May has brought 'a change of tone', says Joseph Rowntree Foundation executive

Frank Soodeen, head of public affairs at the development and social research charity, tells a Tory party conference fringe event that mutual suspicion is declining

Frank Soodeen
Frank Soodeen

The new Conservative government under Prime Minister Theresa May has brought about a change in tone towards the charity sector and reduced the mutual suspicion that previously existed, a spokesman for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said at the Conservative Party conference yesterday.

Frank Soodeen, head of public affairs at the JRF, said at a fringe event on the opportunities for the sector in post-Brexit Britain, hosted by the Charities Aid Foundation, said the change of government had brought about opportunities for the sector.

"I genuinely detect a real change in tone since the new government came into power and a real determination or desire to work with anyone who can help them with their goals," he said. "There’s less of the mutual suspicion that existed until recently."

But Soodeen added that the tough public funding environment was unlikely to change any time soon and the sector had to accept the environment it was operating in.

This meant, he said, that foundations needed to overcome their reluctance to fund problems they viewed as the government’s responsibility in order to ensure that public services continued to innovate and improve.

"Historically, that’s been the responsibility of the state," he said. "The funders, and particularly their boards, have been slightly ambivalent about beginning to occupy areas they think probably ought to have been funded by the state.

"But in the long term they’re going to have to get over this because, if we’re going to continue to innovate in terms of the delivery of public services, charities are going to have to bring more money to the table."

Soodeen said some smaller charities would have to "look at their size" and be realistic about the risks they would otherwise face when taking on large contracts from government.

He also spoke about the prevalence of people of left-wing political persuasion in the sector and how it was difficult to redress this imbalance while charities were under pressure to pay their staff modest wages.

He said he was seeking a deputy and wanted to be able to consider Conservative-minded candidates for the role, but people had told him he would not succeed in employing a Tory unless the job paid £20,000 more.

As well as increasing salaries, he said, another way of attracting a more diverse workforce would be for charities to recruit more from their volunteer networks rather than hiring purely at graduate level.

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