Cultural Playing Field

NCVO Members’ Assembly meeting and AGM by Robin Simpson
November 11, 2011, 2:27 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

On Thursday I was at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations for a meeting of the NCVO Members’ Assembly. The prospect of a full day meeting focussing almost entirely on the review of charity law didn’t seem like the most enticing prospect but it was a surprisingly interesting and enjoyable event. UK charity legislation is to be reviewed from the end of this year. Earlier this week, NCVO President Lord Hodgson was invited to lead the Government review. To feed into this process NCVO is launching an enquiry and member consultation on rethinking charity law and regulation. On Thursday we heard from Jane Hobson, Head of Policy at the Charity Commission, and from Lord Hodgson, and spent most of the day discussing what the sector would hope to get from the Government review. There was a lot of discussion about very small charities that fall below the threshold requiring them to register with the Charity Commission, whether the threshold should be changed or whether there should be other ways of recognising such small charities. Jane Hobson emphasised that the Charity Commission regulates all charities, not just registered charities. Other topics I found particularly interesting were the question of whether charities should be allowed to pay Trustees, the role of the Charity Commission in providing guidance and/or advice to charities and the question of defining public benefit.

The NCVO AGM was held after lunch. NCVO Chair, Martyn Lewis, paid tribute to his predecessor, Sir Graham Melmoth. Martyn reflected on the year 2010-11 which had seen a small drop in NCVO’s income but an increase in its membership (from 7,719 to 8,375 member organisations). Major cuts in funding did not come into effect until the 2011-12 financial year but their impact was felt at the end of March when one third of NCVO staff were made redundant. Nevertheless NCVO is pursuing a bold and positive strategy, having secured planning permission and a bank loan to build a fourth floor on its headquarters which will become a charity hub and a home to more voluntary organisations. NCVO Chief Executive, Sir Stuart Etherington, said that there is a real anxiety about what is happening in world markets and we are now expecting four or five years of low growth levels. He said the voluntary sector is starting to shrink, with staffing levels across the sector showing a net loss for the first time – and this might just be the beginning. Although the sector did see the financial crisis coming and planned for it, the speed and impact of the financial hurricane proved impossible for deal with. Stuart did, however, find reasons to be optimistic, including the fact that Government remains supportive of the sector. It’s a tough time and it’s a time when Boards become much more important. Stuart also said he feels that NCVO is needed much more now than it was five years ago.

Robin Simpson.

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