Speech

Building civil society together: Rob Wilson speech

Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society, spoke about the government's vision for a 'bigger stronger society'.

Thank you to Sir Stuart [Etherington, Chief Executive, National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO)] for the introduction. Thank you also to the NCVO and the tireless work it does in representing the views of its members and in the provision of vital support services to them. Having a critical friend outside of and uninfluenced by government has been a great help to me personally and to my officials.

The Prime Minister has spoken this week about extending opportunities for all. As a government we’re committed to uniting all parts of our country as one nation by spreading hope and opportunity to those who need them most. Today I want to set out how our vision of a ‘bigger stronger society’ is essential to that task.

Over the last few weeks I’ve continued to see this bigger stronger society first hand. As a passionate advocate of social mobility, I was lucky enough to be invited to volunteer at IntoUniversity. This charity supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get into university, with volunteers providing tuition and mentoring.

Last year over 1,500 volunteers supported IntoUniversity, contributing over 22,000 hours of volunteering – a quite astounding effort when you pause and think about it. That’s an average of around 2 working days per volunteer.

When I became Minister for Civil Society there were great opportunities ahead but work to be done to make the most of them. I’m delighted to be back and I’m ready to get down to the crucial job of delivering.

Over the next 5 years we have an ambitious programme to help more of our citizens lead a good and fulfilling life.

We know there are many brilliant organisations outside the state who share this goal and believe in the common good – not only charities and community groups, but many businesses too. So our vision is to create a bigger stronger society by working in partnership with all of you.

We’ve said we will deliver for people at every stage of life: from your first day at school, to securing your first job and raising a family, to ensuring dignity in retirement. We want to empower civil society organisations to do the same.

A bigger stronger society is one in which parents are supported in the early days of parenthood by family, friends and by other local parents in the community.

Where all children have a chance to benefit from volunteer-led lunchtime and after-school clubs, everything from sport, to help with reading, to learning how to code. And as they get older, to take part in National Citizen Service, building the skills, confidence and networks they need to succeed in later life.

It is a society where everyone has the chance to contribute to their community, and where those communities are self-confident and civically engaged.

It is a world where people ask what they can do for their community not only what their community can do for them.

We already have solid foundations to build on.

Millions of people in Britain today are giving up their time, talent and expertise to help their fellow citizens. An estimated 32 million adults volunteered last year – that’s 3 million more than at the beginning of the last Parliament. Just recently we celebrated all their hard work, dedication and skill during Volunteers’ Week.

But we all know money is very tight, and to realise that vision civil society must continue to innovate in the way it funds itself, runs itself and delivers social action.

So this is our plan.

First, we need a confident and capable voluntary sector, armed with the skills it needs to meet the challenges ahead.

Second, we want to see more social action and volunteering, with community participation embedded in our lives from school days onwards.

Third, increased levels of giving, and more social investment, helping people who want to use their money to transform lives to connect to organisations who can put those funds to work.

And fourth, stronger, more resilient, more capable and more empowered communities.

Just as we rebalance our economy so that prosperity is more widely shared, we will also rebalance power away from central government, enabling communities to make more of their own decisions and shape their own future.

Let me take each of those in turn.

First, capability.

There are many voluntary organisations out there, working tirelessly to support those most in need in our communities – but these organisations have faced significant challenges in recent years, including coping with a changing funding environment whilst responding to increasing need.

I’ve had many letters from you over the last few months, so I’m delighted to answer them all today by announcing that our Local Sustainability Fund (LSF) will be open to initial applications immediately.

Frontline organisations know that they need to adapt and change in order to continue to deliver for their service users. We recognised that we could offer help to these organisations, by assisting them to plan for the future and deliver real change.

The Local Sustainability Fund has been created to provide this help.

We’ve worked in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund to develop a fund that will help to build firm foundations for a stronger and more resilient sector.

The key principles behind the fund are simple: put smaller voluntary organisations in a position to change. Allowing them to find the time, support and critical challenge, to start to make the necessary changes to deliver a sustainable service to their users.

At the same time businesses are capable of helping voluntary groups, by giving them access to a wider range of professional skills through staff volunteering schemes.

We want to put these relationships at the heart of the Local Sustainability Fund, to establish cross-sector partnerships that will be sustained long after the fund itself closes. I regard professional skill sharing as an integral part of the LSF and crucial to delivering sustainability.

The initial investment in this fund will be £20 million. We will be looking closely at the progress of organisations that come through the fund and considering how best to build on it over the lifetime of the Parliament.

Find out more about the Local Sustainability Fund.

The structure of the LSF reflects my philosophy that it’s not just about the money. The most important resource for your sector is people and their skills and expertise, which is also why we want to continue the growth in social action and volunteering.

We put at the heart of our manifesto a commitment to 3 days of paid volunteering leave for employees in large organisations. Many companies do this already but we’ll make this a reality for more people – a new entitlement for millions which will unleash a new wave of skills, capability and passion to help others.

And I want volunteering to start at school. Already 135,000 young people have taken part in National Citizen Service, and last year 40% of 10 to 20 year olds took part in regular social action.

I want to instil a lifelong commitment to volunteering among young people. So we will substantially grow National Citizen Service and intensify support for Step Up To Serve’s #iwill campaign, providing increased youth social action opportunities to encourage a lifetime habit of volunteering.

Over the coming year we will create new social action opportunities for young people and encourage match funding to further grow places. We will focus on filling some of the gaps in opportunities we identified in our recent survey of young people.

We’ll also begin a new phase in the Centre for Social Action. To date we’ve backed 215 public service innovations involving over 2 million people.

This year we’ll invest further in the Centre for Social Action – helping take the social action ideas and models that are making a difference, and enabling these to grow, take scale and become part of the daily life of every person in Britain; part of the normal routine in our public services and communities.

For example, we’ve been working with hospitals, the voluntary sector and communities around the country, backing programmes where volunteers support those in need and improve outcomes and help reduce pressures on hospitals. The work of these volunteers is designed to complement public services and support the important work that NHS and social care staff do. And just as we adopt new ways of delivering social action across the country, we also need to be more innovative in the way we finance that action.

And underpinning all this is a strong, resilient sector that commands public trust.

Our first Queen’s Speech included the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, which has already been introduced into Parliament.

In the past the Charity Commission had been too lax in tackling serious abuses of charity, which risks undermining public trust. That is changing; the Charity Commission is now taking a much more robust approach to tackling serious abuse, and the bill will give it the tools it needs to do its job effectively.

In fact, new research released today has found that 92% of charities and 83% of the public support the new powers being introduced for the Charity Commission through this bill.

The bill also makes it easier for charities to make social investments, should they wish. More charities will be able to invest in a way that delivers a positive social impact as well as a financial return for the charity.

This brings me on to my third point: putting social investment at the heart of our plans for social justice.

Social investment, for me, is about helping more civil society organisations to increase their reach and impact.

We already have the world’s most developed social investment market having introduced the world’s first social investment bank and social investment tax relief.

I was proud to launch Access – the new £100 million social investment foundation – earlier this year.

By helping organisations to become investment ready, Access will be critical in our continued efforts to ensure social investment is working for more organisations and accessible by many more people. And we as government can use social investment to deliver a more just society.

We know that all too often the taxpayer has to deal with the downstream consequences of failures in education, health and social services. And although there’s a cost to the public purse, there’s a far greater cost in lives damaged and human potential unfulfilled.

Addressing this isn’t only an urgent thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. We need to intervene early and work in partnership with civil society to tackle these issues at source.

So I am committed to rapidly extending the scope and reach of social impact bonds in 4 priority areas: youth unemployment, mental health, homelessness and children in care.

As a first step I am scaling up the Centre for Social Impact Bonds in the Office for Civil Society and continuing to invest in our Social Outcomes Fund. I hope to see much more progress over the Parliament.

But neither us, nor you, can do this alone. We also need to inspire and empower communities themselves to deliver positive social change.

So over the next 5 years we want to help build stronger, more resilient communities – building on the successful programmes we’ve created.

We will shortly be releasing new evidence on the impact of one of our key community action programmes, Community First, which has unleashed over £100 million in community effort and capacity. This new research shows that where Community First has been active, communities are more capable, with higher levels of volunteering, civic engagement and wellbeing.

In the last Parliament we made a commitment to recruit 5,000 Community Organisers. Today I can announce there are over 6,500 organisers across England.

We will build on the success of the Community Organisers programme. We will be announcing shortly how we can help take forward the local projects that have been inspired by these community organisers, working in disadvantaged communities across the country.

I’m really proud of these successes. But I want us to go further to catalyse powerful civil society partnerships working more closely with places and cities as they take on more power.

It’s part of this government’s agenda of City Deals – handing power from the centre to cities, giving greater control over local transport, housing, skills and healthcare.

Civil society has a huge part to play in this revolution in how the country is governed.

We already have some emerging elements of ‘social deals’, including social investment and social action in place for local communities that we want to see grow.

What I have in mind is how we support and empower local communities to take control and shape their future.

We have lots of substantial things to offer – our social finance can help take forward a local community’s priorities. Programmes like Community Organisers and Community First are giving local areas power and resources, and the 7 Cities of Service have started to develop powerful city-wide volunteering movements.

We are already talking to a number of places to realise our ambition to go further and deliver Social Impact Bonds across cities and regions.

A shared vision

I have spoken today about my vision and the immediate plans we have. We are already hard at work on these. But what I hope you also take from today is the spirit that we all have a part to play in building the bigger stronger society.

So let’s rise to this challenge! Let’s ask ourselves how we – both individually and through our organisations – can do our bit for our community.

There genuinely couldn’t be a more important task ahead of us and I’m delighted that we will be working together on delivering this.