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New strategy aims to put people at ‘the heart of decision-making’

The Government has pledged to put people and communities ‘at the heart of decision-making’ as part of its first Civil Society Strategy in 15 years.

The new strategy contains a number of new measures, including an ‘innovation in democracy’ pilot scheme, which would trial new ways for people to take a more ‘direct role’ in decisions that affect their local area.

According to the strategy document, this could include citizen juries or using online voting or smartphone apps to allow more people to have a say on community issues.

The document also promises to improve the use of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 to make sure that public sector organisations, including councils, generate more social value when awarding contracts.

It also includes plans to establish an independent organisation that will distribute £90m from dormant bank accounts to help put disadvantaged young people into employment.

According to the Government, this new organisation will harness the experience of grassroots youth workers, businesses, and other local services, to help young people achieve their full potential.

‘Our strategy builds on this spirit of common good to help create a country that works for everyone,’ said civil society minister, Tracey Crouch.

‘I want people, organisations and businesses to feel inspired to get involved and make a difference,’

‘Through collaboration, we will unlock the huge potential of this incredible sector, help it grow, support the next generation and create a fairer society.’

The new strategy comes at a time when local authorities are finding themselves under renewed financial pressures.

Northamptonshire County Council has today (August 9) agreed a series of spending cuts to help balance its books, after warning it needed to make between £60m and £70m of savings this financial year.

Writing on his online blog, the chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit, Jonathan Carr-West, described the new strategy as ‘Groundhog Day for civil society’.

‘The DCMS strategy acknowledges that “Local authorities are uniquely placed to bring together all partners, including the voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations, to take a wider view in addressing some of the key challenges faced by communities and to ensure the most vulnerable people are not left behind”,’ wrote Mr Carr-West.

‘But they can’t do that when they are fighting for their very survival and reducing services to a bare statutory minimum.’

The chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), Sir Stuart Etherington, commented: ‘Today’s strategy is an encouraging start, carrying a strong recognition of the role that civil society plays in tackling some of today’s greatest challenges, and of the need to ensure its involvement in developing new solutions.

‘The real test will be embedding the strategy’s aspirations across government, ensuring expert charities are truly involved in policy-making, and that procurement processes work as well for smaller charities as they do for big outsourcing companies,’ added Sir Stuart.

To read the full Civil Society Strategy document, click here.

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