Shadow charities minister Nick Hurd announced to delegates at the Funding the Future conference yesterday that he was going to tell them something they might know already.
“There’s going to be a general election soon.”
It was not the first time he’d made the joke. He said it last week at an Institute of Fundraising conference, and Third Sector colleagues tell me he’s said it on other occasions too.
But if there is going to be an election, it would be reasonable to expect both Hurd and charities minister Angela Smith to use yesterday’s conference – at which more than 1,000 charity workers were gathered – to promote manifestos detailing what they would do if they became third sector minister after the election.
But alas, this was not the case. Smith took to the podium first, and gave a potted history of Government policy on the voluntary sector, which sang the praises of the NCVO’s Funding Central website, the recession action plan and Grassroots Grants (but neglected to mention the axed £750,000 Campaigning Research Programme).
She spoke about “challenges and opportunities for us all” and “building long-term capacity” but, aside from mentioning her excitement about the forthcoming social investment wholesale bank, did not discuss future policies.
Nick Hurd’s attempt offered more, but not much more. He reiterated his belief that the third sector should really be the “first sector”, said charities and community groups were the “glue that holds communities together” and criticised what he called Labour’s “initiative-itis”.
On policy, he said the Tories would start with making it easier for charities to claim Gift Aid, by cutting through what he called a “thicket of regulation”. But he said discussions on bringing in an opt-out system were “not going anywhere.”
He said he wanted to encourage individuals to donate more to charity, and he wanted the Big Lottery Fund to be more independent of government. He also wanted to develop a “culture of intelligent grant-giving,” he said.
But the audience was not swayed. As I left the hall, I heard delegates saying Hurd “didn’t say anything proper” and was treating the occasion as a job interview. Those I spoke to afterwards seemed unanimous in the view that things would be difficult under another Labour government, but that it was “better the devil you know”.