our website as a resource for those wanting to access the research, the stories, evidence and connections we have gathered. And for those wanting to be part of the “next generation for independent action”, the NCIA Facebook continues, as does our discussion space on the National Community Activist Network.
We have met so many friends and allies over the last 10 years, including our colleagues and comrades in Unite, in Unison and in the TUC. We want to say thank you to all for your practical support and solidarity. And remember, as the great Bob Dylan famously wrote…. keep on keeping on!