Giving Tuesday 2015: Rob Wilson speech

A broader range of finance, more capable organisations and stronger communities will help realise the full potential of UK civil society.

Rob Wilson

Happy GivingTuesday everyone.

I want to begin on an estate in South West London. Angell Town is in 1 of the 10% most deprived areas in the country. There’s high unemployment, drugs, gangs. It’s a place that’s become notorious for young lives lost to violence. To outsiders it might seem hopeless.

But there is hope. A few weeks ago I visited Angell Town and met some extraordinary people. People like Lorraine Jones, who tragically lost her son in a fatal stabbing last year. She’s brought young people together to start a boxing club in his memory. There’s even a class for mums on the estate.

Or Terroll Lewis, an ex-gang member who runs a series of local street gyms. He developed his workout regime in Belmarsh Prison. Now he’s inspiring other young people to turn their lives around: giving them something to work towards, something to look forward to.

The reason I mention Angell Town is this: in the toughest parts of our country, people like Terroll and Lorraine, they are civil society. But they’re not alone.

If you’ve heard their stories before, it’s because of the Evening Standard’s ‘Estates We’re In’ campaign. The paper decided to give Angell Town exceptional coverage, part of a massive fundraising drive aimed at tackling social problems in London’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

This is part of civil society. And so is Network Rail, who provided the railway arch that hosts Lorraine’s boxing club, so is the Met, who donated training equipment, so are Citibank, Linklaters and Mouth Anvil who’ve all contributed funds.

Government and civil society

So where does that leave government? How do we fit into this landscape? That’s what I want to talk to you about today.

In the past we’ve had a top-down, transactional relationship with civil society organisations. We make the grants; you put them to work in communities across Britain. There will always be a place for this kind of investment. It’s why we protected the Big Lottery Fund in the Spending Review.

But with money tight, we need a new kind of relationship with civil society organisations. Too many charities are devoting huge resources chasing the same pot of money. Too many are dependent on a single source of income, always just one cheque away from insolvency.

I want to see a sector that’s more capable, resilient, self-confident and independent. Where we do fund, I want government to be one partner among many, a helping hand rather than crutch.

So here’s what we’ll do to make that happen.

First, we’ll provide you with a broader and more sustainable range of funding options.

Second, we’ll support you to uphold the very highest standards of professionalism and integrity in the way that you operate.

Third, we will focus our resources in communities themselves, recognising that we are in the business of building on the strengths that communities bring.

Let’s take finance first, and as we do, let’s head north of the river, from Brixton to East London.


Thinkforward is a brilliant organisation, helping young people in Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Islington move from education to employment. Their coaches provide one-to-one support to young people, and 90% of those who’ve taken part go on to further education, employment or training.

And how is this programme funded? Not with a grant, but with a social impact bond.

Social investors put their money in and returns are directly linked to improvements in behaviour, educational attainment and progression into work. Public and private capital: delivering results, changing lives.

We already benefit from the world’s most advanced social investment market, with the first social investment and social investment tax relief. But we’re going further.

At last week’s Autumn Statement the Chancellor announced that we will scale up social impact bonds further in the fields of homelessness, mental health, children in care and youth unemployment.

And as you will have seen in the Autumn Statement, we’re also setting up a new Social Outcomes Fund worth over £75 million, meaning local authorities will be able to create even more social impact bonds.

Combined with our historic devolution reforms, this is a huge opportunity for civil society organisations.

But social impact bonds are only part of the story. As a government, we recognise that charities and social enterprises can add huge value to what the public sector is trying to achieve.

Take the St Giles Trust, who do fantastic work with prison leavers to break the cycle of reoffending. They’ve just been commissioned in the first round of our programme to transform rehabilitation in this country.

I want more of you to have the chance to win those public sector contracts. Especially the smaller charities that offer the biggest impact because they are rooted in local communities.

I believe you can make a huge contribution to improving public services – and I make this promise today. I will be looking in detail at the barriers to commissioning facing charities and social enterprises. My aim is to, if it’s possible, bust through those barriers and enable the government to make the most of many outstanding people and organisations.

Alongside procurement, I am also looking to unlock entirely new sources of finance. Even though it’s Giving Tuesday, I’m going to have to make you wait a little longer for this exciting announcement.

We’ll also continue to back the UK’s flourishing culture of giving. That’s what #GivingTuesday today is all about and it’s why we are proud to be a founding member.

So we’re opening up the range of financial options: from social investment, to public services and contracts, to other new forms of funding. In return, we need you to make sure that every penny is well spent.

Which brings me onto my second point: helping you fulfil your mission by upholding the highest standards of professionalism and integrity.


This starts with some very basic questions of ethics and governance.

On fundraising, it’s clear that some big charities lost their way. Frankly, public confidence has been shaken, not just for those at fault but in the sector as a whole. And that’s deeply unfair, especially to the smallest charities with the tightest margins.

But I believe in a sector that solves its own problems. So rather than a knee-jerk response, I asked Stuart Etherington to look at the case for self-regulation.

He produced an excellent report which I’ve backed in full, and I’m pleased to have appointed Lord Grade to the chairmanship of the new independent regulator.

But be in no doubt, charities have to make this work. Public trust has to earned; it can’t be taken for granted anymore.

And while the right values are essential, so too is leadership and long-term planning.

It is more important than ever before that you are thinking of new ways to make money go further, of how to adapt and change to live within your means and how to co-ordinate your activities with others for maximum impact.

The Office for Civil Society is on hand to help with all of this.

Since 2013 we have worked with partners in the sector to offer masterclasses to help smaller charities develop the skills needed to access public service contracts. These were hugely well received by those who took part. We now want to look at how we can continue to offer similar help.

The UK is the most generous nation in Europe. We are helping civil society organisations to benefit from this spirit through access to training, tools and moments – like the Small Charities Fundraising Training programme and our support for projects that incentivise giving, like the #GiveMe5 fundraising campaign and ITV’s Text Santa appeal.

And we’ll be investing £15 million in a new phase in the Centre for Social Action – taking the ideas that can make a difference, and enabling them to grow and become routine in our public services and communities.

The private sector is an invaluable resource, not just in terms of funds but also expertise.

The 3 days’ volunteering leave entitlement will help to build stronger communities and a stronger economy by creating a more motivated and productive workforce.

Many businesses already run great volunteering programmes and we want to celebrate their incredible contribution by creating a movement of pro-volunteering employers. There is potential for significant mutual benefit, when employers enable their staff to use their skills to help a charity or community group.

We are looking into how we make the most of high-impact cross sector volunteering through the Skills Exchange Project. This project will raise awareness of the benefits of volunteering using professional skills as well as increasing the understanding of the support needed to develop these relationships.

In the end it’s about everyone pulling together to make Britain a better place to live.

And this is my final point.

Where we as a government can have the greatest impact is in empowering communities themselves. That’s where we’re going to focus our efforts over the next 5 years.

Stronger communities

A big part of this is getting young people civically engaged and working together.

In light of recent events round the world, it is more important than ever that we work together to build a more cohesive society. One which offers all our young people a shared future – where there are opportunities for all to get on in life no matter who you are or where you are from.

This is why we’re expanding National Citizen Service: offering every young person a place so they can learn new skills, challenge themselves and create friendships that cross social divides.

The NCS story is a hugely impressive one, but we need to make sure that more are aware of the programme and have the opportunity to participate. When I meet young people who’ve taken part in NCS, when I hear about the friendships they’ve made and the experiences they’ve shared, I know that they are working together to build stronger communities.

NCS is one part of a broader commitment to youth social action. We are committed to support Step Up to Serve’s #iwill campaign which aims to increase by 50% the number of 10 to 20 year olds taking part in youth social action by 2020.

We know that participation not only develops vital skills for life and work but also helps young people to feel connected to the communities in which they live.

As part of the Cabinet Office commitment we recently invested over £1 million to grow youth social action opportunities across England, which has been very generously match funded by Pears Foundation and UK Community Foundations.

I am committed to seeing this multiplier effect grow so that government seed funding can be multiplied and managed into larger youth social action funds.

We’re also continuing to back our Community Organisers programme. So far we’ve recruited over 6 and a half thousand.

Let’s take an example of how they can make a difference. Residents on an estate in Dudley were worried that a 90 year-old man called Bill was sleeping rough in a park. Community organisers got Bill back in his house, and not only that, he now helps them run a community bulk-buying scheme. Bill phones round until he finds the best deal, the supplies are delivered to his house, and residents come round to collect the goods. And when they come they help Bill out, bringing him meals, doing up his garden. He now has a whole team of local volunteers who help with deliveries.

We know that where community organisers are at work, people have a stronger sense of belonging to their neighbourhood, they feel more valued, they become more likely to team up and improve their area.

So today I can announce we’re going further. We’re committing to expand the number of Community organisers recruited to 10,000 by March 2020.

And I’m delighted to announce that Cabinet Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government have committed over £500,000 to support 27 Community Organisers inspiring residents of disadvantaged communities to take control of their neighbourhoods. Through our Community Organisers Mobilisation Fund, residents from Penzance in Cornwall to Heaton in Newcastle will be using Community Rights and Neighbourhood Planning to shape their area. It’s how we’ll build a bigger and stronger society, one street at a time.

So a broader range of finance, more capable organisations, stronger communities: these are all essential to realising the full potential of UK civil society.

As a one nation government, we are absolutely committed to extending hope and opportunity to those in our country who need them the most.

And we know we can’t do it alone. I have been in this job for just over a year now and it is still such a privilege to witness your work: the commitment of the staff, the dedication of the volunteers, the difference you can make to people’s lives.

So keep going, and let’s face our country’s challenges together.

Published 1 December 2015