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December 2012 Monthly Archives

Cabinet Office Questions

December 19, 2012

Nick Hurd answers back bench MPs’ questions on volunteering and charities.

Volunteering

3. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): What plans he has to promote volunteering opportunities for recently retired people to work with young people. 134227

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): Through the innovation fund and the social action fund we are supporting a range of opportunities for retired people to share their skills and experience in their communities, including with young people.

Tim Loughton: I wish you, Mr Speaker, and my hon. Friend the Minister the compliments of the season.

Are we not missing a trick, with a vast army of recently retired people, particularly men, who are not yet ready for their cocoa and slippers and have a lot to offer through volunteering, particularly to young teenage boys in “dadless” households? Will he agree to meet me and a number and businesses and youth charities to see how we can scale up some of the best practice?

Mr Hurd: My hon. Friend is hugely respected across the House and outside it for his splendid work on behalf of young people over many years. The short answer to his question is yes, I would be delighted to meet him.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Retired people can work and volunteer with young people in many projects in my constituency, including the intergenerational project in Newtownards in Strangford. One regular problem is the cost of insurance. What help can the Minister give towards insurance costs for those projects?

Mr Hurd: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We are actively looking at the burden of regulation on volunteers. I am sure he will join me in welcoming the reform of the Criminal Records Bureau process to reduce the number of people who need checks and to make checks more portable. We are actively working with the insurance industry to see what we can do to reduce the liabilities and insurance requirements on volunteers.

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Charities

6. Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): What steps he is taking to support smaller charities. 134230

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): We are cutting red tape. We are investing in giving and making it easier to claim gift aid. We are investing in supporting volunteering and social investment, and we are gradually making it easier for charities to help us deliver better public services.

Andy McDonald: An analysis by the Charities Aid Foundation found that small and medium-sized charities reported deficits of more than £300 million in 2011, and that the situation had markedly deteriorated since 2010. Does the Minister agree that the finances of the voluntary sector, like the economy as a whole, have indeed markedly deteriorated since 2010?

Mr Hurd: Official figures from the Charity Commission show that over the last three years the number of charities has grown, and the income for the sector has grown to more than £50 billion, but we all know from our constituencies that there is intense pressure on charities at the moment, particularly small charities, which requires a whole-society response. The Government are doing their bit, as I described in my first answer.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I am delighted to hear of the Government’s moves to support smaller charities. One charity that really needs the Government’s support is the Plymouth Brethren, who do so much good and who are facing a despicable attack on their charitable status. What can the Minister say in support for the Plymouth Brethren and their legitimate claims to retain their charitable status?

Mr Hurd: I know that feelings run strongly on the issue across the House. The bottom line is that charitable status is decided by the Charity Commission and by the courts in the event of an appeal, which is what is happening in this case. I am sure my hon. Friend supports me in wishing for the process to be resolved as quickly as possible.

14. 134239 Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/ Co-op): In Luton, the local authority’s budget is being cut by approximately half over the period of the comprehensive spending review. In turn, funding is being cut for many local charities, such as LAMP—the Luton accommodation and move-on project—a brilliant charity based in my constituency that works with youth homelessness. Is that not the reality of the big society?

Mr Hurd: The reality of the big society is that the public are enormously supportive of charities. Seventy-five per cent. of charities receive no funding at all from the state. Where they do, it is incumbent on us all—Members on both sides of the House—to send a very clear message to local authorities, as the Prime Minister has done, that we do not expect to see disproportionate cuts to the sector, and that we need to see the process being delivered in accordance with the compact.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): One excellent way to support smaller charities is via the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) and strongly supported by the Government. Will the Minister update the House on progress with implementation of that radical change in procurement?

Mr Hurd: I join my hon. Friend in congratulating our hon. Friend on doing an extraordinary job in taking that private Member’s Bill through Parliament. I can assure him that we are about to issue the necessary guidance to local authorities.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): With one in six charities fearing that they will face closure next year, after huge cuts in Government funding, and after the promised bonanza of new income from Whitehall contracts failed to materialise, how does the Minister hope that his performance will improve next year?

Mr Hurd: I put it to the hon. Gentleman that just as Labour Members talked down the economy for three years, now they are talking down the voluntary sector, which has grown over the past three years. I set him a test of seriousness: will he send a stronger message to Labour local authorities, as the Prime Minister has done, about the need to avoid disproportionate cuts on the sector, starting with Derby?

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Charities

8. Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the merits of establishing an independent body to investigate complaints against charities. 134232

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): The Charity Commission investigates complaints where serious mismanagement or maladministration puts the charity’s assets or beneficiaries at significant risk.

Complaints about the services a charity provides should be directed to the charity itself. Lord Hodgson concluded in his review of the Charities Act 2006 that a new body would be inappropriate and unaffordable. I agree with his assessment.

Graham Jones: Agapao International, a charity in Haslingden in my constituency, took control of a property that was gifted to it by the community in 1999 through various charitable grants. It is now attempting to sell the property for its own financial gain in order to put right financial mismanagement, and there have been dozens of complaints against the charity. The Charity Commission does not seem to have the powers to investigate. Will the Minister meet me to see what can be done to resolve the issue?

Mr Hurd: I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, but I understand that the Charity Commission has engaged with the charity, and the bottom line is that its role is to deal with serious misconduct or mismanagement, not to deal with complaints where people are just unhappy with decisions that are taken within the law and within the governance arrangements of the charity.

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Topical Questions

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) has already raised the plight of the Plymouth Brethren, who are subject to a disgraceful attack by the Charity Commission on their charitable status. During the passage of the Charities Act 2011 through the House, the current Leader of the Opposition gave undertakings that no religious body would lose its charitable status. If the Plymouth Brethren lose the litigation, will my hon. Friend undertake to ensure that the law will be changed?

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): I am sure we all want to see the Plymouth Brethren issue resolved as quickly and cheaply as possible by the Charity Commission and the tribunal. My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that we are reviewing all charity law in co-operation with Lord Hodgson, including whether we should revisit a statutory definition of public benefit.

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Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Nottingham community and voluntary service’s state of the sector report found that although demand for services is increasing, 69% of voluntary groups are facing reduced income, 52% have been forced to cut staff this year, 76% say they may have to close a service and 36% may close altogether. Is this not a terrible indictment of this Government’s support for the voluntary sector?

Mr Hurd: The Labour party has been predicting the collapse of the voluntary sector for three years. In fact it has grown, but it is under huge pressure, which is why we are doing so much to cut red tape, invest in giving, invest in social investment, support volunteering and make it easier for charities to help us to deliver better public services.

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Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): With the festive season upon us, will my hon. Friend join me in thanking all those at the Erewash council for voluntary service and other voluntary organisations in my constituency who do so much at this time of year to give those in need and those on their own the extra support they need?

Mr Hurd: I thank my hon. Friend for giving us all the opportunity to thank the volunteers in our constituencies who do so much to keep things going, who bring people together and make things happen that otherwise would not happen. They deserve all our support and thanks, which is what this Government give.

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