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Critical friends: an independent review of voluntary sector infrastructure in the Criminal Justice System

This report summarises the findings of a comprehensive independent review of infrastructure services for the voluntary sector working in the Criminal Justice System. The views of 157 organisations and individuals were collected for this review. An overwhelming majority of those participants expressed support for the role that infrastructure plays in supporting the voluntary sector throughout the Criminal Justice System. Many expressed the view that infrastructure organisations were vital for the future of informed and effective service delivery.

“It is clear that specialist infrastructure is valued by all sectors, and that there is consensus around its core functions, including those of being a conduit for information to the voluntary sector; collating and representing sector views; providing input into the development of public policy; interpreting and disseminating policy to front-line organisations; providing opportunities for networking and peer learning; and providing a point of communication between policy-makers.”  - Debbie Pippard, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Chair of the independent advisory panel

Whilst the findings showed positive support for infrastructure organisations, it was also clear that in the current climate they could not be complacent and would have to adapt to stay relevant, diversify their income base to be sustainable, and be accountable to keep the trust and support of their members and the wider voluntary sector.

The voluntary sector clearly values the infrastructure support they receive. Infrastructure organisations were thought to have an important role to play in supporting the voluntary sector, even though there was a clear desire for services to be adapted and expanded in a rapidly changing environment.

Government officials, private sector companies, and academics were all able to articulate how infrastructure had helped them achieve positive outcomes and deliver their objectives. They recognised that infrastructure organisations needed to represent the diverse views of a complex voluntary sector, and simultaneously be a ‘critical friend’ to government. This was thought to require careful negotiation, and required the trust of all parties if infrastructure is to be effective.

Recommendations for government

  1. A strong criminal justice infrastructure needs to be maintained by government in order to serve the voluntary sector and ensure that departmental priorities are delivered. Government should distinguish between infrastructure and delivery organisations and recognise the distinct roles of each.

  2. Government needs to ensure a strong relationship with infrastructure in order to maintain clear channels of communications with the voluntary sector. To achieve this departments should allocate staff with clear responsibilities to support dialogue with the sector and assist in resolving operational difficulties.

  3. Government should develop and sustain a high level strategic dialogue with voluntary sector infrastructure organisations to allow for the co-construction of policy, development of effective practice, and to test innovative approaches.

  4. Government needs to acknowledge the importance of maintaining the independence of infrastructure organisations, which enables them to be an ‘honest broker’.

  5. Government should support the sustainable development of robust and effective infrastructure organisations to meet the evolving needs of the voluntary sector working in criminal justice. This should include an element of core funding from relevant government departments.

Recommendations for infrastructure

  1. Infrastructure organisations need to be active in developing diverse income streams that include earned income, private sector investment, charitable trusts and foundations, and government funding.

  2. In order to fulfil its role as a “trusted broker”, infrastructure organisations need to be accountable to the full diversity of their membership by representing various perspectives and addressing different needs.

  3. Specialist infrastructure organisations need to focus on providing high quality two way information between government and voluntary sector. This requires expert staff and a mechanism by which to check that high level policy documents have been correctly interpreted for the sector.

  4. Infrastructure organisations need to be flexible and able to adapt quickly to the changing needs of the voluntary sector. Collaboration and partnerships should be developed where it is necessary to access relevant expertise.

  5. Infrastructure organisations need to ensure that they have the appropriate legal and governance arrangements in place to ensure openness, transparency and accountability.#

Download the report here

PUBLISHED: September 2015