Vision for sector post-2015. What did the politicians have to say at the CFG Annual Conferece?

May 19, 2014 at 17:13

Following our overwhelmingly successful Annual Conference last Thursday, back at CFG-HQ we are now digesting the political nuggets that were debated in our closing plenary by the Minister for Civil Society (Nick Hurd) and Shadow Minister (Lisa Nandy) for Civil society, a key Lib Dem peer (Baroness Barker), the outspoken Rt Hon Margaret Hodge, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee and the CEO of NCVO, Sir Stuart Etherington. A year out from the next General Election, we asked them to tell us what they saw as the key issues that will face the sector post-2015, giving us the perfect insight into how the political parties are beginning to think about their engagement with the sector.

It was clear that conversation in the next 12 months will be dominated by transparency and demonstrating trust.  The relationship between the state and the sector, particularly around commissioning and how public money is spent, will feature strongly in debate.  The role of the Charity Commission as a strong but supportive regulator will continue to be under immense pressure and scrutiny.

Here is a snapshot of some of the key messages from the speakers:

Conservatives – Nick Hurd MP:

1. “You are trusted. I am not.” The minister made clear that as we have not (yet!) lost public trust unlike those in the political class and banking sector. This trust will need to be managed carefully by the sector.

2. There is still more a lot of work to be done with promoting the culture of contribution in the UK across the board.

3. He recognised that Government still has a lot of work to do to commission services intelligently. Learning to do more with less will be the mantra for years to come.

Labour – Lisa Nandy MP:

Lisa spoke about the need for government to work in partnership with the sector in order for it to unlock its true potential for its beneficiaries. She stressed that the sector needs to be better at working together and living its values by demonstrating trust, transparency and impact.

Regarding public sector procurement of charities to deliver public services, she noted that there needs to be a more cultural shift when commissioning public services through a reviewing of the Social Value Act and re-visiting the Compact.

Lib Dem – Baroness Barker:

Baroness Barker argued that charities post 2014 will have to find new ways to engage with young donors. She believes that many charities have not thought about this yet and rely considerably on donations from the older population, which is not sustainable. Additionally, charities will also have to explain themselves more to the public and prove why they are an essential force in society.

Baroness Barker also mentioned re-evaluating the Social Value Act in light of the increasing role for charities in delivering public services. Regarding the work of the Charity Commission, she foresees that it will have to step up to the transparency challenge and share it’s knowledge and data and champion the sector.

Margaret Hodge – Chair of the Public Accounts Select Committee:

Margaret Hodge opened with a declaration that she remains sceptical that the Charity Commission is fit for purpose, even with the advent of  a new CEO. Her concerns lie with the Commission’s understanding of its role. She believes that it muddles the role of a regulator and a cheerleader for the sector and in order for it to be effective, it should “just do its job as a regulator”. She sees the Commission as having become too reactive in recent years and needing to become more proactive to win back the public’s trust.

Regarding Gift Aid, she argued that more resource needs to go into ensuring that the relief goes to beneficiaries and not individuals. Margaret also noted that government needs to find a way to make a fairer system for charities competing for public sector contracts, so that smaller organisations are able to pay a role in commissioning.

Perhaps one of the more controversial statements made by Margaret was her suggestion that charities providing public services, or indeed in receipt of public money, should progress to “open book accounting”.  Complete transparency being her aim so that tax payers could “follow their pound”.

NCVO – Sir Stuart Etherington

Sir Stuart spoke about the growing role for the sector in the years to come as the level of need and the tax base grow increasingly “out of kilter” from each other.  He also noted that recent findings from NCVO’s Almanac show how the sector’s income is shrinking because public sector cuts are disproportionately focused on the voluntary sector. He believes that the sector would benefit from practical proposals such as developing the Social Value Act further and changing the procurement landscape for charities.

 

We are pleased to hear all three parties views on the sector taking shape. In particular, understanding the views of the parties in relation to effective transparency, public sector commissioning and the re-visiting the Social Value Act are welcome clarity. We would urge however that the three main parties continue to engage fully with CFG and the wider sector in the lead up to the General Election.

We would also love to hear from you about any of the issues discussed as we shape our campaign this year. Contact us at policy@cfg.org.uk.