The Voluntary and Community Sector: The Paradox of Becoming Centre-Stage in the Big Society

Published 14/09/2011
Type Article
Author(s) Paul Senior
Corresponding Authors Professor Paul Senior, Hallam Centre for Community Justice, Sheffield Hallam University

The advance of Blairite modernisation in criminal justice promised a mixed economy of provision capturing the best of public, private and voluntary sector enterprise. This gave an impetus to the Voluntary Sector (then identified as the Third Sector) to penetrate further into provision for reducing re-offending. Across the seven pathways the VCS became increasingly a partner, or at least a provider, in the provision of services, though still subject to the vagaries and uncertainties of the commissioning process in both prison and community settings. This paper will explore the contradictions in seeking to become a key player in this agenda, drawing on original research exploring the enhanced role of the sector (Senior et al., 2005). Concerns centre on the loss of the traditional independence of services; the compromise to values and capacity for innovation; an increasing business orientation and the consequent growth of new or re-fashioned VCS organisations, which often copy the business orientation of the fledging private sector. This has now taken on a new twist since the election in 2010 with the Big Society and rehabilitation revolution explicitly appealing to community engagement and the voluntary sector seeing this as further potential for growth now more at the expense of the public sector than in partnership with such collaboration coming more from private sector  alliances. This paper concludes by asking questions around this positive vision of civil society as seen by the new government and questions whether services may be delivered on the cheap by agencies, buoyed by government support, but ill-prepared and ill-equipped to take over public provision to the extent which the rhetoric invites.