"Anger and bemusement" over the tax relief cap dominated discussion at yesterday’s Giving Summit, according to the charity representatives present.
Charity leaders took the Treasury minister David Gauke and Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, to task over the proposal to cap tax relief on charitable donations, announced in the Budget in March.
Plans for the summit, which was set up to examine different ways to encourage charitable giving, were set out in the Giving White Paper, published last May.
Ralph Michell, director of policy at the chief executives body Acevo, said the event, held at Admiralty House in London, was overshadowed by concerns about the tax relief cap.
"Unfortunately, for all the good work that the Cabinet Office has done on giving, and wants to carry on doing, this one blunder by the Treasury has really taken the rug from under their feet," he said. "The result was that the meeting was really one of wounded hostility, and a very clear message was given to ministers that although people in the room want to talk to them about how to encourage giving, we cannot do that while this smoking gun is still on the table."
Mark Astarita, chair of the Institute of Fundraising, said ministers listened to numerous concerns over the cap expressed by the audience of about 40 charity representatives, but "did not budge".
One participant, who asked not to be named, said the event was a waste of time. The participant said there was "quite a lot of tutting and sighing" when ministers were answering questions.
Hurd tried to move the conversation on to other matters, the participant said, but someone responded by saying they did not think there was much point in talking about anything else while the tax relief cap issue was unresolved.
"They had to acknowledge the elephant in the room, but then the elephant trampled over everything," the particpant said.
Ben Kernighan, deputy chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said ministers would have been left in no doubt about the damage the cap would do.
"What they heard from a variety of charities, philanthropists, representatives from the arts and universities, and Conservative donors was that there was a lot of anger about the cap and the universal view was that it should be dropped quickly," he said.
"There was bemusement about two things – how the government has besmirched the reputation of philanthropists in the way they have described what they are trying to achieve, and how it was going to damage civil society, which goes against the government’s aims."
A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office, which hosted the meeting, declined to comment on the event.