Charity leaders including Neil Cleeveley of Navca call on Rob Wilson to launch Local Sustainability Fund

Cleeveley and Sir Stephen Bubb of Acevo say the long-awaited fund, which is intended to help service-delivering voluntary organisations in danger of closing because of financial pressures, should be a priority

Neil Cleeveley
Neil Cleeveley

Charity leaders have called on Rob Wilson to swiftly launch the long-awaited Local Sustainability Fund after he was reappointed as Minister for Civil Society.

Wilson’s reappointment as minister was confirmed by 10 Downing Street yesterday afternoon as Prime Minister David Cameron completed his ministerial reshuffle.

Wilson said on Twitter last night that he was "absolutely delighted to have been re-appointed the Minister for Civil Society".

Today, Neil Cleeveley, chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca, and Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the charity chief executives body Acevo, called on Wilson to launch the Local Sustainability Fund, which was first announced by Nick Hurd, the former Minister for Civil Society.

In an interview with Third Sector in March last year when he was still the minister, Hurd said the Cabinet Office would consult on a new fund, expected to be worth £40m, that would support service-delivering voluntary organisations that were in danger of closing because of financial pressures.

This consultation took place last year, but the fund has not yet been opened.

Cleeveley called on Wilson to launch the new fund and said: "There is something to be said for continuity, but I hope Rob Wilson will look beyond social investment and public service delivery, important though both are.

"We need him to be a powerful advocate for the sector. This means supporting our right to campaign without fear, particularly where government policy harms the most vulnerable people and communities."

Bubb said that Wilson had a packed agenda and the Local Sustainability Fund should be his first order of business.

"He has been clear on the importance of the duty of charities to campaign on our beneficiaries’ behalf, so I’ll work with him to defend that and to defend our independence from government," said Bubb. "We look forward to his advocacy on our sector’s behalf."

Jay Kennedy, director of policy at the training and support charity the Directory of Social Change, said the fact that Wilson’s reappointment came in a list of ministers published at the conclusion of the reshuffle showed that charities were low on the new government’s list of priorities.

"This has confirmed what we argued before the election, that there is a lack of vision, understanding and respect for the charity sector on the part of the government," Kennedy said. "It is therefore clear that we have to work even harder to convince the new government of the vital role of charities in our society, and that we cannot be ignored or silenced."

Karl Wilding, director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said it was "undoubtedly a good thing" that the sector had the opportunity to work with a minister over a long period of time.

"Rob Wilson already knows the sector, so now is the time to concentrate on making sure the policy agenda reflects the sector’s priorities, such as Gift Aid reform, improving commissioning and making sure the voluntary sector has a role in public services," he said.

"We hope that the Cabinet Office can be a force within the new government to show just what charities and volunteering can do to help people achieve their aspirations or help each other make a bigger difference."

Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, said his organisation was looking forward to continuing to work with Wilson.

"He personally supported the launch of our revised code on fundraising from people in vulnerable circumstances, and he has shown he understands the vital role fundraisers and fundraising play in the charity sector.

"In the immediate future we look forward to working with him on developing a new subsidised fundraising training programme for small charities, and continuing our strong work with the Office for Civil Society on all aspects of fundraising, including self-regulation."

An open letter to Wilson from the think tank NPC, published today, makes six recommendations to the government to help charities work more effectively.

These include: safeguarding the Office for Civil Society; amending charity rules to make charity trustees focus more on the effectiveness of their organisations rather than their survival; and freeing the social investment wholesaler Big Society Capital from its "over-tough" financial targets, which NPC said were stopping it from helping to build the social investment market.

Dan Corry, chief executive of NPC, said rumours about the demise of the Office for Civil Society were worrying. "This is the body that could coordinate a new way for charities and government to work together, and the minister won’t want to lose it," he said.

Corry said that a few changes to the way charities and government cooperate, along the lines of NPC’s recommendations, could lead to genuine progress.

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