CAF Conference News: Political Roundup - The Westminster view on charities and government

John Plummer

The Conservative spokeswoman on civil society told delegates that they were becoming too close to Government.

Jacqui Lait said she and her party were "bothered" by the sheer volume of money flowing into the voluntary sector from Whitehall. The hand that gives, rules," she told delegates.

"Many charities that conduct work with the public sector are delivering government policy and are not meeting the needs that they as charities have set."

She added: "We want to restore the balance so that social policy is driven by the needs that are defined by the charity sector where appropriate, and get away from the sector being driven by the Government's needs."

The Government accounts for 37 per cent of charity income.

When asked by how much her party would cut this to reduce dependency, Lait said: "I have an assurance from the Shadow Chancellor that we will not reduce the amount of money given to charity, but we will probably deliver it in a different way."

Speaking later, she accused Labour of further interference, saying it had distorted the purpose of the Lottery by issuing grants that deliver its political agenda. "Futurebuilders could be seen as a replacement for the Government's raid on its own lottery funding," she said.

Lait would not say when the Conservatives would unveil their voluntary sector election manifesto. But she told the conference her party would get rid of the "target and quota culture", pledge to reduce bureaucracy, and continue to oppose trustees being paid.

Charities minister Fiona Mactaggart indicated there would be no let-up in the partnership approach. She said it was the Government's job to invest in the voluntary sector's infrastructure, illustrating her point by recalling that when she worked for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants she had to use a toilet with a leaky roof.

She cited tax breaks, particularly Gift Aid and payroll giving, as the Government's most significant act towards charities.

But she said there were no plans to offer the same incentives on VAT, a position that Liberal Democrat president Simon Hughes agreed with.

Hughes called for more mergers: "There are more cancer charities in Britain than we can ever reasonably need or expect. There shouldn't be any new publicly-funded organisations that don't show what they are doing is new.

"Starting from scratch is often more difficult. Huge energy can be put into setting up a new charity that doesn't get anywhere."

He also proposed a cycle of four-year funding tied to the electoral cycle to ease the problem of short-term grants.

"A lot of people in the voluntary sector on high salaries spend a lot of time filling in forms," he said.

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