The Moral Maze programme on Radio 4 in February 2016 discussed charity in the UK. The panel members were Michael Portillo, Anne McEvoy, Giles Fraser and Matthew Taylor, chaired by Michael Buerk.
Not surprisingly, the conversation covered charity and its relationship with government and whether, in turn, charity should be able to use part of its funding by government to lobby government?
These questions are important because charities receive government funding of £13 billion out of a total annual income of the charity sector of £40 billion (NCVO Civil Sector Almanac).One line of thought is that charity should be ‘pure’ and independent of government, without any influence over government and without any government funding for its work. This is harking back to some ‘golden time’, which probably never existed, when ‘Lady Bountiful mopped fevered brows and carried on good causes.’
I don’t agree with this ‘pure view.’ Charity has informed and helped to shape and direct public policy for many years. Charity is uniquely well-placed to articulate the views and needs of individuals in vulnerable circumstances, to help government best use public funds to respond to the needs of these individuals, for the benefit of wider society.
So, how can government and charity work together?
There are many ways. One of the most important being for charity to help government to develop policies and legislation which are fit for purpose to address the challenges faced by civil society.
Since early 2000, public policy has been increasingly supportive of asset transfer to community groups. As treasurer of a charity between 2000 and 2011 (what was Development Trusts Association before merging with BASSAC to form Locality – www.locality.org.uk), I was fortunate to be close to those working with government and other stakeholders on a new, important law called the Localism Act 2011.This Act requires local authorities to keep a register of community-nominated assets of value. If such an asset comes up for sale, community groups are given time to write a business plan and raise money and then have a right to bid to buy the asset.
This saved the Ivy House in South London. When the owner of the Ivy House, a well-loved pub with splendid 1930s interior and a place in music history, announced he was selling it to a property developer to convert into flats, local residents were the first in the country to use the Community Right to Bid to gain a six-month moratorium to raise the money to buy the pub.The community purchased the pub with funding raised through a community share issue, making the Ivy House Britain’s first community-owned pub bought through the Localism Act, with the support of Locality.
The Ivy House re-opened in August 2013 and now has a reputation as one of London’s finest real ale and craft beer pubs and music and events venues. Communities across the country are using the Right to Bid under the Localism Act to bring assets into community use and ownership.
So yes, government and charity can achieve a great deal by working together on public policy for common cause.