Cultural Playing Field

New Shadow Charities Minister at EVDC by Robin Simpson
October 16, 2008, 1:44 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,

On Tuesday I was in London for a meeting of the England Volunteering Development Council. We were due to have been addressed by Greg Clark, the Shadow Minister for Charities, but the Conservative front bench reshuffle last week moved him on to pastures new. Fortunately his successor, Nick Hurd, agreed to honour the commitment and addressed the massed ranks of volunteer-involving organisations and volunteering infrastructure bodies after only a few days in his new post. Hurd was keen to stress that the Conservative Party takes the voluntary sector very seriously indeed, referring to the importance of ‘bottom-up’ social responsibility and seeing the sector as the “engine of social progress” and “the beating heart of civil society”. He said “voluntary activity is a powerful accumulator of social capital and building communities”. The great news for the sector is that there is huge cross-party support for the voluntary sector. The Shadow Minister thought the Government was entirely credible in its commitment to the cause but was not convinced it was working effectively. He referred to the Conservative Party green paper, ‘A Stronger Society’, which advocates lighter touch regulation and a better balance between grants and contracts. A Conservative Government would be likely to be prepared to take more risks, with an emphasis on outcomes rather than targets and a sensitivity to the dangers of micro-management. Charities need to be allowed to recover costs. Nick Hurd was particularly interested in stimulating more workplace volunteering – connecting communities virally. His presentation was extremely supportive and he seemed genuinely keen to work with the sector. It is great to be working in the voluntary sector at a time when all the main political parties seem to be falling over each other to tell us how important we are! Hurd’s grasp of the territory was, naturally, a little limited at this early stage: he seemed to be using ‘volunteering’ and ‘voluntary sector’ fairly interchangeably but I raised this with him and I think he took on board the distinction. Over lunch I spoke to him about the voluntary arts sector, the ‘Our Creative Talent’ research, the difficulties of falling between the arts and voluntary sectors and the massive, and largely untapped, potential represented by voluntary arts groups. In the afternoon we heard from the Chair of the Commission for the Compact, Sir Bert Massie. He spoke of the difficulties the Commission faces in having to be independent and follow the Government line. He discussed the pros and cons of the voluntary sector Compact becoming statutory: Sir Bert clearly feels this would make the Compact less effective – taking considerable time and effort to create something it would be difficult and expensive to enforce and losing much of the current voluntary commitment to the Compact principles by local authorities etc. He was keen to look again at the Compact Codes of Practice to see whether they could be clarified and shortened to make them easier to remember and implement. As always, the EVDC meeting was a fascinating update on current issues and a great networking opportunity.

Robin Simpson.

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