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I’m willing to bet Nick Hurd a tenner the big society bank won’t open on time

The Cabinet Office recently laid out clear goals in its structural reform plan for what it will achieve, and when.

The plan is a set of apparently cast-iron policy guarantees that the third sector can rely on.

It includes 14 measures to bring about the prophesied big society, which if they are kept will have largely transformed the third sector by the middle of next year.

The measures include initiatives to reduce bureaucracy for small charities by autumn, a fund for communities by Christmas, a new generation of community organisers in the new year, and a functional Big Society Bank before the chocolate eggs are opened on Easter morning.

Given the propensity of governments to miss targets by a country mile, the list appears to offers several substantial hostages to fortune. It would be amazing if all these targets were hit.

It is more likely that as pressure grows, resources are cut and deadlines approach, many of them will recede into the distance like the end of the rainbow.

One in particular which seems optimistic is the promise to set up a Big Society Bank in ten months.

It’s a great idea which really needs to happen, but before the first funds can be committed, a lot of infrastructure must be constructed – there are offices to be chosen, staff to be hired, innumerable legal hurdles to be overcome.

The money that is to be lent must also be extracted from the vaults of a group of recalcitrant banks that are noticeably short of cash.

The Big Society Bank is the first creation of its kind, a cutting-edge concept which could be the envy of the world. And because it is cutting edge, it will run into a huge number of unexpected hurdles which will need to be overcome on the way, and which have probably not been factored into this plan.

I’m willing to bet Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, a tenner that there will be no funds from the Big Society Bank available by April. I’m pretty confident my money’s safe – although it’s a bet I’d be happy to lose.

  • javed khan

    Charities have a moral obligation to speak out: absolutely!
    Victim Support was faced with this precise challenge earlier this year when, on principle, we fundamentally disagreed with the government direction on the futue funding of victim services. We had the choice of speaking out and representing the evidence based voice of victims and by doing so risk ‘biting the hand that feeds’ (80% of our funding comes from central government), or keep quiet and do our best to protect our organsiational future. I’m pleased to say that our trustees, staff and volunteers had the conviction to do the former and stand up for what was right.
    In terms of did our approach build or damage our reputation with government?….well time will tell. One indication of success we could sight though is that at the Conservative Party Coneference last week, when we heard Theresa May and Chris Grayling speak, there were more mentions of victims needs from such a platform then any of us can remember!
    So we have no regrets..and we would, like you, encourage others to speak out too.

  • Lucy Sweetman

    Thanks, Javed, that’s great to hear. I’ve been impressed this week by the collaboration between some disability charities, fronted by Dame Grey-Thompson, to raise awareness of the impact of changes to DLA. They had some good coverage.

    Save the Children have spoken out about child poverty in the UK too but some of our biggest children’s and young people’s charities are not saying much at all about the impact of government policy on young people and it’s really time that they did. It’s all getting left to organisations like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation or papers like The Guardian.

    The cooperative tactics of the disability organisations are a lesson to children’s and young people’s charities that banding together strengthens the message and protects them, perhaps, from individual retaliation!

    You guys really stuck your necks out and for that, you should be applauded.

  • Mark Atkinson

    Whether or not it is wise to speak up against your paymasters is an interesting debate. It is certainly a dilemma that many charities face from time to time. I wonder, however, whether any charity or representative body has ever done any real risk assessment of the likelihood and extent of damage occuring to their government funding if they raise a well articulated, well thought through valid objection on a particular issue. I suspect not many have. What I believe happens is that the majority of charities are simply too risk averse to speak up ie they have zero risk tolerance to any threat to a substantial part of their income.

    I also think there is a significant difference between speaking up in a very public manner via the media as opposed to lobbying or seeking to excercise influence. Even the most risk averse charity should feel comfortable doing the latter if it has a valid point to make.

    Mark Atkinson, VCSchange