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18 Oct 2007 : Column 1035

That is a difficult group to help and reach. It is not a fashionable group. There is some opposition to such work, and I thought long and hard about whether to give publicity to that work today. The difficulty for the drop-in centre is that one of its major funders had just dropped out. Seeking new funding is always an arduous process for small organisations, and the outcome of applications is far from predictable. In addition, there seems to be less money available and more competition to obtain it. That leaves the Harbour project with the prospect of having to cut activities and abandon new developments. I hope that the 10-year plan will help Harbour remain the strong organisation that it is today, and I challenge Swindon borough council to continue to support that important project.

The charities that I have mentioned will be extremely pleased with the announcements in the report, including the expectation that when Government Departments and their agencies receive their 2008 to 2011 budgets, they will pass on that three-year funding to the third sector organisations that they fund as the norm, not the exception.

I shall finish with some information from Voluntary Action Swindon, which welcomes the £10 million of new investment in community anchor organisations and community asset and enterprise development, but wants the term “community anchor” to be clarified. We need some of the supporting money in Swindon to help us understand how we can use community anchors. I was interested in that aspect of the report, and I hope that we will get some help in that respect.

National Compact week is coming up from 1 to 8 November. All local public bodies, including Swindon borough council, and 44 community and voluntary organisations have signed up to the Swindon compact. The working relationship between the public sector and the third sector has been improved since the launch of the compact in 2005, but it is important to have sufficient resources to implement it and its five codes of practice.

Voluntary Action Swindon has asked me to say that it should be a statutory duty for local authorities to support and fund the local Compact. Both the Big Lottery Fund and Capacitybuilders are keen on funding sub-regional, regional or national organisations’ infrastructure or front line. Voluntary Action Swindon is concerned that local infrastructure organisations will lose out in getting funding in that way. At a meeting with me in early September, its representatives pointed out that a balance must be struck to ensure that local groups get sufficient support from local and regional infrastructure. A number of national and regional organisations that are not based in Swindon have scooped up contracts and tenders to deliver services in different areas under the regime of commissioning and public service delivery. Voluntary Action Swindon is concerned that that process will continue, which will drive out small, local charities and not-for-profit organisations.

This Labour Government are working in partnership with the voluntary sector. They have backed up their policies with proper funding from the state to enable the voluntary sector to flourish, and I commend them for that. Businesses in Swindon are also working in partnership with the voluntary sector, and I want to praise them for doing that and to encourage the local council to do more. My call is for the council to do
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more, for the Government to encourage payroll giving, which is a success story in Swindon and up and down the country, and for Ministers to join the payroll giving scheme.

4.15 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I declare my interests as a trustee of the Mactaggart cyber café, of Commonweal Housing and of various charitable giving trusts—I have been involved in that area all my life. I want to discuss three important aspects of the strategy report, which are voice and campaigning, strengthening communities and creating a healthy environment for the third sector.

Government Members and Opposition Members have had a ding-dong about voice and campaigning, and I am disappointed by the view taken by Conservative Front Benchers and Back Benchers that there is something distasteful about charities choosing to campaign. We need to trust the charitable sector. I do not believe that an organisation such as Save the Children would spend an enormous amount of its money on political campaigning unless it thought that that was effective. Furthermore, I know that my constituents are keen to spend their hard-earned money on that organisation.

It is worth trying to think through where the voice comes from. In the first instance, it comes from the efforts of those charities to meet particular needs. Such charities see when the shoe is rubbing in statutory services, and they realise where the gaps are. Sometimes they invent services to fill such gaps—the hospice movement, the carers movement and the probation service were all invented by the voluntary sector—but sometimes they rightly point to the Government and say, “Shift yourselves. Get active. Do it.”

Greg Clark: The hon. Lady is labouring under a misapprehension. We have no intention whatsoever of changing the constraints on campaigning by charities, which, as she has rightly pointed out, Save the Children does effectively and vigorously. We have no plans for change, but the Minister has.

Fiona Mactaggart: The review makes it clear that many charities are held back from campaigning—indeed, charities often silence themselves, because of the present restrictions. We need to create an atmosphere in which they feel free to use their expertise in order to gain changes in the law. It is worthwhile our understanding where their voice comes from. It comes from expertise—for example, bodies such as Citizens Advice provide advice and advocacy—and from a connection with the most excluded people in society, who often do not vote or even manage to make their way to our advice surgeries. The capacity to provide a voice is a critical part of the role of the third sector, and I urge the Minister to do more in that regard.

I am glad that the Minister has proposed in the review the creation of a more permissive atmosphere for political campaigning for charities. May I draw to his attention the fact that the Department for Education and Skills is planning to axe the small but effective community champions fund, which provides £3 million a year to enable individuals to tackle issues around them? It is one of the central Government
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funds to go to individuals. I have seen it promote initiatives that range from creating the national charity for foetal alcohol syndrome to mums fixing things for their children here.

I am sure that the Minister did not mug up on this before the debate, but I strongly urge him to point out to his colleagues at the Department for Education and Skills how, for example, the community champions initiative can create the activism, volunteering and civic engagement that so many in this debate have talked about. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) described the issue well when he said that charities are in MPs’ blood.

We are politicians; we want to change the world—although some of us want it to go backwards and others want it to go forwards. Nevertheless, we are interested in using politics and social action to achieve an end. In current discourse, many people think politics a rather unsavoury way of achieving social ends, but find charitable action appropriate for achieving them. By getting involved—starting by shaking a tin for poppy day next week or whatever—people become more aware that they have a role in society, that things are not just decided by others and that they can change them. They become more capable of organising things in their neighbourhood, thereby creating a more autonomous society with more powerful citizens. The third sector contributes substantially to strengthening communities through all sorts of voluntary organisations. As MPs, we are interested in civic action and politics and should welcome it when organisations are prepared to use their knowledge, contacts and expertise to run overtly political campaigns for change. Without that, some of the changes that we need would not happen.

Greg Clark: The hon. Lady and I agree; it is that very connectedness that allows charities to campaign—for example, on social problems—from a position of knowledge, which is essential. We think that that connectedness should remain, which is why we resist the Minister’s proposal that a charity should be able exclusively to engage in political campaigning.

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman mischaracterises the proposals, but I shall allow the Minister to explain the extent to which he does so.

The third issue on which I want to focus is the review’s proposals to create a healthy environment for the third sector. I welcome the proposed £80 million investment in supporting organisations for front-line charities. Often, the micro-charities that have been so praised in this debate simply do not have the infrastructure to enable them to do all the things that they aspire to do. They require underpinning support, ranging from meeting rooms to IT support and training. The review’s proposal is sensible, but I ask the Minister to take care to ensure that, when making the investment, he does not create a self-fulfilling circle of slightly smug organisations that look inwards and not outwards. There is a serious risk. I hear wonderful organisations in my constituency who work with some of the most deprived, marginalised and excluded communities express concern that the council for
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voluntary service is always using its own rooms so they can never get somewhere to meet, or that the CVS’s discussion with the local borough council is a closed loop that does not include small organisations.

It is vital that this investment is used to help people to reach out. I would suggest, for example, that it is used to help develop different models of accountability for voluntary organisations. At present, many of the funding streams are frankly oppressive. If we could find simpler ways of allowing local voluntary organisations to provide appropriate accountability for taxpayers’ money, we could make it easier to give money. That is a problem that is worrying Government to some extent. In their innovative proposal to provide endowment funds and community network funds, I read between the lines and become anxious about accountability and processes. The initial paper that was published in June suggested explicitly that there would be £50 million of capital grant in

That seems to be happening rather slowly, and I am anxious about that because I am keen on making progress as swiftly as possible. There is a good reason for that. At the moment, many community foundations, certainly in Berkshire, are operating through the local network fund. Local network funds will run out in March 2008, which means that foundations will have to have made their final grant-making decisions by that date and from then on will no longer need the staff who make grants. Unless some of these funding streams are in place in time for them to continue, we will lose a significant on-the-ground source of expertise that can facilitate such small, targeted, grant-giving micro-organisations. Community foundations solve problems that are often under the radar of local authorities, often developing witty and intelligent ways of finding funding. I urge that this resourcing should happen quickly.

This is an intelligent paper in terms of providing resources to local organisations. When I speak to charities, I always say, “Find lots of places to get money from. Don’t just be a one-legged stool, because otherwise what will happen is what happened to Battersea law centre”, which I mentioned earlier. Wandsworth council cut off its grant and it was about to fall over until one of the grant-making trusts that I was involved in gave it a grant. Following that, it developed the capacity to raise money from private law firms, charities and trusts, and has continued successfully ever since without Wandsworth council. It is very important that organisations have sources of income that are as diverse as possible. They should generate their own income through social enterprise, secure grants from charities, get money from the public sector, find sources of money from businesses, and so on. The proposals on funding in the paper will help with that.

There is a particular concern about community assets. Community organisations should be able to acquire assets and use them in order to generate funds. I am sometimes depressed about effective voluntary organisations failing to milk their assets sufficiently well. We should put pressure on them to do that, but, as a caveat, we also need to ensure that where a public asset is put into a community organisation’s plans,
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there is a guarantee about its return to the public if that particular community organisation comes to an end. I hope to be reassured by the Minister who sums up that there are proposals to do that.

I have spoken a lot about the important role that I think local endowment funds can play. One of the reasons why I think that and why I welcome the proposal for that, is that they can generate charitable giving. We need to increase and normalise the degree of such giving in the UK. This proposal will help to do that, but we should examine other proposals that also achieve that. There has recently been much talk in Parliament about the Government taking money off people after they have died, but they should encourage people to give away money before they die. We should urge the Chancellor to examine the model of the remainder trust or living legacy, which is used in the United States, to encourage people not only to retain security in their lifetime, but to give substantial assets to charitable causes.

There are imaginative ways in which we can encourage charitable giving without nationalising. I once heard Darcus Howe powerfully, and in his inimitable voice, say to Ken, when talking about the Greater London council and voluntary organisations, “Don’t you nationalise our efforts.” He meant that statutory takeover can diminish human effort, which is at the heart of charity. The interesting thing about this strategy is that it is good at avoiding such traps. I urge the Minister to go further down the routes I have mentioned to ensure that in avoiding those traps, the Government avoid some of the little traps in their good strategy that could diminish its effect.

4.31 pm

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak. I shall add something slightly different from some of the things that we have heard this afternoon. I am a Labour and Co-operative MP, so I am delighted that so many of my colleagues have had the chance to highlight the benefits of mutualism and the co-operatives. I was particularly pleased that my earlier intervention in respect of the training that is required so that other people start to understand social enterprise, mutuals and co-operatives at regional development agency level has been met with a commitment at a meeting with RDAs yesterday. I am proud of that.

Before I entered this place, I worked as a project officer for Leicester city council and Leicestershire county council working with the voluntary sector. I suppose that I was slightly on the wrong side, in that I was the person who said whether or not it could have its money, but really it was the other way round, because I found myself as the advocate for the voluntary sector in the local authority. I saw, day by day, the enormous power that the voluntary sector could have in economic development. This is not the traditional role but, in economic development and employment initiatives, the voluntary sector was able to reach target groups that large bureaucratic organisations such as local authorities and some private companies could not, particularly when it had European social fund money. The voluntary sector could relate to individuals.

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The strength of the voluntary sector is that many organisations probably began because parents could not find provision locally and they got together as a self-help group and things grew from there. This is the source of the innovative approach: people coming together when existing structures do not meet the demands of and changes in society. That is my experience.

Like many hon. Members, I sit on a number of trusts and charities in my constituency. My involvement has meant that people have asked to get involved, and I am delighted to give my time just to allow that to happen. Such bodies range from small organisations such as STEPS, where I am a trustee, to the Rainbows hospice in Loughborough, which is an organisation that has to raise nearly £2 million a year. I dread the thought of waking up every 1 April as the fundraiser, knowing that it must raise £2 million a year just to keep going. However, it does so because of the good will of the people of Leicestershire and the rest of the east midlands. I am proud to support that too.

As many hon. Members know, my specific area of interest is sport. As far as I am aware, the fact that 26 per cent. of volunteers are people who volunteer in sport has not been mentioned. My background in volunteering and sport means that I recognise that there are differences between the areas. The voluntary sector does not necessarily see sport as part of the traditional voluntary sector and we sportspeople do not necessarily see ourselves as part of it. I now chair my county sports partnership. We have brought on board someone from the voluntary sector—from Voluntary Action Leicester—to ensure that its voice is heard around the sports table, and vice versa.

Some research was done recently looking at the volunteer centres around the county and the provision of services. It was highlighted to me that between 16 and 20 per cent. of people who turn up at a Voluntary Action centre looking for an opportunity to volunteer want to do so in sport. However, my own tests show that it is unlikely that those centres have a connection with the local sports clubs that are desperate for volunteers. We need to work to ensure that the voluntary sector in its widest sense understands the needs of volunteers in the sports sector.

It is a two-way process. Part of the problem is that volunteers in sport do not necessarily regard themselves as volunteers; they just see themselves as helpers. I do not regard myself as a volunteer, but then I had a quick think about last weekend. On Friday night I helped to take my son’s under-8 football team to watch England under-21s at Leicester City’s ground. The fact that a Mexican wave started after 21 minutes sums up the quality of the football we saw, but at least they won. On Saturday, I played my normal game of rugby for the side I have belonged to for 25 years. We now have a second team, so I have been relegated to captain of the second team. There I was, putting out the posts and the pads before the game kicked off. Then on Sunday morning, at church, it was my turn, as it is once a month, to do the cornerstones group—as it is now called, although it is still old-fashioned Sunday school to me. I do not regard myself as a volunteer, but without realising it, over one weekend, I had been helping on three occasions.

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Over the last few months I have been working with the Scout Association, and my plea is on behalf of those people who regard themselves as helpers rather than volunteers. The voluntary sector has, rightly, professionalised itself. We need child protection and all the other apparatus that surrounds the volunteer, but we are almost too keen to professionalise the volunteer. When I helped with the Beavers last year, I found that to become more than a helper I had to attend Wednesday evening training courses and a half-day on a Saturday, and that became too much. I just wanted to help regularly, not to become a trained volunteer.

In the discussions that I have had with sports coach UK and the Scout Association, it is obvious that they have started to recognise that people are now only able to give a lower level of commitment. Some 65 per cent. of us now have an atypical working week, so the capacity to volunteer every Friday night, or every Saturday or Sunday morning, is not there for most people. Their work-life balance does not work that way. We need greater flexibility in how people are allowed to volunteer, so that they can become simply helpers.

The Olympics will provide fantastic opportunities for sports volunteering. My sense is that we had a good start. As people know, we need about 70,000 volunteers for 2012, and in the first three months more than 120,000 people registered on the site, so we have more than enough people willing to volunteer. I volunteered myself, and I have received an e-mail and one other communication since. It is a golden opportunity to involve those people who want to get involved, and we need to grasp the initial enthusiasm. I know that there have been discussions and some plans have been made, but we need to move forward and use the time that we have. We do not want to over-train people, but we need to take this fantastic opportunity. People should also be encouraged to volunteer locally.

Sport relies totally on its volunteers. I have mentioned the danger of over-professionalising in another context, and sport is now going through the same process. The Government’s idea of introducing 3,000 community coaches is welcome, but it will professionalise things. We have to get the balance right and ensure that when the professional coaches come in, they do not squeeze out the keen amateurs who keep the clubs going in all our constituencies. I am grateful for this brief opportunity to highlight the sports volunteering agenda. The Minister has attended the meetings I chair for an organisation that is a strategic partnership of all the people involved in sports volunteering. We are a positive group of people who want to make things happen because that is the approach we take in sport. People just want to help—to get their teams and their individual athletes out. That is their sole motivation.

I hope that when we talk about the third sector, whether we are talking about mutuals or large charities, we remember that 26 per cent. of volunteers in this country regularly support local sports teams and sports clubs through their efforts. Whenever we think about that, I hope that we ensure that sport is not missing from the agenda.

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