June 21, 2011
Nick Hurd responds to a back bench MP’s debate celebrating and encouraging volunteering.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): I start by offering my utterly genuine congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) not only on securing the debate but on the passionate way he used it to celebrate people who give time to help others in our communities, because their contribution is absolutely enormous. It is right that we celebrate them and take the opportunity to ask what more we can do to encourage, support and value them.
My hon. Friend knows that this question is central to our vision of a society in which people feel more power and responsibility not only for their own lives but for the communities they live in and the services they use. It is the big society vision. Of course, we are not inventing something. As his powerful speech and the contributions of other Members made clear, there is already a huge range of amazing voluntary work being undertaken by individuals and groups across the country.
My hon. Friend referred to several organisations very worthy of mention and celebration in this place, including the scout movement and its work to engage and develop young people in communities, to which my hon. Friend has contributed throughout his chairmanship of the all-party scout group. It is genuinely impressive to see how the movement goes from strength to strength with the essential support of its volunteers.
We cannot be complacent or take the movement for granted, however. Statistics demonstrate that giving has flatlined and shows some worrying signs of decline. In all our constituencies, we wonder how we will replace the people who have taken a lead in our communities, but the Government are ambitious and we do not accept that decline is inevitable. We want to work with the voluntary community sector and, critically, with business, as my hon. Friend mentioned, to connect more people with the opportunity to make a difference.
I will set out some of our initial plans, which I hope will give my hon. Friend some reassurance that the Government are ambitious and extremely committed to the agenda, and perhaps address some of his specific issues.
Last month we published a giving White Paper, which sets out our stall. We want to focus on three things: making it easier to give; making it more compelling to give; and giving better support to the charities and voluntary groups that channel our generosity. That involves public investment, so we have said that we will invest more than £40 million in volunteering and social action over the next two years.
That investment will include a new social action fund to support some of the most creative and effective schemes that are being developed to inspire more giving in priority areas and to inspire groups, including young people. My hon. Friend suggested new incentives to get more people involved, and he may be interested to know that that includes piloting such initiatives as Spice “time credits”, which introduce new incentives for people to give time, including discounts and preferential access to local services. We are piloting, because new incentives may be required just to tip new people over the edge and into giving time.
We are also announcing challenge prizes to reward the best solutions for breaking down the barriers that get in the way of more giving, and we have announced a local infrastructure fund to help the amazingly valuable and important infrastructure that is out there to support community organisations and volunteering, and to help it become more efficient and more effective. Further details of how organisations can apply to those funds will be announced over the coming months.
I am delighted to say that the White Paper has received significant support from key figures in the voluntary and community sector. Sir Stuart Etherington, the chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, says:
“This Paper draws together a wealth of intelligence on what can be done to stimulate greater levels of giving…in the UK.”
The chief executive of Volunteering England says:
“The White Paper deserves to be warmly welcomed by the…movement. It promises to make a positive advance in how people volunteer in our society and in how organisations support them.”
My hon. Friend mentioned the national citizen service, which is a hugely important initiative. It was launched this year, with more than 10,000 places available for 16-year-olds this summer, and is a fantastic opportunity to connect young people with their own power to make a contribution to their communities. Of course my hon. Friend is right: once we have lit the spark in those young people, as we hope to, we must ensure that it is the start of a journey into other opportunities to develop skills and experiences and to make a positive contribution. So, yes, we do want to work with our providers to signpost those opportunities, and I have personally delivered that message to the scouts and to Youth United, because they are entirely complementary to the national citizen service.
It is not just young people we want to inspire, however. We believe that throughout communities in Britain there are people who would get more involved in changing things in their neighbourhood if they were encouraged and supported to come together. That is especially true of relatively disadvantaged neighbourhoods where there is less obvious so-called social capital, and that is why we are investing in training 5,000 community organisers, who will bring people together in their areas and encourage and support them to make the differences they want to see in their communities. That is why we are also launching a new neighbourhood grants fund, Community First, which will incentivise local people to work together to create the change they want to see.
As my hon. Friend says, we should look to cut some of the red tape that gets in the way, while making sure that we continue to protect the vulnerable. That is why I asked Lord Hodgson to lead a joint Cabinet Office and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills red tape taskforce. Part of the role of that taskforce was to look at how to remove barriers to those wishing to become more actively involved. He recently published his report “Unshackling Good Neighbours”, and we are reviewing the recommendations that relate to addressing barriers to the giving of time. I heartily recommend the report to my hon. Friend, because I think he will appreciate that it oozes common sense from every page. It is a thoroughly good read. As I said, we are reviewing the recommendations and seeing what we can action as quickly as possible.
My hon. Friend mentioned CRB checks. He will be aware that we have completed reviews of the criminal records and vetting and barring regimes. As outlined in our programme for government, the aim of the reviews was to scale back these regimes to common-sense levels. It is clear from my conversations with the sector and across communities that there is still frustration about how the CRB process works in relation to the time it takes and the restrictions on portability around the system. The main recommendations of the reviews, which are being taken forward under the Protection of Freedoms Bill currently going through Parliament, is to reduce the coverage of the schemes to individuals who have close and regular contact with vulnerable groups; to place a greater onus on employers and voluntary organisations to decide when to carry out checks and to make it easier to carry them around the system; and to introduce continually updated CRB checks to reduce the need for employees and volunteers to have new checks when they move positions.
In addition, we announced in the Budget—this is all in the context of trying to make it easier to volunteer—that all drivers who use their vehicle for work or volunteering will now be able to claim 45p per mile for the first 10,000 miles, an increase of 5p per mile. I am sure that my hon. Friend will know that there was frustration across constituencies about the rising cost of giving time in this regard, and we think that this will help. The Department for Work and Pensions and Jobcentre Plus have been working with the Cabinet Office and key representatives of the voluntary sector to tackle the real and perceived barriers to unemployed people volunteering.
We are very conscious of the need to lead by example. That is why we are encouraging civil servants to volunteer by turning the civil service into what we call a civic service. They will spend more time out of Departments and in communities working with organisations, and we believe that we will get better civil servants as a result. We are taking a lead in encouraging civil servants to do at least one day of volunteering each year using special leave. We hope that this sets a good example to other employers. One of the reasons I am so optimistic about this agenda is that increasingly businesses are recognising that it is in their commercial interests to encourage their human resources to give time and stretch themselves in different contexts. It is not just about PR value or community value but about developing their most important assets, which are human. We want to lead by example with the civil service, and we are very much encouraging business to follow.
I recommend to my hon. Friend an excellent speech made by the Prime Minister—of course, every speech that he makes is excellent, but this one is particularly good—called “Every Business Commits”, which speaks very strongly to businesses about what we expect as regards encouraging more social responsibility.
My final point concerns a matter on which my hon. Friend placed a lot of importance. In addition to implementing these programmes, it is essential that we recognise and reward inspirational examples of good practice in volunteering and social action. To achieve this, the Government have created the big society awards. I do not know if he is aware of that, but I can write to update him on how every single Member of Parliament can nominate individuals and organisations in their constituencies for these awards. We also continue to support and promote the Queen’s award for voluntary service. I was delighted to hear about his own personal initiative on celebrating local heroes, and I wish him every success with that.
I would again like to thank my hon. Friend for calling this debate this evening. As I highlighted, there is already a lot of excellent voluntary work taking place across the country. In the years to come, we hope to grow volunteering and social action and enable the existing good practice to become the norm. I hope that I have reassured him that the Government are extremely ambitious about and very committed to encouraging more people to get involved in their communities.
June 15, 2011
Nick Hurd answers MPs’ questions on volunteering, charitable giving, the National Citizen Service and the Public Bodies Bill.
Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): What plans his Department has to help match young people with volunteering opportunities.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): We are investing in the national citizen service, which will be very powerful in connecting young people with their own power to make a contribution to the community. In addition, we will invest £40 million over the next two years to support volunteering infrastructure and social action.
Duncan Hames: I thank the Minister. Grow, the organisation behind Wiltshire’s volunteer centre in Chippenham, is keen to extend the range of support it provides in matching young people with volunteering opportunities as part of Wiltshire council’s volunteer strategy and action plan. Will the new local infrastructure fund be able to support such initiatives, be they in Wiltshire or elsewhere?
Mr Hurd: I was in Devizes constituency in Wiltshire on Friday, and I recognise that Wiltshire council represents best practice in many ways in supporting local voluntary organisations and local infrastructure. I am delighted about the local infrastructure fund, because it will help existing infrastructure assets become even more efficient and effective in supporting front-line voluntary organisations and encouraging local people to get involved.
Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): We all support efforts to encourage volunteering, but does the Minister share our concern that under proposals in the Protection of Freedoms Bill on the vetting and barring scheme individuals who are barred from working with children will be able to volunteer in schools, and without the school’s knowledge?
Mr Hurd: The Bill contains very important reforms to vetting and barring, and critically to the Criminal Records Bureau process, which many Members will know from their constituencies is a source of considerable frustration for people who are trying to volunteer. I agree with the reforms that will make that process simpler, more effective and more portable.
Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): What steps he is taking to encourage increased levels of giving.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): The Government are anxious to encourage more giving. On 23 May, we published a White Paper that set out a range of ways in which we can help to make giving easier and more compelling, and offered better support for charities, community groups and social enterprises.
Andrew Bridgen: Although people in the UK are very generous compared with Europeans, the rate of UK charitable giving remains only half that of the rate in America. What further steps will the Minister take to encourage us to give up to the level of our American cousins?
Mr Hurd: My hon. Friend is right—we are a generous country—but giving has flatlined, despite substantial interventions from previous Governments. We do not accept that as being inevitable, and we want to help people to give more. He will know that the Chancellor announced generous incentives in the last Budget. The White Paper contains many ideas, including a social action fund to support creative, new models that incentivise people to give.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): More people would be encouraged to give, especially to health care charities, if the issue of irrecoverable VAT on all non-business supplies was sorted out. Discussions are being held with the Treasury, but will the Minister ensure that they are expedited so that a mutually acceptable solution is reached as quickly as possible?
Mr Hurd: The issue of irrecoverable VAT continues to rumble on. It is a Treasury matter, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that as Minister with responsibility for civil society I continue to have regular discussions with the relevant Treasury Minister.
Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I spent 16 years in the fundraising sector. Does the Minister agree that one giving barrier for many people is the abolition of cheques?
Mr Hurd: I know that causes a lot of debate and anxiety in the sector. As my hon. Friend well knows, the matter is under review by the Government. It has been stated that cheques need to be replaced by some form of paper-based system.
Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): The House will note that the giving White Paper states that the Government aim to support and manage opportunities for giving, but what will the Minister do to monitor what sums are given and to which organisations? Does he intend to plug funding gaps, should they arise, so that poor areas of the country are not disadvantaged? Indeed, if donations continue to fall, is it a sensible strategy to rely on philanthropy to fill gaps in public funding?
Mr Hurd: The Government see a substantial opportunity to encourage more giving, bearing in mind that 8% of the country do 47% of the giving. The hon. Lady asks about money for more deprived areas. Our “community first and community organiser” programme, which is worth about £80 million, is exclusively targeted on the most deprived communities. The programme incentivises the local giving of time and money to support social action projects led by those communities.
National Citizen Service
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What steps he is taking to enable young people in (a) England and (b) Northamptonshire to participate in the national citizen service in the summer of 2011.
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): What steps he is taking to enable young people to participate in the national citizen service in the summer of 2011.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): As my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) knows, we are offering more than 10,000 places to 16-year-olds this summer, including 135 in Northamptonshire. Our 12 providers are working hard to ensure full participation. I hope that he will lend his personal support to Catch22 and the Prince’s Trust in his area.
Mr Hollobone: What steps are being taken to encourage full participation in the scheme, and how can parents get involved to encourage youngsters to take up this challenge?
Mr Hurd: Our providers are working very hard to ensure full participation in the pilots by engaging schools, working with local media, and using social networking sites, including a dedicated Facebook page. The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General and I will write to every colleague in the House with details of how they can engage with their local provider, because we would like them fully to support this exciting and positive opportunity for young people in their constituencies.
James Morris: There are a number of national citizens service pilots in and around my constituency. Does the Minister agree that we need to find ways of increasing and deepening access to this scheme in the most deprived areas by using innovative ways of communicating with youth clubs and other local institutions?
Mr Hurd: My hon. Friend raises an important point. One of the key benchmarks for success of the scheme is creating the right social mix on residential courses. The aim is to create opportunities for young people to meet people they would never otherwise expect to meet. That is very much part of the obligation on our providers and we are monitoring it very closely.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I welcome this initiative, but does the Minister agree that the Government need to do much more to prevent a repeat of the ‘80s, when so many young people ended up on the scrapheap?
Mr Hurd: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his constructive engagement with the national citizen service concept. I obviously reject his thesis and would point him to the investment in apprenticeships and everything else that we are doing. I urge him not to underestimate the potential of this programme to transform young people’s sense of what they can achieve.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): May I ask the Minister again about the barriers to young people from deprived areas getting involved in this scheme, especially in the pilot projects, for which, in half of the cases, young people are being charged up to £99? Does he agree that such charges will be a severe disincentive to young people from those areas, and will he take action?
Mr Hurd: We have made it clear—I have done so personally—to every provider that money should not be a barrier to participation in the pilots. We are experimenting with a range of models to gauge people’s willingness to pay for the value that the models add, but we have made it very clear to providers that money should not be a barrier to participation.
Public Bodies Bill
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): What recent representations he has received on the provisions of the Public Bodies Bill.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): As my hon. Friend knows, the Bill has completed a tortuous but constructive passage through the other place, and we hope for a Second Reading in this place soon. In the meantime, the Cabinet Office and other relevant Departments are holding information sessions for colleagues who want to discuss this important Bill.
Charlie Elphicke: I thank the Minister for his reply, his hard work and the excellent job he is doing on the Bill. Under the Bill, public statutory corporations such as British Waterways will be reformed and become mutuals. Have Ministers considered other similar public bodies, such as trust ports, for inclusion in the Bill?
Mr Hurd: I understand that my hon. Friend is frustrated by the pace of progress in his committed and spirited attempt to allow the people of Dover to take over the port. He will know that the Transport Secretary, who is sitting alongside me, has announced a consultation on the criteria for assessing the sale of trust ports in England and Wales, largely to reflect the Government’s localism and big society agendas. It is right for that consultation to conclude before further decisions are taken.
Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): In March, the Minister for the Cabinet Office claimed that he would make £30 billion of savings from his quango reform programme embodied in the Public Bodies Bill, so that he could
“protect jobs and front-line services.”
My freedom of information requests show, however, that nearly £25 billion of this £30 billion comes from front-line cuts to housing and our universities, including teaching and research. Will he apologise for these misleading statements about protecting front-line services?
Mr Hurd: No—and I am surprised by the line of questioning, because this programme of very overdue reform to the complex landscape of quangos and non-departmental public bodies goes exactly with the grain of the reforms proposed by the previous Government. We are going further in trying to deliver much greater accountability in government, and, on the way, delivering what we believe will be about £2.6 billion in communicative and administrative savings over the spending review period.
Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): By 2014, civil society will be losing £2.9 billion a year in revenue—the same as the amount forgone in corporation tax by big companies in the United Kingdom. Why are the Government being so soft on big business and so tough on charities and the voluntary sector?
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): I reject that statement absolutely. The hon. Gentleman is pulling numbers for lost income to the charity sector out of the air and completely ignoring the volume of public sector contracts going in, not least through the recent Work programme, which is worth at least £100 million a year. As for big business, I would simply refer him to a speech made by the Prime Minister last year called “Every Business Commits”.