Rob Wilson's speech at the ACEVO Annual Conference

Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson's speech to the ACEVO Annual Conference 2016: Passionate Professionalism – Leading with Heart and Head

Rob Wilson

Thank you Sharon for the introduction and to ACEVO for inviting me today.

Firstly, I’d like to congratulate Vicky Browning on her appointment as the new Chief Executive of ACEVO. I look forward to working with you when you start in the New Year.

‘Leading with Head and Heart’ is a great theme for this conference. For me, the charity sector and the work it does is at the heart of our society. It is also at the heart of government’s ambition for a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.

I want to take this opportunity to offer you all my personal thanks for your leadership in the sector. I feel lucky that I get to work with so many committed people.

I also want to take the chance to thank the (nearly) 1 million trustees we have in the UK, almost all of whom volunteer their time to support charities across the country. Trustees Week was a fantastic way to celebrate their contribution.

The relationship between trustees and the executive is not always easy. But the direction, challenge and support that good trustees provide is central to the successful leadership of charities up and down the country.

I know that times are challenging at the moment. We are going through one of the biggest political changes in recent history. The demands on charities are increasing and there is still a big job ahead of us to increase public trust in the sector.

It’s therefore an important moment to embrace reform and take advantage of the huge opportunities that exist for the sector.

My vision is for a society and economy that works for everyone. A society where individuals, communities, civil society and businesses, take more of a role in solving our collective challenges.

To be able do this, we need a confident and capable voluntary sector, armed with the skills and support it needs to meet the challenges that are ahead of it.

We need a sector that is sustainable, resilient and able to continue growing, despite the challenging financial conditions.

Social investment presents an excellent opportunity for charities to meet this challenge and diversify their income streams. Charities are increasingly choosing to take on investment in order to scale up or expand into new areas.

But let me be absolutely clear: social investment isn’t right for every organisation or initiative. Grant-making will continue to have its place in the funding mix.

But social investment does create a new way for charities to innovate and create more efficient and sustainable business models.

One example, where I have seen the impact of social investment first hand, is St Mungo’s.

I visited only a few weeks ago to learn about the work it does providing accommodation and support for homeless people.

It has used social investment to provide safe, good quality and affordable private accommodation, for people who are ready to move on from hostels.

We want to enable more charities to choose social investment and continue to grow their services like St Mungo’s.

I also want to support the sustainability of the sector by helping more small and medium sized charities access the public service market.

These small charities are the lifeblood of our communities.

They bring local expertise, knowledge and connections to the public services they provide. They have the potential to deliver better outcomes for those in need.

Despite these benefits there are clearly barriers that are making it difficult for smaller charities to take part. Reform is needed to help these organisations engage with commissioners and start taking an active role in delivering public service contracts.

We are working to establish a long-term plan to deliver change and open up these opportunities. I will be making an announcement on the next steps on that shortly.

I know many of you have contributed to this work and I look forward to continuing to engage with you as we put our plans into action over the next few months and years.

A capable and confident voluntary sector can also be better supported through exploiting the power and potential of digital technology.

The UK Digital Index recently published by Lloyd’s Bank, revealed that only 51% of charities have basic digital skills. 43% of charities don’t even have a website.

There is a really significant opportunity for charities to use digital to transform how they work. And this isn’t limited to fundraising. Digital has the potential to make charities more effective and more efficient. Both in how an organisation is run and how services are delivered.

One example of best practice given by the Lloyd’s Index is ME North East. After receiving training and transforming its Facebook page, the charity doubled its number of followers.

Its Facebook posts now regularly reach over 3,000 of its members. Using an online channel has saved the charity money. But more importantly, its Facebook page has become a key way to communicate with its beneficiaries, at a time and place that suits their particular needs.

To achieve its potential the voluntary sector must also retain and grow the trust of the public. To achieve this the sector must be ready to reform and modernise.

We’ve worked with the sector to deliver key reforms in a number of areas this will continue to be our goal.

A strong and clear legal framework for the sector to operate within is key to maintaining the trust of the public. The new Charities Act has given the Charity Commission new, tougher powers to tackle the most serious abuses.

These powers include strengthening the protection of charities, for example, by disqualifying unsuitable people from being charity trustees or senior managers.

Fundraising has perhaps been the biggest factor in falling public trust over the last two years. The new Fundraising Regulator gives charities the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to positive fundraising reform.

It represents the best opportunity to show that you have listened to the concerns of the public and that the sector can hold itself to account. This is why it is vital that all of you demonstrate your support by registering and complying with it.

I have, so far, been encouraged by charities’ support for the new Fundraising Regulator and hope to see it meeting the expectations of the public and Parliament.

In the future I also want to see more social action and volunteering, with community participation embedded in our lives from school days onwards.

I want to build stronger communities that are empowered to solve their own problems.

Increased social action will also strengthen the resources available to charities to deliver their important missions.

We have had tremendous success in increasing levels of youth social action since 2010.

National Citizen Service is delivering more confident, capable and engaged young people. I want to build further on this and make NCS a rite of passage for all young people in the 21st century.

That is why I have introduced the NCS Bill, to enable the NCS Trust to continue working with young people long into the future. I have met lots of young people who have been through NCS and I have seen the transformative effect it has had on their lives. I want to ensure that many more can benefit from this experience.

There is now an equal opportunity for us to increase levels of volunteering amongst people later in life.

Research consistently shows that volunteering positively affects our health and wellbeing as we get older, including our mental health.

The Office for Civil Society and Nesta have announced three new grant funds to explore how more charities and public services can better tap into the skills and experience of volunteers over 50.

We have an opportunity now to encourage more older people to give their time and share their skills to help improve local communities across the country.

I also want to see increased levels of giving, to boost the resources available to charities to achieve their social goals.

Millions of people in Britain today are already giving up their time, talent and expertise to help their fellow citizens and build this compassionate society.

And a large amount of inspiring work is already done by charities, communities and social enterprises.

My aim is to help more people who want to use their money to transform lives, connect to the organisations that can put those funds to work.

And this is not limited to the charity sector.

I am keen that we harness the power of business to generate social impact, which is why I am currently leading a review of Mission-led Business.

Businesses are key partners in increasing this country’s culture of giving and volunteering and there is more that can be done to harness this in the workplace.

This includes tapping the potential of initiatives such as payroll giving and employer supported volunteering schemes - that enable staff to mentor, lend their skills and help others.

I am also keen that we maximise giving to support small and local charities and that we encourage further giving from high income individuals.

We have just concluded a series of Giving Roundtables exploring these themes and in July I announced up to £1 million over the next two years to take forward ideas. I hope to say more on this shortly.

Before I close, I want to touch on the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

We recognise that charities and other civil society organisations have important views on Brexit. We are listening to you and are keen for any information you can share with us. Not only on the challenges but also the opportunities you see in exiting the EU.

If you have not done so already, I would encourage you to write to me to share your views on behalf of your organisation, and also on behalf of your beneficiaries.

But I want to reassure you that there will be important areas of stability.

The UK economy is fundamentally extremely strong. In recent years, the UK has been the fastest-growing economy in the G7 and one of the strongest major advanced economies in the world. The UK has the highest employment rate in its history, low and stable inflation, and rising real wages and disposable income.

EU law does not directly regulate charities or social enterprises. Civil Society is regulated by Member States’ domestic legislation. This reduces the direct impact of leaving the EU on charities and social enterprises.

Government has also guaranteed that all European structural and investment fund projects signed before the Autumn Statement 2016 will be fully funded. This will be the case for all sectors, so long as they provide strong value for money and are in line with domestic strategic priorities.

As we work towards negotiating Brexit, we will focus on ensuring the successes of it are shared by the many, not just the privileged few.

So if I could leave you now with one message, it is this:

The future holds a great deal of opportunity for the sector.

Grasping these opportunities will involve reform and in some cases, changes to long established practices. Success will be dependent on strong, bold, forward-thinking leadership.

I know that those of you in this room and across the sector have what it takes to adapt to the challenges we face today.

I, and this Government, are committed to supporting you and improving the long-term outlook for charities. Together, we will create a bigger, stronger society for all.

Thank you.

Published 17 November 2016