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Nick Hurd claimed to be serious at his first meet-and-greet, but mutterings were audible

Earlier this week I went to the first meet-and-greet by Nick Hurd with the sector since his appointment as the new charities minister.

It wasn’t exactly at the coalface: it was a small gathering of around 50 senior charity staff at a smart central London hotel. But it was a good debut for Hurd. He charmed his audience by joking that the Downing Street launch of the ‘big society’ agenda was the first, and probably the last, time he’d have his bum on a seat at the Cabinet table.

He said he was not allowed to use the phrase ‘third sector’ any more because “the boss doesn’t like it”. And in a short speech, he reiterated his three priorities. You’ve guessed it: making it easier to run a charity; getting more resources to the sector and making it easier for charities to work with the state. “I know I keep repeating this, but I’ll repeat it until people understand,” he said.

The chatter after Hurd left (he dashed straight off to speak about workplace giving at a House of Lords dinner) suggested the sector has warmed to its new representative.

Guests welcomed his 18 months’ experience shadowing the post, saying they hoped this marked a break from Labour’s revolving door of third sector ministers. And they were glad that the rhetoric about supporting charities, at least, seemed to stem from Cameron himself.

But they raised doubts about whether Hurd’s well-intentioned words would translate into anything tangible. One senior figure expressed frustration that Hurd seemed to see volunteering as a catch-all solution without understanding that supporting volunteers and paying their expenses could cost charities as much as the minimum wage.

And many expressed serious concerns that government grants would be cut before they were due to expire, and that Cameron and Hurd’s enthusiasm for involving charities in service provision would not filter down to local authorities if the private sector offered similar services more cheaply.

In that context, Hurd’s words were perhaps carefully chosen: “I hope to send a serious message about our will and our serious intent.”

  • John Burton

    I agree with the sentiments expressed, and would also like to point a few other issues with the honours system. I have no inherent objections to honours, but the current government ones have several problems.
    First, they are associated with an Empire and imperialism, which most people I would hope find out of date, at least, and seriously wrong at worst. It is also surely time they were separated from the monarchy. Whether or not you are a monarchist, to have honours, some of which are purely in the gift of the monarch mixed with those awarded on merit, while others are for patronage is confusing.
    Second I have always objected to honours that are awarded on the basis of patronage and lobbying, and it is surely time that the decisions were made by one’s peers. I am fortunate in that I am not in the running, but I would find it quite abhorrent to be vetted by someone who is not conversant with my field of activity. It is hardly an honour in those circumstances.

  • Mike Wild

    You make a good point that the flaws in the NCS model are there no matter how it’s procured.

    Certainly one of the providers I spoke to last year got sick of the sight of civil servants making all the usual demands for reams of delivery statistics in the hope that adding together lots of numbers would magically translate into meaningful long term outcomes.

    It’s not only that existing provision was closed down, it’s that the expertise of organisations with a track record in youth work was simply dismissed. From what I’ve seen any success NCS has had is really down to the provider organisations largely ignoring the central guidance and just getting on with doing what they know works best.

    Added to the lack of respect for youth work (as all social work is now seen as wet and wasteful) is a focus on scale as the indicator of succes and the usual blunt instrument procurement mechanism…. it’s hard to see how else this could have played out: these kind of relationships were inevitable.

    What I don’t hear is anything substantial from the charities who have chosen to work with Serco: what really is their rationale for doing? I can see that there are arguments for working in partnership with private businesses not just with the aim of increasing delivery but also to influence their corporate behaviour… however, I’m at best highly sceptical of anyone’s ability to influence Serco.

    Perhaps their view is that an organisation like Serco is inevitably going to win contracts like this, so best to work with them where you can put some boundaries around how they deliver and keep an eye on them, with the threat of publicly walking away if Serco doesn’t behave? That may be a realistic tactic – but it’s a huge risk, as those who tried to get in the Work Programme found out, only to have Government wash their hands of any responsiblity for ensuring fair contracting relationships.

  • Carl Allen

    Alternatively, the sector has painted itself into a corner over period of time.

  • Peter Stockwell

    I think honours are a good thing for those who deserve them, but the BEM is indeed an insult. An investiture ceremony for all down to and including the MBE is held at a royal palace, usually Buckingham Palace, by a senior member of the royal family. It is a never to be forgotten event and rightly so. The BEM investiture ceremony is held in a county hall with little ceremony and often in poor surroundings. An event best forgotten, which says exactly what our government thinks of hard working people at the lower end of society.

    • Pete Singleton

      I do understand that the BEM could be seen as a little third rate but I still felt extremely honoured to receive my award in 2013. The investiture was conducted by the Lord Lieutenant of the County in the grand surroundings of Peterborough Town Hall and invitations to the Royal Garden Party followed the next year. Of course the OBE or MBE is seen as a higher recognition and John Burton is right to say that some so called celebrities are probably not worthy of such awards.
      Nevertheless, I would certainly not say that my investiture ‘event’ was best forgotten – I will never forget it, and I’m extremely proud to have been recognised.