Conservative Party outreach director plans to run 'speed-dating' meetings between charities and politicians

Colin Bloom tells round-table event at the party's conference that the party is 'open for business' to charities: 'We are your friends and we want to be at peace with the sector'

Conservative conference: round-table discussion on charities
Conservative conference: round-table discussion on charities

The director of outreach for the Conservative Party has said he plans to set up "speed-dating" events between charities and Conservative politicians so they can form relationships that could further those charities’ missions.

Colin Bloom was speaking today at a round-table discussion on the importance of charities and social enterprises, which was hosted by the charity chief executives body Acevo at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

Bloom, who is also founder of the Curry Union, a Christian-led not-for-profit group that works with rough sleepers, said he had been hosting meetings at Westminster between charity chief executives and chairs and Conservative MPs and ministers for the past five years, and he intended to continue doing this in his new role as director of outreach.

Describing the meetings, Bloom said each charity that took part was given "as long as it takes to drink a cup of coffee" to share their vision, mission and values with the politician they were paired with. He said it would then be decided if there were synergies between what the politician and that charity were trying to achieve.

"If that was successful, my job was done if you ended up on each other’s speed-dial so that you had a relationship with direct access," he said.

Bloom said he had numerous examples of how this set-up had proved successful for the charities concerned. The four main issues he wanted to tackle while in his his role were disability, immigrants, blue-collar workers and young people, he said.

"This party is open for business to charities – it’s in our DNA to work collaboratively with you," he said. "We are your friends and want to be at peace with the sector."

Bloom said he often wondered why there appeared to be tension between the government and the charity sector, because some of the most charitable people he knew were Conservative Party members.

He said his advice to charities was to be clear about their vision and never dilute their values because they thought it might not fit with the ideas of a donor or a commissioner. "Don’t sell out," he said.

He said that charities should challenge organisations that let the sector down. "Be tough on them," he said.

After the event, he told Third Sector he had facilitated about 100 meetings between charities and politicians in five years and planned to start the process again in the new year.

He said he was intending to host 26 such meetings in 2016, with each one focusing on a different cause area.

Asked how charities could be considered for the opportunity, he said the process was "based on relationship" and would not be advertised because the party did not have the capacity to run the meetings on a large-scale basis. In the past, he said, he had personally selected the organisations that would take part and although he was open to approaches from charities, he would not want to "get too many people excited about it."

The event was also attended by Margot James, the Conservative MP for Stourbridge, who said she had been "horrified" to hear that Acevo’s event with the Muslim Charities Forum, due to be hosted at the conference this evening, had been cancelled by the party. She said she would look into what had happened. The event has been rescheduled to a location outside the conference venue this afternoon.

James said that local contracting appeared to be a wasteful model for charities and asked if there would be less waste if more charities merged.

Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of the social care charity Turning Point, responded by saying lots of charities appeared to feel they had a "right to exist" but that in reality they did not. He said he did not accept the "old-fashioned notion" that accepting government grants undermined a charity’s independence. He urged the sector to "look to the future rather than dwelling on the past".

But Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said: "I just don’t buy the argument that charities should merge because there are too many organisations out there. Nobody tells Tesco to merge with the local corner shop."

He said he was fed up with being lectured about charity mergers by people from outside the sector.

- The story was corrected on 7 October 2015 to remove a reference to Barnardo's as an example of a charity that Bloom had selected to take part in meetings with politicians.

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