Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson addresses the National Council for Voluntary Organisations
It is a great pleasure to join you again this evening, after what has been a very eventful week in Westminster and for the country.
When I first started thinking about what I would say this evening I never thought that a general election would be a few short weeks away.
I had a raft of new announcements to share with you tonight and over the next few months. Now you’ll just have to wait and, if we win, they may still see the light of day!
But it hasn’t changed one key thing I want to say to you this evening, which was to thank you all for your ongoing work. You are on the frontline, tackling injustice and helping those who are most in need, in what I know are challenging and sometimes difficult times.
The brilliant photos around the room provide a wonderful visual reminder of the role that each and every one of you in the sector play.
I also wanted to take this opportunity to briefly share my thoughts on the future however long it may be for me personally.
As a country we are embarking on a big period of change. Whilst it is natural for there to be some concerns, it is also important to see this as an opportunity to reshape our country for the better.
Clearly we all want an economy that prospers, but we also want to see a society where everyone benefits from our successes and where everyone knows their voice will be heard.
We need to build strong bonds within our communities and to fight hard to end injustice. Not just the injustices that we know about related to race, gender or social class, but also the everyday injustices that see hardworking families feeling left behind.
And this is what the Prime Minister described as creating a shared society.
Now we have launched our Plan for Britain, which sets out where government will take a lead, including ensuring affordable housing, good schools for our children and a strong economy, creating secure jobs.
But building a stronger and fairer society is going to take all of us to work together.
Active Communities and Lifetime of Volunteering
Working together we can ensure that people in our communities have a voice. We can give them the opportunity to play an active role in shaping solutions to the problems that they face in their own communities.
Social action gives people a unique opportunity to shape society around them. Since 2010 volunteering has increased, with 70% of adults now volunteering at least once a year. And we have seen particularly significant growth in social action from younger people.
But looking to the future I know that we can make social action the norm at every stage of life.
We want the National Citizen Service to become a rite of passage, so that all young people can develop their skills, broaden their horizons and begin to make a meaningful contribution that will last them a lifetime.
With life expectancy in the UK increasing we should also all be taking advantage of a valuable opportunity, by encouraging greater numbers of older people to share their skills and talents with their community.
We have already committed to projects that explore how charities and public services can tap into the skills and experiences of volunteers aged 50 and over. My ambition is that this will be just the start of a programme that will see many thousands of new over 50s giving their time in their local communities.
But we are not going to be able to tackle the injustices that hold people back, or empower them to respond to the challenges they face, unless our institutions work together to make it possible.
In the last century we came to look to government as the main driver of social change. But the public sector is often disconnected from the communities it is meant to serve and work for. And with limited public resources everyday injustices are often not properly addressed.
In the future my plan is to see new partnerships coming together, focusing on communities. These partnerships will combine the expertise and resources of charities, social enterprises, government and business, to help find the solutions to the challenges we face.
We have already been working to pioneer innovation in public services, from public service Mutuals to social impact bonds and increasing social action alongside our local services.
In the years to come this kind of innovation will become much more the norm. Charities and social enterprises of all sizes, will play a central role in connecting to communities and shaping public services. More public services will spin out as Mutuals to be controlled by the people who work in them. Businesses will work alongside us to create social good. And private investment will deploy significant resources to address our key social challenges.
Together we will address entrenched social disadvantage wherever we find it, including youth unemployment, disadvantaged communities, mental health and homelessness.
To achieve this we know that government needs to do more to improve the way that we commission services. For example we know that the Social Value Act can help us to improve the quality of public services, achieve wider benefits for the community and get the greatest value for every pound of public money.
But despite this potential the Act is not being used as widely or as effectively as it could be. Central government needs to take a lead in showing how the Act can deliver better social outcomes. To achieve this we are already developing new tools that will help to shape commissioning practice across government, opening the door to new partnerships and new ways of working.
Sources of Finance
Securing finance and resources to support new approaches will also be essential.
In the UK we have already established a world-leading social investment market, worth £1.5bn.
We must continue to work to unlock new sources of finance, so that we can grow this market and support new models and partnerships that deliver social outcomes that I know we all want to see.
More than £300m of money from dormant accounts has already been routed to Big Society Capital. This money is being invested in charities and social enterprises across the country. I’m looking at new ways to make best use of this source of funding and exciting new developments are in the pipeline.
I’ve also recently received the findings of the independent Dormant Assets Commission. And we have already started the process of implementing the recommendations from it. These have the potential to unlock up to £2bn for good causes from dormant assets. And my plan is that this resource will be directed to addressing the most critical social issues that we face through partnership with the sector.
Trust and Confidence
Finally before I let you get back to your drinks, I wanted to take this opportunity to touch on the importance of maintaining trust and confidence in the sector.
Without question the charity sector provides a vital cornerstone of a fairer and stronger society. But in order to fulfill its role, public trust must be maintained.
As we all know trust and confidence has taken a serious blow in recent years. I have made considerable personal effort to provide a final opportunity for the sector to demonstrate that fundraising self regulation can work. It is now up to the sector to take this final opportunity and show the public that you can respond to their concerns.
At lot of good work has already taken place, but there is more to do. I am disappointed that some are refusing to sign up to the levy and support the new regulator. I simply remind those not forthcoming with their support that the Government has the power to introduce statutory regulation, if we feel it is necessary. And I won’t be afraid to act. So I urge those not backing the Fundraising Regulator to get on board. Fundraising may not be on the front pages today, but the issue has not gone away.
So in conclusion there are uncertain and challenging times ahead. But by embracing new partnerships and ensuring that we work with our citizens and communities, we can build a better Britain.
I want you to walk away this evening knowing how grateful I am personally for all the work that you do.
But crucially also knowing that the Shared Society agenda will mean a new and lasting partnership in which the Government will play an active role.
Thank you and enjoy the rest of your evening.