National Council for Voluntary Organisations annual conference 2011

Transcript of the speech as delivered. This Government inherited a toxic financial legacy. Record public deficit - with unsustainable spending…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Lord Pickles

Transcript of the speech as delivered.

This Government inherited a toxic financial legacy. Record public deficit - with unsustainable spending.

We’re spending £43bn a year just to repay interest on the national debt. 1

Meanwhile - as Stuart says - the total income of all the country’s voluntary and community groups put together is £35bn. 2

In other words - there’s more money going out of the exchequer, simply to stay still on our national debt, as there is coming in to your coffers.

You don’t have to be an economist to see that this is unsustainable, and in layman’s terms pure lunacy.

We have to do what’s responsible. Do what’s right. And get public spending under control.

We’ve taken the tough decisions needed to put the economy on a sound footing.

We’ve set spending limits for central government.

In the local government settlement, we’ve done the same for councils.

Now everyone in government - in Whitehall, and the town hall - has had to decide how to respond.

Some have chosen to recognise the immensely important role of the voluntary and community sector.

To value the work you do.

In many cases, voluntary and community groups are transforming the way public services are delivered.

Bringing levels of expertise and care. Imagination and innovation, that rival the very best of the public or private sector.

And in doing so, they offer outstanding value for taxpayers’ money.

That’s why we’ve sought, as far possible, to protect our funding to voluntary groups. To safeguard our support for those helping the homeless. And providing care to vulnerable adults.

The best councils have long valued a good relationship with voluntary organisations.

They know that voluntary groups play an invaluable and irreplaceable role within thousands of communities.

They know that your advice and innovation can help shape services.

They know that - instead of annual grant handouts and annual bidding rounds - it makes sense to put you at the heart of service delivery day in, day out. Harnessing your experience and expertise for the benefit of local people.

To give you a say in how services are designed. And, in more and more cases, to hand over the running of those services to you. Giving you a more stable and predictable income.

And these councils know that inflicting disproportionate cuts to the voluntary sector would be incredibly short-sighted.

Thurrock have pledged to continue funding the voluntary sector at the same rate as last year. As have Wolverhampton.

Wiltshire have said that they need flourishing voluntary sector organisations today more than ever before: and that ‘to weaken the sector by withdrawing support would be a big mistake’.

Reading are actually increasing the money they give to voluntary groups. And changing the way it’s distributed so it’s more transparent, consistent, and focused on what the town needs.

And Tendring - tiny Tendring, out on the Essex coast - is completely transforming the way they work with the voluntary sector.

Instead of £50,000 shared between a handful of groups, they are offering half a million which any group with ideas and initiative can bid for. A tenfold increase.

These councils know what they are doing. They didn’t wait to be told. They didn’t ask for instructions. They just got on with the job.

And if all these councils - North and South, urban and rural, district, metropolitan and unitary; some of them highly dependent on government grants - can do it - there’s no reason why others cannot.

But what you and I know is that some councils aren’t on the same page as these reforming councils.

They don’t seem to get it.

And that is a grave concern to the Government.

I think the way that a council works with the voluntary sector through this testing time is a key test of whether they are really ready for independent, responsible leadership.

I’ve made it very clear they must resist any temptation to pull up the drawbridge and pass on disproportionate cuts.

And unless they’ve squeezed out every bit of waste.

Unless they are really sharing back offices.

Unless they’ve clamped down on senior pay.

Then there’s no excuse and no hiding place.

Let me be crystal clear. We have reasonable expectations of how Local Authorities will conduct themselves.

First, it is reasonable to expect that councils will not pass on disproportionate cuts to local voluntary and community groups. That they will not inflict bigger reductions to your budgets than they take on themselves.

Second, any sensible council has known for many months that we were facing tough times - so it is reasonable to expect that they will have been talking to voluntary and community groups at a very early stage about how services need to change.

Third, it is reasonable to expect that they will have given three months’ notice or more when they think they need to end or alter a grant, or other support.

And it is reasonable to expect that they use this three months to give local groups a chance to make their case and suggest alternative ways of redesigning or reshaping the service.

So if councils are being high-handed - I’ll consider giving our reasonable expectations statutory force.

Because in order to make a success of localism -

In order to enable our towns and neighbourhoods to thrive -

I want to make sure that voluntary and charitable groups have got the confidence, the clout and the power to make their mark.

Whoever you are, whatever you’ve got to give, we’re going to make it easier for you to give it.

That’s why we’re introducing a whole series of new rights through the localism bill.

The right to challenge the way local services are run - such as children’s centres, social care, or even transport.

The community right to buy - with time to come up with a business plan, and find the cash, to run resources like leisure centres and libraries.

The right - through neighbourhood planning - to have a meaningful say over what your hometown will look and feel like in the future.

You know the neighbourhood, you know what people want, you know what’s going to work.

The fact is that public services have been run on the Gospel according to the Government for too long. It’s stifled innovation and stopped us getting the best results.

So whether parents want to run a new school, residents want to take over the community centre - or big voluntary groups want to run whole public services.

We’re not just grudgingly allowing it - we’re positively encouraging it.

We are also ushering in a new era of transparency.

Every council should be opening its books.

I want everyone to be able to see how much their council spends on the voluntary sector through grants and payments under contract.

And if you aren’t happy with the funding decisions your council is making - let them know.

Ultimately, they are accountable to you.

Finally, we’re making it easier for people to play a bigger role in their community.

There’s a long and proud tradition in this country of volunteering. As you well know many millions of people make a huge contribution to national life and their local community by sharing their time and expertise.

But there are others who have a great deal to give but find barriers in their way. Red tape. A lack of clear opportunities to do their bit.

Whether they’ve always been put off by the endless CRB paperwork.

Whether they are teenagers who want to get new opportunities in the National Citizen Service.

Whether they want to become one of our 5,000 organisers.

There’s a place in the Big Society for that.

You know, people say it’s easier to start a gang than a youth group.

Because the government doesn’t regulate gangs.

It doesn’t come up with an endless list of rules and requirements.

Hurdles and hoops.

Paperwork and boxes to tick and forms to fill in.

It’s no wonder that people get frustrated and give up before they’ve even begun.

But we can’t afford to let the enthusiasm of volunteers, the goodwill of communities, and the successes of the voluntary sector go to waste any more.

So whether your group is made up of a handful of volunteers and a tiny budget who just needs a foot in the door to make a huge difference to your community.

Whether you’re a bigger group providing vital local services who wants to expand and improve what you offer.

Or whether you are a multi-million pound organisation with radical ambitions to take over national public services.

Then you are an essential part of the Big Society.

We need to work together to maximise your contribution. And make the most of your potential.

1 “We are paying, at a rate of £120m a day, £43bn a year in debt interest” - 22 November 2010, Chancellor, Spending Review statement

2 Total income from all sources is £35.5bn - according to the NCVO Almanac published in 2010, based on facts from 2007-08

Published 1 March 2011