Rob Wilson speech at the Foundation for Social Improvement Annual Conference

The Minister for Civil Society spoke at the conference on how the government supports charity giving, social action and social investment.

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

Rob Wilson

It’s a great pleasure to be with you today and to open the Foundation for Social Improvement’s annual fundraising conference.

I’ve only been Minister for Civil Society for a few weeks, but I’ve been an MP for a lot longer – for the last 10 years – and I see in my constituency day-in day-out the difference that charities and volunteers make all the time.

Just to give you a flavour of the kind of things I’ve been doing in the last few weeks:

  • I’ve experienced a blindfolded bus journey as part of the Guide Dogs UK Talking Buses campaign
  • I took part in a sponsored rowing challenge organised by a business in my constituency to raise £10,000 for Cancer Research
  • And I also visited Reading Refugee Support Group – itself a small charity – to meet with some of its volunteers

It just goes to show that no 2 days are the same in an MP’s life – but it also shows the real diversity of the charity sector and in particular the number of small charities out there doing such fantastic work. Over the past few weeks I’ve seen just how vibrant and busy the sector is.

And the one thing that all charities need is support.

So umbrella organisations like the FSI are absolutely crucial to sustaining their work.

Just like any business or public sector organisation, charities need skills and resources, together with the know-how to get things done effectively and efficiently and to obtain the funds they need.

These things don’t come about by chance, they need to be developed, which is why the services provided by the FSI – such as free courses and advice – are so valuable to people in this room.

At the same time, the charitable sector, like so many other sectors, has had to cope with the difficult economic conditions over the last few years, so the work of FSI in representing small charities in Westminster has been really very important.

In particular, I’d like to thank and congratulate you for making Small Charities Week a success – and also a worthy winner of the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award earlier this year.

I hope I can do more in the months to come for small charities.


I thought I’d use this opportunity today to outline what I see as some of my priorities in my new job.

I think the role played by voluntary and charitable organisations in British society is going to become even more important in the years to come. Things are looking up – the deficit has been reduced by half and the UK is experiencing stronger growth than many other major economies.

But we still face some pretty big challenges as a country. Consider, for instance, how dementia, a symptom of an aging population, is becoming a priority issue for health and social care services. So even with an improving economy, there will still be pressures on our public services to do more things and to do them better.

And the truth is that government doesn’t have all the answers. It’s been a mistake over the past 30 to 40 years for governments pretend they do. We simply can’t do this alone, so we must make it easier for charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises to do what they’re best at, which is helping people.


The British public is incredibly generous, and I want to continue making it as convenient and compelling as possible for people to give their time and money to good causes.

There are some great ideas out there which the government is supporting. I recently had the opportunity to launch this year’s Grow Your Tenner fund. Localgiving runs this campaign each year with the aim of supporting local charities and community groups.

Evidence tells us that people are inclined to give more locally when it’s easier and they can see the impact of the money they’re giving. That’s why the Cabinet Office is contributing to the match fund pot for this year’s campaign, to encourage more donations by making each one of them go that little bit further.

Last week, I was at a reception to celebrate Join In, which aims to use the success of volunteering in the London 2012 Olympics to encourage more people to help out with community sports clubs and events. They’ve got 100,000 active volunteers on their books, which just shows what can be achieved when government, businesses and volunteering organisations come together to mobilise people en masse.

For the same reasons, the Cabinet Office is proud to be a founding partner of the Giving Tuesday campaign in the UK, a global day of giving taking place on 2 December.

For the public, it’s a call to action to give something back. And for charities, it’s an opportunity to increase donations, get more volunteers, raise awareness of your cause and highlight just how you make a difference to people’s lives on a daily basis. So I hope as many organisations as possible lend their voice to the campaign, because by working together we can make this a very big success.

We want to help embed a culture of social action, so it becomes a stronger part of the way society works.

It’s why we’ve made it part of the National Citizen Service (NCS). We want young people to understand the importance of becoming involved in their local community.

To date, over 100,000 young people have passed through the scheme and we hope to extend it considerably from there. They’ve learnt new skills that will help them in the world of work – and in return, they’ve given back some 2 million hours of service to their communities through more than 7,000 social action projects.

There are some great examples within this, like young people on NCS in Bury who organized a sponsored cycle ride to raise money for Suffolk Young Carers and for Cancer Research – causes that had directly affected members of the group.

72% of NCS participants said they are more likely to help out locally as a result of the scheme, which is brilliant. Hopefully this is just the start and they’ll go on ‘doing their bit’ all throughout their adult lives.

Social action

But we also need to be doing this on a much bigger scale, which is why my second priority is about expanding social action.

We need your help because charities and social enterprises can do things that the government can’t and are often much closer to the people we really want to help. The public and private sectors and civil society must work together in new ways to tackle some of the UK’s most entrenched social problems.

Last year, we launched the Centre for Social Action with our partner, NESTA, to invest £40 million to support the growth of social action projects that can tackle long standing public service challenges.

One strand of this is the Vulnerable and Disengaged Young People Fund. It’s spending £2.6 million to support 26 social action projects that are working with young offenders, young people in care and other vulnerable groups. One project brings together volunteers who open up their homes as temporary emergency accommodation for young people. Another helps young people leaving full-time care by setting them up with a young mentor who can teach them life skills and support them as they move towards independent living.

It’s about bringing together volunteers and community organisations to help solve some of the big issues affecting vulnerable young people.

Through this grant fund the Foundation for Social Improvement is helping manage business support for the grantees by working with 7 businesses which are providing pro-bono advice.

So I’d like to thank you today for helping make this possible. It’s really important work that you’re doing.

The challenge now for me, and for those in government, is to find the social action programmes that are making the biggest difference and help them grow. But we in government need to think differently about how we design and commission services in future to ensure the potential impact of social action is fully harnessed.

Funding and social investment

My third priority is about money.

I know that one of the things charities and social enterprises need more than anything is long-term, sustainable finance. This is definitely an area where business can help and we want to link them up with some of the charitable sector’s most ambitious entrepreneurs.

So we’re created Social Impact Bonds, for instance, to enable private investors and philanthropists to invest in a project to address problems such as homelessness or reoffending; they are then only paid a financial return if the project is successful.

This model opens up serious new resources, as well as new opportunities for social enterprises and charities to deliver services – and the taxpayer only pays for what works.

Equally promising is Big Society Capital, which we established in 2012. It’s the world’s first wholesale social investment bank and in 2 years it’s already made over £150 million worth of social investment commitments, providing 57 frontline social organisations with access to finance.

The UK has the potential to be the global hub for social investment, attracting social investment in to the UK but also exporting our home-grown social investment services and products overseas.

I’m a small businessman by background. My constituency – Reading – grew thanks to the ambitions of the great Victorian industrialists and is now home to equally transformative hi-tech digital firms.

So I know what a powerful force enterprise and innovation can be – especially when it’s combined with public service ethos and social concern. And these are hugely exciting developments.

But we need to ensure that smaller charities and organisations benefit too.

Now I know that smaller charities sometimes find it difficult to be heard in what is a large, diverse and vibrant sector. Indeed, a very small proportion of voluntary sector organisations – the largest 0.3% – receive 47% of total sector income.

So one of the ways in which we have worked to ensure smaller charities don’t miss out is through the £15 million Investment Contract and Readiness Fund. It supports social ventures that have the possibility to deliver social impact on a large scale, but are not yet in a position to take on repayable finance.

Let me give you an example. Midlands Together is a community interest company that creates employment opportunities in the construction industry for ex-offenders. The Investment Contract and Readiness Fund paid for them to receive corporate finance expertise from a bank to help them raise £3 million through a bond, including practical advice with structuring the bond and putting together the bond’s investment memorandum.

Without this support, they simply wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of this type of funding. But now, thanks to the bond, they’ve set up a programme to rehabilitate up to 150 ex-offenders by providing jobs renovating properties in Birmingham and the Black Country over the next 5 years.

This is just one example, but my message to you is that this government – and this minister – is listening to small charities and social enterprises and I want to ensure you benefit from our policies and the exciting new opportunities that exist in this sector too.


So, in summary:

  • I want to help encourage volunteering and giving
  • I want to support charities and social enterprises to help tackle social problems
  • I want to help bring about more sustainable funding
  • and I want to ensure that small charities in particular benefit as much as big ones do

So I’d like to leave you with a simple request: please keep working with us. Because I want to listen to you and learn about what we can do to help you succeed.

And finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to all the small charities represented here today, together with the Foundation for Social Improvement. You make a real difference to people’s lives, and to our communities and to our country and as the Minister for Civil Society I will do all I can to help and support you.

Thank you very much for having me today – and enjoy the rest of the conference.

Published 22 October 2014