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April 2011 Monthly Archives

Cabinet Office Questions

April 27, 2011

Nick Hurd answers MPs’ questions on the Big Society, charities and the voluntary sector.

Big Society

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): What recent representations his Department has received on the big society initiative. 52585

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): I am delighted to assure the hon. Lady that the Cabinet Office receives many representations on the big society from a wide range of individuals and organisations, not least many colleagues on both sides of the House who have accepted our invitation to bring in representatives from their local voluntary and community organisations.

Helen Goodman: I do not know whether the Minister ever gets representations from voluntary sector organisations that fold. The organisation that I used to work for folded a few weeks ago. Will he admit that that is because the cuts are too deep and too fast, and the transitional fund is too little and too late?

Mr Hurd: I am obviously sorry to hear about the fate of the organisation that the hon. Lady used to work for. She will know that in reality the sector cannot be immune from the necessary cuts in public expenditure, and I do not think it would have been immune under a Labour Government. The Government have tried to give the sector maximum support through this difficult period. The transition fund-£100 million of taxpayers’ money; serious money in this context-is there to help organisations that are in a hole.

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Yesterday, Ed Cox, the director of the Institute for Public Policy Research North, said:

“Our research shows that the Big Society will not be fair to the North without changes to government support for philanthropy and charitable giving. Good will is beginning to wear thin as people in the voluntary and community sector try to deal with budget cuts, and organisations in the North cannot turn to big corporate or high value donors to make up the gap”.

What is the Minister doing to ensure that the big society does not usher in further unfairness and exacerbate the north-south divide?

Mr Hurd: I understand the hon. Lady’s point. I refer her to the geographical spread of successful applications to the transition fund, with which we are pleased. She mentioned the need for further incentives for giving in this country. I refer her to what was an extremely helpful Budget in that context, which had a major initiative to encourage giving through inheritance tax and a substantial reform of gift aid to make it easier for smaller charities to receive it on smaller donations. The Government are working extremely hard to make this difficult period of transition as easy as possible for charities.

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Public Expenditure Reductions

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): What recent estimate he has made of the number of charities and voluntary sector organisations that will be affected by reductions in public expenditure in the next 12 months. 52586

9. Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): What recent estimate he has made of the likely change in the number of jobs in the voluntary sector as a result of reductions in public expenditure in the next 12 months. 52591

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): Unfortunately, the sector cannot be immune from cuts, for reasons that have been explained. That would have been exactly the same under a Labour Government. We are trying to help the sector to manage a difficult transition, while shaping what we believe are significant opportunities for the sector, not least in terms of more public service delivery.

Mrs Glindon: Since the late 1980s, Wallsend people’s centre has helped hundreds of unemployed and disadvantaged people in North Tyneside to gain the necessary skills to get to work. In the past year, it has lost more than £450,000 through cuts to Government grants. Four experienced support workers will now lose their jobs. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the communication he has received from the people’s centre about its plight, to which he has not yet replied?

Mr Hurd: Again, I am sorry to hear that that organisation is in difficulty. I am more than happy to meet representatives from the community to discuss it. The transition fund has been made available to help organisations in difficulty. I point out to the hon. Lady that many of the funding decisions and cuts are local decisions, and that many councils across the country are taking a positive approach by maintaining or even increasing spending on the local voluntary and community sector.

Paul Flynn: Cutting charities reduces our ability to help one another and undermines the structures of neighbourliness that form our big society. That is the opinion of the chair of the Charity Commission, who knows about these things. Is not the Government’s big society a big confidence trick?

Mr Hurd: Absolutely not. The hon. Gentleman has been around enough to know that the size of the deficit means that the sector, which receives almost £13 billion a year of taxpayers’ money, cannot be immune from the reduction in public spending, and that it would not have been immune, as the Opposition have admitted, under the ghastly scenario of a Labour Government. We have to be realistic about that. We are trying to minimise the short-term damage through initiatives such as the transition fund, and to create the building blocks for a better future for the sector, not least through more incentives for giving and more opportunities for it to deliver public services.

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Topical Questions

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Fifty business leaders have got together to offer free mentoring advice to small and new business start-ups in my constituency. Will the big society Minister meet me to see how we can roll out that initiative beyond north Yorkshire?

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): The short answer is yes. More than ever, the country needs to get behind its entrepreneurs. My hon. Friend’s local initiative sounds like an excellent one, and I would be delighted to meet him- [ Interruption. ]

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Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): When can the House expect the Public Bodies Bill? What will be in the Bill, and can we revert to the normal practice, whereby such controversial Bills begin in this House and not in the other place?

Mr Hurd: The Public Bodies Bill is obviously very important-it is an opportunity to improve radically the accountability of decisions and to make significant savings from the vast number of quangos that proliferated under the previous Administration. My hon. Friend will know that the Bill is passing through the Lords, with Third Reading expected on 9 May. Obviously, it is for the House authorities to determine the programming for debate in the House, but we expect the Bill to enter Committee after the Whitsun recess.

T7. 52604 John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): A recent survey of charity leaders by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations suggested that charities are not happy, because they feel that the rhetoric that was sold to them before and after the election bears no resemblance to the money that they need to ensure that they deliver the services that are required. Forget about all the waffle, will the Minister tell us exactly how he will fund those charities and how he will ensure that they do things for people?

Mr Hurd: There is obviously understandable concern in the sector about the impact of reductions in public expenditure, but in my experience, charities are increasingly alive to the opportunity to deliver more public services-they are delighted by the announcements in the Budget to increase giving and by the progress that the Government have made in setting up the big society bank.

T6. 52603 Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): Will my hon. Friend the Minister please update the House on the progress of the national citizen service? Will he join me in congratulating the Lincolnshire and Rutland Education Business Partnership, which I have met on a number of occasions, on the invaluable work that it is piloting, and will he also promote the national citizen service?

Mr Hurd: The national citizen service provides a fantastic opportunity for young people from different backgrounds to work together to make a positive difference to their communities. I am delighted that we are offering 11,000 places this summer in many locations throughout the country. I am also delighted that that scheme is coming to Lincoln, and that my hon. Friend is taking such an active interest in such positive opportunities for young people in his constituency.

T8. 52605 Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): What estimate have Ministers made of the cost of the VAT increase to charities?

Mr Hurd: VAT issues are obviously a matter for the Treasury, and I would refer that question to Treasury Ministers. As the hon. Gentleman knows-he is a former Minister-that is a long-standing issue for the sector. He will also be aware of a number of initiatives to look at how we can make the VAT regime more helpful.

T9. 52606 Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): Will the Minister relax regulations on investments by foundations and trusts to empower them fully to support innovations such as social impact bonds?

Mr Hurd: My hon. Friend will know that this Government are totally committed to helping to develop the social investment market, so making it easier for social entrepreneurs to access capital. The big society bank is our major player in that area, but we are looking at a range of ideas. He will also be aware that the Charity Commission is reviewing its guidance to foundations, which have a critical role to play in that context.

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