Posts Tagged: Conservatives

The government’s decision on Refugee and Migrant Justice is reminiscent of the Thatcher years

David Cameron spent a lot of time in opposition playing down comparisons between his politics and those of the Thatcher government. When he came into power in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, it seemed their influence might strengthen the government’s credentials on social justice.

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Is David Cameron about to shelve the ‘big society’?

Headless chickens come to mind as we watch Labour and Conservatives running around in search of the best way to neutralise the Clegg effect. It’s brought the election alive in a slightly disturbing way – might we actually end up with something daring, like scrapping Trident or joining the Euro?

Of special interest to the voluntary sector is that David Cameron has not reached for his ‘big society’ idea as his party looks desperately for a way to revive its fortunes. Quite the opposite, if a story in yesterday’s Guardian is to be believed. It seems that the idea is being quietly pushed into the background.

Some of the remarks from unnamed shadow cabinet ministers are quite savage. “The ‘big society’ is bollocks,” one was quoted as saying. Another attributed the idea to manifesto supremo Oliver Letwin and commented: “We need to turn his Hegelian dialectic into voter friendly stuff.”

The ‘big society’ is a nice ideal – a society where we all care and share and participate. But it will always be seen by some as an unrealistic pipe dream, and by others as an elaborate fig leaf for ‘same old Tories, same old cuts.’ One things seems crystal clear: it’s not much of a vote winner in the current state of play.

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David Cameron’s National Citizen Service is likely to interest only middle class and motivated teens

Volunteering was at the top of the political agenda for a brief moment yesterday, when David Cameron used his first major press conference since the beginning of the general election campaign to announce his party’s plans for a National Citizen Service scheme.

Under his system, 16-year-olds would be encouraged to spend the summer after they leave school doing a residential volunteering placement and some extra volunteering hours in their local communities. Charities, social enterprises and private firms would apply to the Government to become providers of the placements.

There will inevitably be practical concerns about all of this: would the process of applying to run the scheme leave charities competing against private sector firms? And would businesses use the opportunity to source free labour to cover staff holiday?

But there’s a bigger question here, about the ways in which politicians use volunteering to meet their social aims.

The type of volunteering Cameron is planning sounds remarkably similar to Labour’s community service scheme for 14 to 16-year olds, being run by volunteering charity v. The main difference, it seems, is that pupils at schools running Labour’s project have no choice but to volunteer.

The Tories’ plan is optional, and therefore likely to attract the type of teenagers that are already drawn to volunteering. They’re motivated and enthusiastic, and can afford to spend time volunteering rather than taking on paid work in their summer holidays. And they already do the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Cathedral Camps.

Nobody likes the phrase “compulsory volunteering” and there are serious doubts that it would work – Cameron admits that he had wanted to make national citizen service compulsory, but changed his mind on the advice of youth groups.

But if the Tories win the election, and want volunteering to be a social leveller, they’ll have to find a real incentive for people from less privileged backgrounds to get involved. It could be cash; it could be the guarantee of a job interview.

But their current plan, which Cameron describes as making the scheme “of such high quality and great benefit that everyone will want to take part,” is not enough.

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Six-hour Tory love-in at the Acevo summit

How many ways can you say I love you? That was the dilemma facing members of the shadow Cabinet when they turned out in force yesterday to cosy up to a hundred or so charity delegates at the Conservative Party third sector summit.

Chief executives body Acevo is staging summits with the three main political parties to find out their plans for charities.

This one was held in Millbank, where Labour masterminded its 1997 election victory. Millbank is now the Conservative HQ and, as Acevo chief executive Stephen Bubb pointed out in his welcome speech, home of our dear Charity Commission. This caused some titters.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne got things going by talking about charities running more services. Shadow Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude then criticised Labour’s ‘initiative-itis’, but with a general election probably just seven weeks away delegates could have really done with a few more details.

In the absence of any new policies or initiatives and with six hours to fill, the speakers resorted to ways of saying how inspiring, professional, passionate, innovative and expert charities were.

The last time the Tories were in power, Dolly the Sheep was being cloned and the closest many Conservatives got to the voluntary sector was opening the annual village fete. Who would have thought then that 13 years later the party’s entire top team, bar its leader, would fill a lecture room overlooking the River Thames with humble charity folk?

The Tories have certainly come a long way, but time hung heavy. Engaging is all very well, but at this stage of the electoral cycle something more conclusive is required.

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The mauling of Dame Suzi Leather

Dame Suzi Leather’s membership of the Labour Party has never been a disqualification for her to be chair of the Charity Commission. But it has created an opening for the piranhas of the Daily Mail and other right wing organs to sink their teeth into her. They have attacked her on a political level, suggesting that she has been put there by the Government to destroy public schools, and on a personal level, for her background and the kind of person she is. Quentin Letts of the Mail, for example, included her in his list of ‘fifty people who wrecked Britain.’ The political attacks were so wide of the mark as to be laughable, while Letts was nastily entertaining in his socially regressive public schoolboy style.

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Tories hint at tax breaks for social investment

In the run-up to the election there have been lots of promises from political parties about what they will do to improve the lot of social enterprises. This week Nick Hurd, shadow charities minister, suggested the Conservatives were thinking of using tax breaks to boost the social investment market.

If this is the case, it is good news. But where to apply it, and what form should it take?

There’s a very interesting illustration of the social investment space, produced by the social lender Venturesome, which seems to offer some clues (you can find it on page seven of this report). It shows a continuum between private, wholly-for-profit business, and wholly not-for-profit charity, with social enterprise occupying a space in between.

On one side, a tax-free legal form – the charity. On the other, a legal form with no tax reliefs – the plc. The space in between is crying out for a reduced-tax legal form which can make some profit, but is required to recycle most of its profit into the community.

There is an obvious candidate, in an existing but currently under-utilised legal form – the community interest company (CIC). At present, five years on from the creation of the CIC form, it’s not really clear what its purpose is. It seems to offer many limitations, and few opportunities.

Notoriously, the form had trouble attracting investment, thanks to the strictness of its asset lock and the fact it offers investors no advantage over other legal forms. Many people who have formed one say they regret it, because they cannot attract outside finance.

The strict asset lock, which acts as a guarantee of social purpose, ought to be good for attracting preferential funding from people with a strong social conscience. But there is little publicity about the model to make that clear, and little good information for potential investors, making it a very hard sell, even to the ethically committed.

The situation became marginally better earlier this year after the CIC regulator announced it was loosening the dividend caps that govern how much profit you can take out. But it is still too hard for investors – and social entrepreneurs themselves – to construct an exit strategy. Other social forms remain more attractive.

All of this would change with a tax break. A reduced-tax regime seems to have been the original intention behind the CIC, given in exchange for its strict asset lock and limitations on what business it can pursue. But that part of the model died the death of a thousand cuts during the journey through Parliament, and the CIC came into existence neutered, with the reason for its creation removed.

It ended up with all of the disadvantages of greater regulation and none of the advantages of lesser taxation. Its existence has been an embarrassing curiosity ever since. Whoever wins the election should provide a sensible tax incentive for the CIC and restore its potency.

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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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Why do charities want a fourth term for Labour?

The sector wants another Labour government – not by a slim margin but by a massive one. That is the finding from the State of the Sector survey Third Sector carried out with research agency nfpSynergy.

These results do come with caveats; it’s a self-selected online survey for a start, but I doubt many would be shocked to find Labour is the sector’s party of choice.

What is surprising is the size of Labour’s lead over the Conservatives, given how unpopular Gordon Brown’s government is with the wider public.

The survey offered no insights into why this might be, but there are several possible explanations. One might be that those taking part found it hard to untangle their own political views when they answered, so the result reflects the bias of the sector’s employees.

Another might be that the Conservatives have not yet convinced the sector that it will be safe in their hands.

Finally, the result might reflect a view that public spending cuts are bad for the sector, which harms the Conservatives because they have talked more openly of reducing expenditure than Labour have done.

Whatever the reason, the finding does raise a couple of important questions.

First, just how in touch are charity employees with the UK as a whole, given the glaring difference between public opinion polls and our survey?

And, if they are out of step with the public, does it matter?

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