Posts Tagged: Nick Hurd

If we all gave one per cent of income, the sky would be the limit

Francis Davis, a policy adviser on the big society, has published a paper called The Diamond Dividend in which he estimates that £4bn more could be raised for charity if people gave one per cent of their income.

Only £4bn? He is no doubt wise to be restrained in his estimates, but a back-of-the-envelope calculation based on a recent survey suggests the sum could be a great deal more.

At the end of last year, the survey by the Charities Aid Foundation and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations indicated that 27 million adults gave an average of £31 in the year 2008-9.

If, for the sake of argument, each of those donors earned £20,000 and gave one per cent, their gifts would total £200 rather than £30 – a six-fold increase that would take total individual donations from £10bn to £60bn. The latter figure is getting on for twice the total income of the sector in recent years.

Back to the real world: when you remember what’s coming in the emergency Budget, and the likely effect on people’s pockets, there’s every chance giving will slip rather than climb in the coming months.

But you never know. Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, told Third Sector before the election that he was going to give one per cent this year. Davis wants to Queen to urge everyone to do the same – a sort of ‘one gives one per cent’ campaign.

Let’s not get carried away. For the next year or two, the sector will do well to continue to receive the current level of individual giving. Whoever finds the key to a significant increase will be a good candidate for the Nobel prize.

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Civil society sounds grandiose, but what is it?

So off we go with the name game once more.

A couple of years ago the Conservatives said the Office of the Third Sector would be renamed the Office of Civil Society to denote the increased importance they wanted to give it. Then they said there had been a rethink and money was too tight for such a bigging-up. And just before the election they went back to plan A, not because money was less tight again but because David Cameron didn’t like the term ‘third sector.’

He was probably influenced by the sentimentalists who argue that it should, if anything, be the ‘first sector’ and that ‘third sector’ is too easily equated with ‘third rate.’ So the Office of Civil Society it is, and Nick Hurd rejoices in the name of Minister for Civil Society. Well, at least they stopped short of the Office of Big Society.

But the questions still remain: what is civil society, and do people understand the term any more readily than ‘third sector’, or the various other unsatisfactory alternatives that have been touted?

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has firmly hitched its wagon to the ‘civil society’ horse, as has one sector media organisation. The NCVO Almanac makes it clear that civil society, in its view, includes universities and trade associations, for example. Does the NCVO, or the media organisation, or the new OCS, take a day to day interest in or have any responsibility for, those parts of society? Of course they don’t. Maybe there’s a grandiosity and feel-good effect created by the term. At least the NCVO has stopped short of becoming the National Council for Civil Society Organisations.

‘Civil society’ is a term imported from countries with entirely different political, social and philosophical traditions. Most people in Britain don’t readily recognise what it is meant to mean, and the attempt to use it creates a raft of inconsistency and contradiction. Are charities, trade associations and housing associations really in the same boat?

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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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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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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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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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