Sector leaders have welcomed the appointment of Tracey Crouch as the new Minister for Civil Society, but have expressed concern that her time will be split between charities and her other ministerial brief, sport.
Crouch, the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford, who has been at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as sports minister since 2015, was today given responsibility for the Office for Civil Society in addition to her sports duties after the previous minister, Rob Wilson, lost his seat in last week’s general election.
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said he had already spoken to the new minister, describing her as "approachable and keen to understand her brief".
But he said: "I remain cautious about the size of a portfolio covering sport and civil society. We hope that the civil society portfolio will receive its rightful level of attention and profile, given its economic and social importance."
Vicky Browning, chief executive of the charity leaders body Acevo, said the change of brief gave the new minister an opportunity to reconsider the relationship between the OCS and the sector.
"We will wait and see how the new ministerial brief balances civil society and sport," she said.
But she welcomed Crouch to the role and said: "I’m sure her time as minister for sport, heritage and tourism – dealing with issues such as lottery funding and problematically white, male boards – will stand her in good stead for this job."
The DCMS initially confirmed yesterday morning that John Glen, MP for Salisbury, had been made Minister for Civil Society, but then retracted this. Crouch updated her Twitter profile this morning to state that she was "sports and civil society minister".
Browning said this initial lack of clarity had been "somewhat disappointing".
"A sector employing a million people should not have to wait on Twitter for confirmation of their minister," she said.
"But Tracey has, within hours of her appointment, shown a refreshing willingness to engage with the sector and we very much look forward to her bringing the same vitality and imagination to the Office for Civil Society as she has to her sports brief."
Neil Cleeveley, chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca, questioned whether Crouch would have sufficient time to give the sector the support it deserved.
"Sport and charity are such major parts of our society that they each deserve to have a dedicated minister," he said. "The confusion over this announcement and the fact that for the first time since 2006 there will not be a minister focused solely on our sector sends out the wrong signals.
"We should not forget how hard we fought to get our own minister or the reasons why we felt it was so important to have our own voice in government."
The British Youth Council said it would be writing to Crouch to highlight concerns about the size of her ministerial responsibilities and seek assurances, adding that it believed a dedicated youth minister should be appointed.
Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research at the Directory of Social Change, said the complex and important policy issues that come under the civil society brief should be considered "a critical part of successful policy for government", not merely an "add-on".
He said the minister should also make it a priority to listen to charities working on the ground as well as the umbrella groups.
"If she could find a way to secure a refund of the £425m taken from the Big Lottery Fund to pay for the 2012 Olympics, that would be great," he said. As a sports minister, Kennedy added, she and her officials should know this issue well.
Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, said: "Fundraisers know that sport and mass-participation events are excellent ways to engage people, build communities and raise money for good causes, and we look forward to discussing with the minister how her role can help to harness that engagement to benefit good causes."
Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group, urged the new minister to "work with her colleagues across Whitehall as well as civil society to ensure the government has a positive vision for the sector".
Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, said he looked forward to working closely with Crouch to ensure the government did not take its eye off the ball on social enterprise.
Rob Cope, director of Remember A Charity, said he hoped Crouch would continue government support of legacy giving, which he said had helped to quadruple the number of solicitors giving clients the option of leaving donations in their wills.