THE BLOG
30/07/2013 13:34 BST | Updated 29/09/2013 06:12 BST

Public Trust Is Precious - And Only Earned Over Time

Reform of the criminal justice system has been kicked about by successive governments in almost symbolic celebration of their commitment to improve key public services.

Few can argue that the current coalition government's plans aren't radical though many commentators are right to sound some caution.

Handing over the keys to some of our most precious public services isn't something that should be done lightly, particularly when public trust is at stake.

As a head of a country wide charity that deals with more than a million people each year, I'm acutely aware of the fragility of trust when delivering public services.

Trust drives what charities do, underpins how we do it and, perhaps most importantly, explains why we do it. And it goes both ways.

People trust charities because they know we're motivated by their individual needs - not someone else's bottom line. It is fundamental that there is trust between users and providers.

Nowhere is this more important than in the criminal justice system. We all know finances are tight, but we shouldn't trade in short term savings for trust that has been nurtured over decades.

We've all seen the recent headlines: companies accused of mismanagement while dealing with criminals, problems with fragmented contracts and even crises while handling national events.

And we have all seen what happens when victims lose faith in the police or prosecutors or the courts.

The ripples spread far and wide, straining relations between communities and agencies, sometimes for years.

If people who are scared and vulnerable can't trust the system they are dealing with, justice will grind to a halt.

Fortunately, much of Victim Support's work is delivered by local trained volunteers and we know what a difference that makes: it's vital that people who need help when they're at their most vulnerable can trust someone without hesitation.

I hope it's because of the 'trust factor' that those commissioning services across the country are now looking to charities as they open up provision in welfare, justice and other sectors.

They're right to want our involvement and the confidence we will instill in users and the wider public. And we're right to get involved because if it's good for the users, by definition it's good for us too.

Charities like Victim Support have earned the respect and position they are now afforded over a period of time, flexing in ways the public or private sectors could only dream of.

That's because the best charities consider themselves as 'movements' that have evolved over time, driven by people who want to make things better and won't ever stop trying.

Of course commissioners, local and national, are excited about the opportunities to rethink the provision and providers of key services, and the drive to create new markets that let 'a thousand flowers bloom'. But in their excitement I hope they also pause to consider why charities have evolved as they have and why this has worked so well over many decades.

After all, that is why they are now so trusted.