The independence of voluntary and community organisations from state power flows from the individual citizen’s right to freely associate and act in the public arena. It is not absolute, but neither is it something that is given or sanctioned by government.
Independence is vital to the ability of voluntary and community organisations to remain relevant to the communities they arise from, and to the way they serve people’s needs. Partnerships, alliances and funding relationships should maintain and enhance an organisation’s independence, not threaten it.
a) Organisations should only enter into alliances and partnerships that maintain their independence
We believe that partnerships and alliances can enhance the effectiveness of voluntary and community organisations, whether they are between similar or different voluntary organisations, with private sector companies or statutory bodies. However, we believe that such relationships should be entered into with a full and clear understanding on each side as to the short, medium and long-term implications, and with clear review points. We also believe that forced or coerced partnerships (as criteria for awarding funding for example) are irresponsible.
b) More charities, not less
We do not believe that there are ‘too many charities’; we maintain that increased choice is to the benefit of the end user/beneficiary. We believe that citizens have a fundamental right to organise and support any number of independent charities or other voluntary organisations. Therefore there should not be undue barriers to the setting up of a voluntary organisation in any form; such activity is to be encouraged, not restricted.
c) Organisations should maintain a critical distance from government bodies
As outlined in 4a, we are not against partnership or cooperation with government. However, we believe it is crucial that voluntary and community organisations retain an independent and critical voice regardless of any funding or partnership arrangement. The drive to involve voluntary and community organisations in the delivery of public services has meant that some organisations have become quite dependent on government funding. We think this potentially threatens their ability to retain control over their own activities and to ‘maintain a critical distance’. In a wider sense, we are also concerned that this process may be fundamentally changing what charities are for. We are not against being partners with the state but at what point does that start to become part of the state?