Our response to Danny Kruger's report

Many of the ideas in this report are welcome, we urge the government not to delay and work with charities to implement these recomendations.

Rachel Cain

Rachel Cain

Public Affairs and National Programme Officer

Today Danny Kruger MP published his review on how we can sustain community spirit. We had the opportunity to share our recommendations in the role of civil society in levelling up and we’re encouraged to see that some of these recommendations have been considered in this report.

Small but vital charities are key to the recovery and supporting the Government’s “levelling up” of the people and communities that have been left behind. Danny Kruger rightly highlights the critical role of local charities and that we risk losing some essential organisations without new support.  

The report starts by recognising the incredible way in which civil society has responded to the crisis. This echoes what we’ve heard from small and local charities throughout the pandemic – the role they’ve played as connectors, enablers and direct responders to ensure that everyone in their local communities is safe and well. Danny Kruger was tasked with undertaking this review to understand how we can build on this response going forward to build stronger, more resilient communities in the longer term.

As well as paying credit to the way charities have responded to the crisis, it’s important to recognise what they’re still up against. Many people have struggled to weather the storm of the pandemic – we’ve seen domestic abuse escalating under lockdown; asylum seekers have not been eligible to access support so they can have a safe home or enough to eat; many people have struggled with mental ill health. Charities have stepped up and adapted to respond to all of this and their work has never been more needed. But as demand for their services has risen, charities have seen their income disappear overnight. And the storm hasn’t passed yet. Many of the charities we work with tell us how they’re expecting demand to keep rising as the impacts of the crisis continue to unfold. In this context, it’s welcome to see the report calling for a Community Recovery Fund to ensure the sustainability of the vital services that communities will need in the months ahead.

In both our contribution to this review, and our longer term work with national and local government, we’ve been pushing to ensure that commissioning works better for small and local charities. It’s good to see the report call for ‘a more collaborative and trusting model of service design and commissioning’ – but it’s vital that the renewed focus on social value that it calls for recognises the distinctive kinds of social value that small and local charities generate. This goes beyond just collecting more quantitative data and needs those involved in procurement and commissioning to understand what makes small charities distinctive and why that matters in terms of the value they bring – as our research shows, the most valuable measures are often those that capture the qualitative impact that charities have on individuals, communities and the economy.

A strong theme in the report’s recommendations is for local charities and communities to have a greater say in the design and policies of local services. We’re pleased to see this focus on local as we have been pushing for a local by default approach, taking the learning from our work with Locality on  Keep it Local, through which local authorities across England have transformed the way they work to create more responsive services that invest in the local economy – and this has been seen even more clearly in the response to the pandemic. Keep it Local shows what can already be done even before inclusion within the Community Improvement Districts outlined in the report, but such approaches need to be spread further.

However, as we highlighted in our contribution to the review, local authorities are struggling under the strain of years of budget cuts, and need sustainable funding to ensure vital services can continue – without this missing piece, it will be much harder for many of the report’s recommendations to come to fruition.

The report does recognise that many communities were struggling even before the pandemic, and this is a big focus of the government’s agenda to ‘level up’, ensuring that communities which have been hardest hit have the resources and autonomy to rebuild. In our contribution to this review, we called for levelling up to be underpinned by three principles - strong relationships, small and local charities playing a core role, and a long term approach. If the government is serious about this ambition, it’s vital that small and local charities are at the centre of their approach. The ‘community power’ that the report talks about is embodied in everything they do, with their unique connections and understanding of their communities, needed to address inequalities and drive longer term change.

Real community power comes from work in genuine collaboration with people to ensure they have a voice in their community, and the resources to put this into action. This is the principle behind the Community Wealth Fund, an idea which we’ve been advocating for – using dormant assets to target funding at the areas that need it most, with decision making devolved to local communities. It’s good to see this recognised in the proposal of a Levelling Up Communities Fund, to address the inequalities in social infrastructure that existed even before the pandemic hit.

Many of the ideas in the report are welcome, and it’s important that this conversation continues to bring in voices from across civil society. But what’s needed most of all is urgent action. Some of the ambitions in this report are a good start, but without cross-government support and longer term resources, there’s a risk that they’ll remain just ambitions. Charities and the communities are ready and waiting to work with the government on putting these recommendations into action.