Debra Allcock Tyler: Nick Hurd and I disagreed on many things, but he saw our sector as critical to society

One senses that the job of civil society minister isn't seen as a big deal, writes our columnist

There is not a single public service in the UK that can deliver without the support of our sector, writes Debra Allcock Tyler
There is not a single public service in the UK that can deliver without the support of our sector, writes Debra Allcock Tyler

At a recent family dinner, one of my brothers posed the question "would you rather be attacked by one hundred duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?

A mirthful but heated debate ensued, brought to a precipitous end only when one of the parties went an analogy too far and stormed off in a huff because she felt her arguments weren't being treated with the merit they deserved. (Yep, that was me.)

Does the government care?

The job clearly isn't important enough for the real heavy hitters

I can't decide if we should treat the recent government reshuffle as if we're dealing with duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck of a decision. I'm left with a strong sense that this government couldn't care less about whether it measures us in hands or inches. A popular and long-serving minister is replaced by someone most of us have never heard of. The departing Nick Hurd is not being replaced by someone like William Hague or Esther McVey; the job clearly isn't important enough for the real heavy hitters. I have nothing against the new man, Brooks Newmark. I don't know him; he might be great. But his appointment reinforces one's sense that this job isn't seen as a big deal.

And that makes me absolutely furious. When I say that the voluntary sector is critically important to the future of our country, I don't say that out of blind loyalty or sector bias. I say it because there is not a single public service in the UK that can deliver without the support of our sector. There is not a single citizen in this country, whatever their socio-economic background, age, sexuality or gender, that has not benefited, is not benefiting or will not directly benefit from the work of a charity.

What reshuffles show, and this one in particular, is that politicians think we're stupid – that the public doesn't realise the real motivation is all about elections and exerting control over the Cabinet, and nothing at all to do with good policy or running the country effectively. In what other company or organisation would senior staff be moved around from pillar to post like this with no regard for expertise, knowledge or aptitude? So, yes, this is what I would call a horse-sized duck of a decision, no matter how committed Mr Newmark might turn out to be.

In fairness, he has some points in his favour. Apparently, he has established and helped to run a small charity – that's a plus. This would also, I imagine, enable him to give short shrift to the idea of limiting the number of charities. But our sector is much more about dealing with 100 duck-sized horses than one giant duck. No stable hand, no matter how clever or well-meaning, can get to grips with that in less than a year. There's a lot of work to be done.

Nick Hurd and I disagreed – a lot – on many things. But I know he saw our sector as critical to society. We simply disagreed about how best to serve it. And he'd served for more than six years, in shadow and in post. He knew his stuff. How is losing him helpful at this stage in the game, to us or to the government?

I know I shouldn't be so bloody naive, but I hate it when politics trumps the practicalities of getting the hard work done. So that'll be me storming off in a huff again.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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