Government responds to peers' report on charities

The response rejects imposing a duty on large employers to give time off to their employees to volunteer as charity trustees

The government has rejected calls by peers to consider compelling large companies to give time off to their employees to volunteer as charity trustees.

In its long-awaited response to the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities’ report, which was published in March, the government welcomes many of the committee’s 43 recommendations, but stops short of promising any substantive change.

The committee, which was chaired by the Labour peer Baroness Pitkeathley, recommended that the government should hold a public consultation on the possibility of introducing a statutory duty to allow employees of organisations over a certain size to take a limited amount of time off work to perform trustee roles.

But the government response, published yesterday afternoon, says: "We will continue to encourage employers to support employees who have charity trustee roles.

"However, there are currently no plans to consult on a statutory duty on employers to give employees time off for charity trustee roles."

The committee’s report expressed "grave concerns" about the Charity Commission proceeding with any proposal to charge charities. The government response says any proposals in this area would be subject to full public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny.

"We agree with the committee’s recommendation that any proposals for charging should make clear how the proposals would benefit charities and strengthen the sector overall, and that the commission must be transparent in how any additional revenue would be spent and what additional or enhanced services would be provided as a result," the response says.

The committee also suggested amending the social value act so that the government would require public sector commissioners to "account for" rather than just "consider" social value offered by bidding organisations.

But the government’s response says there "is not likely to be an opportunity for legislative changes in the near future" and specific targets might not be the most effective way to expand the use of social value in commissioning.

On the committee’s call that the government should do more to increase the diversity of the Charity Commission board, the response says the government seeks to maximise the diversity of appointments by promoting vacancies through a range of channels, including some that are targeted at under-represented groups, but also says they are made "on merit".  

In response to the committee’s recommendation that the Office for Civil Society should work with other departments and business leaders to develop a new initiative to promote trusteeship, the government says it will "consider new opportunities to promote charity trusteeship, and in particular to encourage greater diversity".

In her foreword to the response, Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, says the government wants to work with the voluntary sector to tackle the barriers that are holding civil society back.

She says that through her forthcoming civil society strategy she wants to "engage in discussion with all our partners on how we can best work together to bring about a step change in the potential of civil society in tackling some of the most important and difficult social challenges we face".

Dan Corry, chief executive of the think tank NPC, said that it had taken the government too long to respond to the committee's report.

"Warm words are not enough to support the charity sector to deliver the impact so desperately needed," he said. "Given the lack of action in this response, it is a mystery as to why it has taken more than half a year."

He added that the charities minister needed to bring about meaningful change. "The sector was excited when Tracey Crouch became charities minister," he said. "Now we need to see what she can deliver. The pressure is really on the new civil society strategy. Charities can’t afford another missed opportunity." 

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