Posts Tagged: David Cameron

Battling on with the big society

People who do not read Third
Sector, or are unlikely to read the full contents of
the Giving White Paper, will be under the impression that yesterday David
Cameron’s slightly ambiguous big society concept was launched yet again.

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Ed: isn’t he our man?

Many people in the voluntary sector will feel a small glow of satisfaction at the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader, no matter what they think of his politics, the mode of his election or the fraternal ‘psychodrama’.

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David Cameron may support local action but what about local government?

I woke this morning to hear charities leading the news.

It did not turn out to be quite as interesting as it first seemed. Previews of David Cameron’s comments about the big society contained mainly re-heated announcements, such as setting up a big society bank.

But there was some interesting new information, such as the establishment of “vanguard communities” – a great piece of bureaucratic jargon.

Cameron also speaks about “pushing power down and seeing what happens”. Well, judging by what’s happening currently we can tell him: carnage.

Barely a day passes without news of more cuts by local authorities. London Councils, Croydon Council and Slough Borough Council are among the latest to pass on the impact of funding reductions to the voluntary sector. Often at local level the Compact has been ignored.

The government has considerable faith in the voluntary sector, whatever its motives.

But it brings back memories of a comment made by former third sector minister Kevin Brennan a few years ago. He said that one of the things Labour learned was that you couldn’t just pull a lever in Whitehall and expect things to happen locally.

Finding ways of bridging this gap between what national government wants and local government can manage is likely to remain one of the major stumbling blocks to building the big society.

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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.”

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Will the new Government stick with the ‘big society’?

At the weekend, some Tory MPs were complaining anonymously that the big society idea had not gone down well on the doorstep and might even have played a part in denying the Conservatives an overall majority.

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Cameron pushed his big society, but his charity audience was not convinced

Yesterday I watched David Cameron give a speech about his big society agenda at a meeting hosted by think tank the Centre for Social Justice. 



Previous announcements by the Conservatives about the idea have been relatively well-received by much of the national press, so I was interested to see how an audience that consisted largely of voluntary sector workers would respond. 



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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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The Charity Commission’s guidance on political campaigning is proving a weak deterrent

The pre-election warning to charities by the Charity Commission chief executive Andrew Hind, telling them “not to engage in any party political activity or leave the charity open to the perception that they might be”, looks like one of those police clampdowns on cyclists riding on pavements: more request than threat.

It was always going to be difficult for the regulator to monitor comments by 180,000 organisations and hardly a day has passed without at least one charity endorsing or criticising a particular party.

But for sheer effrontery, the comments of Atlantic Bridge this week take some beating.

The charity is already under investigation for links to the Conservative Party, but this didn’t prevent Amanda Bowman, chief executive of its American arm, saying that David Cameron would be “much more amenable to shared US-UK foreign interests than Gordon Brown” and better for the special relationship.

Bowman then emailed Third Sector a statement, perhaps because she wouldn’t have been able to keep a straight face talking directly to us, saying her comments were ìnot intended as an endorsement of David Cameron, but rather as speculation that this relationship will hopefully be revitalised if the Tories win the general electionî.

This is a charity founded by shadow defence charity Liam Fox, who remains a trustee, and whose advisory council includes seven Tory MPs and a Tory peer. Margaret Thatcher is an honorary patron.

Bowman could hardly have nailed the charity’s political colours to the mast more clearly if she had stuck two fingers up to Gordon Brown while wearing a blue rosette and singing Land of Hope and Glory.

The commission won’t say how many complaints it has received about party politics. It claims the information is too hard to collate. All Atlantic Bridge can expect is advice and guidance after the election is over. The commission’s wrath looks a poor deterrent to political point scoring.

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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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