Posts Tagged: Angela Smith

Baroness Smith of Pitsea?

There was the usual fighting talk when Angela Smith lost her seat at South Basildon and East Thurrock at the election: the seat’s only on loan to you Tories, we’ll be back, and so on.

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What happened to the big splash on the Compact?

2010 was supposed to be the year of the big push for the Compact. “Next year is an important time to make a big splash,” said Richard Corden, chief executive of the Commission for the Compact, when the cross-sector fair play agreement was refreshed in December.

At the time, the Compact was still reeling from the breach by third sector minister Angela Smith and criticism that the new version didn’t cater for the needs of community groups and black and minority ethnic groups.

Corden said the new document should learn from the mistakes of the old version and be promoted better. But four months on, where is the noise?

The Compact advocacy programme at the NCVO used to publish an annual report saying how many cases it had investigated with details of some of the issues. It wasn’t afraid to shame the government department that committed serial breaches – or to pat on the back the good ones.

Since its feisty manager Saskia Daggett departed it has adopted a low-key, softly-softly approach to its work and this week told Third Sector it would not be producing an annual report in 2010.

Compact Voice, which represents the voluntary sector on Compact issues, has some examples of good practice on its website; the commission has sponsored some interesting thematic work. But nothing much has happened to generate news or create a sense that the Compact matters.

The emphasis seems to be on handling disputes quietly while making bland public utterings about the value of a strong Compact. This is barely creating a ripple, let alone a splash and if the situation remains then it’s likely that by the next election Third Sector will still have to explain what the Compact is to every public sector press officer and little progress will have been made.

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Fire and brimstone missing at Unite’s mass meeting for charity workers

The mass meeting last night of charity sector workers organised by Unite showcased a side of the Labour Party rarely seen these days.

Labour MPs initially outnumbered charity workers in committee room 11 of the Palace of Westminster, as delegates battled with hordes of tourists and schoolchildren to get through security. The MPs declared themselves only too anxious to be lobbied on the woes of being a charity worker in the era of competitive tendering, while charities minister, former charity worker and Unite member Angela Smith oozed sympathy and concurred with Unite’s assessment that management in the sector needed to pull its socks up and become “more union-friendly”.

Perhaps this friendly, genteel environment accounted for the lack of fire and brimstone from the floor. One delegate from Edinburgh did his best to get the pulse racing by announcing he was “fed up” with cuts in sick pay and pensions, and of being treated as part of a “second-class workforce” by councils.

Another delegate said he was “quite emotional” about his charity’s announcement that unless its workers work four extra hours a week without increased pay the organisation could go under. “A gun is being held to our heads,” he said.

The Government was also accused of being a “disgrace” for pitting legal charities in direct competition with one another “based on price and nothing else”. But such barbs were spread relatively thinly among reasoned and, in some cases, pre-prepared analyses of contracting culture.

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Smith, Hurd and Willott were given an easy ride at the volunteering hustings

At university we had hustings to help students decide which of their peers they should elect to represent them on their college’s governing body.

They were heated events. We crammed a hundred or so people into a small room, gave the candidates a good grilling and scrutinised every word they said, throwing back difficult questions at every opportunity.

Before I went to the volunteering hustings on Tuesday night – the event hosted by Volunteering England at which third sector minister Angela Smith, shadow charities minister Nick Hurd and Lib Dem charities spokeswoman Jenny Willott pitched their thoughts on volunteering to those in the sector – I had wondered how it would compare.

It was different, to say the least.

Any hopes of policy announcements (entirely reasonable in the build-up to a general election) were unfulfilled. Hurd pledged to “create an environment in which more seems possible for people” and reiterated his ambition to cut through a “thicket of regulation” around volunteering. He hinted at a national citizenship service for young people, but when I spoke to him afterwards he refused to comment further on what this might involve, or how it might differ from volunteering charity v.

Willott’s proposals – for Gift Aid reform (she didn’t specify in what way), “thinking imaginatively about capacity building” and creating a “culture of volunteering” – did little to distinguish her party from either Labour or the Tories.

And Smith’s speech was equally low on policy announcements, with the exception of a commitment to hosting a round table with businesses to discuss employee volunteering.

I thought things might heat up when it came to questions from the floor. But the MPs managed to dodge a difficult question about funding for volunteer centres and said they’d be in trouble with their Treasury teams if they made any firm commitments.

The only moment of friction was over the role of v. Hurd asked the audience whether they thought the Government’s £150m spending on the organisation was justified, and Smith accused him of “wriggling” when audience members said they thought it was.

But the MPs were let off too easily. Nobody expected financial commitments, but some sense of the criteria the different parties would apply when deciding where the axe would fall in future third sector budgets would have been welcomed.

We wouldn’t have given them such an easy ride in our student common room.

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Senior politicians were competing to impress charities last night

Loans are all the rage. Last night I joined around 200 people who went to all-hail them at a House of Commons reception organised by the Social Investment Business.

Proceedings were delayed by a parliamentary lobby of hundreds of kindly-looking middle-aged people wearing ‘Homeopathy Worked for Me’ t-shirts, which caused 30-minute delays getting through security.

We were then treated to speeches by not one, not two, but three senior politicians, each trying to outdo the other in their love of loans and charities in general.

First up was third sector minister Angela Smith, who effused about Futurebuilders, the government fund managed by the Social Investment Business that has awarded £125m of loans to charities to help them win public service contracts.

The fund, she said, was “one of the most innovative set up by government and investees had won 230 contracts worth £46m”. After finishing her speech she immediately left.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude then said “a rich and innovative range of finance would be available to charities under a Tory government”.

He said contract bidders could expect more payment by results, with payments coming later rather than sooner, and that loans were a good way of ensuring charities could bid with the big boys. I think this was being presented as good news.

Maude said the proposed social investment wholesale bank “had been in gestation longer than an elephant”, and pledged his party would get on with it. He then left.

Hilary Armstrong, Labour MP for North West Durham and former Minister for the Cabinet Office, topped everyone by saying the sector is “critical to how this country sees itself and how this country can move forward”. She didn’t elaborate on what she meant by this, but she did say social finance was one way of making it happen. And she did stick around to mingle afterwards.

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Funding the Future conference: policy was thin on the ground as Nick Hurd recycled his jokes

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”.

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We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo…how about you, you, you?

A woman of principle, or a bit of a crank?

The question relates to Angela Smith, Minister for the Third Sector, who has made it clear that she’s not prepared to attend an event at London Zoo because she’s a strong supporter of animal rights and a patron of the Captive Animals Protection Society.

That means she won’t be at next Monday’s annual meeting on the Compact, which is an important occasion in the continuing development of the agreement that regulates sector-government relations. The venue was fixed last September, but officials weren’t then aware of the minister’s scruples.

In one sense it’s all very convenient for her – she won’t have to face the music for her flagrant and admitted breach of the Compact last November, when she scrapped the £750,000 Campaigning Research Programme and withdraw grants to 32 small organisations at short notice.

Her colleague Dawn Butler, minister for young citizens and youth engagement, will go to the meeting instead and deal with the inevitable criticism of the decision, which has still not been convincingly explained.

But Smith’s track record suggests that she’s not just using animal rights as an excuse. She worked for the League Against Cruel Sports for 12 years before she became an MP, and there’s nothing in her political record to suggest she’s unable to tough out an unpopular decision.

Her position on the zoo will seem eccentric and self-indulgent to some. One can just imagine her officials, who have of course loyally taken the rap in public for the mix-up, raising their eyes silently to heaven as they close her office door behind them.

But I suspect she will gain a lot of respect in the sector over this episode. It makes a refreshing contrast to the trimming, expediency and cynicism we’ve become used to in our politicians. And zoos are strange and sad places, whatever you say about their role in education and conservation.

And what if she had gone? The way would have been open for the animal rights lobby to point out her patronage of the society, and then she would have stood accused of hypocrisy – which is arguably the worst sin of the lot.

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