Back in 2006 the Labour government introduced the Charities Act, a piece of legislation which was far from revolutionary but was both necessary and remarkable, in that it was the first comprehensive charity legislation in over 100 years. The Act consolidated other smaller laws, redefined ‘public benefit’, made appeals against the Charity Commission easier and reduced red tape, especially for smaller charities. At that time the Charity Commission warned, and it has since come to pass, that several parts of the Act could not be implemented because they did not even then have the resources to take on the work.
That the Commission is now struggling to maintain even its existing services to the third sector as the cuts bite should therefore raise no eyebrows. They are due to lose £8M of their £29M annual budget within four years. The most prominent consequence of the cuts, according to both the Commission and the unions representing its workforce, will be that allegations of minor fraud in charities will go uninvestigated. Is that what the Government wants? The alternative would be to refer more cases that would previously have gone to the Commission to the police – another service having to do more in future with fewer resources.
You pays your money – or otherwise – and you takes your choice.
The same campaign of Cabinet Office cutbacks will decimate (almost literally) the eight black and minority ethnic regional volunteering networks. Seven are likely to close as an average of just £50,000 each is taken from them. It would be great to hear that there was no need for these networks any more, that BME communities engaged, and engaged in mixed endeavours, as much as any other. But that is not why they are being terminated: proof of outcomes, effectiveness and efficiency are not even being sought. The axe is so sharp it will slice through any defence.
In DfID the situation is no better. The Department that had its total spending ring-fenced has cut back hard on spending within the UK, slashing both grants to development education and to volunteering projects in developing countries. I hardly dare mention local government where, for example, total closure of London Councils’ £26M grants programme to voluntary sector bodies is likely.
No one denies that sails have to be trimmed nor that charities and voluntary bodies should be universally protected. Infrastructure bodies may not be sexy but they are essential to the working of society, Big or otherwise. ‘Slash and burn’ is the approach of a government that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.