Cultural Playing Field


Questioning the Minister for Civil Society at EVDC by Robin Simpson
November 18, 2010, 8:26 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I was back in England on Tuesday for a meeting of the England Volunteering Development Council. We looked at the impact of the comprehensive spending review on volunteering infrastructure and volunteer-involving organisations: most felt it was still too soon to say, with many organisations not expecting to know about their funding for 2011-12 until Spring 2011. We also discussed the Office for Civil Society consultation ‘Supporting a Stronger Civil Society’ which is seeking views on future Government support for voluntary sector and volunteering infrastructure organisations (see: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/426258/support-stronger-civil-society.pdf – deadline 6 January 2011). Among other news, we heard that TimeBank has launched a new ‘Rate It!’ service to allow people to leave feedback about volunteering opportunities along the lines of TripAdvisor and similar sites – see: http://timebank.org.uk/. And the Institute for Volunteering Research is offering a 40% discount on its Impact Assessment Toolkit until the end of November – see: http://www.ivr.org.uk/.

 

But the main focus of the meeting was the chance to hear from, and question, the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd. The Minister started by acknowledging that, for all those in the room, “this is a very difficult time: you’ve probably never been busier but you’re living with confusion”. He said there had also been a fair amount of confusion and cynicism about the Government’s Big Society agenda but “we’re very serious about it”. Nick Hurd said that Big Society, by its nature, cannot be a Government-led programme but that Government has an active role to play. He described the Big Society agenda as threefold:

  • devolving real power to communities,
  • public service reform, and
  • encouraging and supporting people who want to make a bigger contribution

 

The Minister referred to the Government’s green paper consultation on the giving of time and money which will be issued before Christmas. He also described the Big Society initiatives being co-ordinated by the Office for Civil Society:

  • Community First Fund – a small grants fund for neighbourhood groups, focused on areas with low social capital.
  • Community Organisers – training 5,000 new community organisers to build people’s confidence and capability at grassroots level, strengthening local networks.
  • National Citizen Service – connecting young people with their ability to make a contribution to the community. This will bring together 16-year olds from different backgrounds through residential, outward-bound events. The young people will then be encouraged to use the skills they have already got in their communities, structuring and delivering their own programmes of community action.
  • Cutting red tape – including Lord Hodgson’s Reducing Red Tape Task Force and the review of the Vetting and Barring Scheme. Nick Hurd confirmed that there was no threat of volunteers having to pay for CRB checks.
  • The Supporting a Stronger Civil Society consultation.
  • The £100M Transition Fund for voluntary and community sector organisations affected by spending cuts that was announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
  • A strand of money for volunteering infrastructure and a matched fund for volunteering.

 

On infrastructure organisation, the Minister said “I don’t consider infrastructure a dirty word but you’re far too defensive about it: you need to get on the front foot and make a case.”

 

I said to Nick Hurd that I have been attending a succession of meetings about the Big Society in which everyone says they are already delivering the Big Society. I suggested that, while voluntary arts groups are undoubtedly an excellent example of the Big Society in action, many are not as well connected within their local communities as they could be and I hoped the Big Society agenda might provide incentives to join-up voluntary arts groups and the vast numbers of people involved in them with other community groups and organisations. The Minister responded by stressing that anyone who thinks they are already delivering the Big Society has not understood the level of change that is coming at a local level. He referred to the Localism Bill being brought to Parliament by Greg Clark and explained that the measures being proposed would lead to a situation where will need to be many more debates at local level about what the priorities are. The sector can’t be complacent about this. Nick Hurd said “Voice is going to be very important – and particularly important on behalf of those who don’t have a voice.”

Robin Simpson.

 

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