We must offer longer-term funding, says Minister for Civil Society

Baroness Barran tells Third Sector that government commissioning will be a key priority

Baroness Barran
Baroness Barran

The government needs to place more trust in the organisations it funds and offer longer-term funding, the Minister for Civil Society has said.

Speaking to Third Sector after the first in a series of meetings with selected voluntary sector leaders to discuss the government’s progress on the Civil Society Strategy, Baroness Barran said government commissioning would be a key priority.

She said the other two main focus areas for implementing the strategy, which was published last year after consultation with the sector, would on building better connections within and between communities, and young people.

Barran said the Office for Civil Society would be looking at how government worked with charities on commissioning, how it used the social value act and how dormant assets could be used.

Barran, who was appointed as minister in July, was previously chief executive of the domestic abuse charity Safe Lives and head of grant development of the think tank NPC. She said the experience had given her some insight into government grants.

"From my experience of grant-making outside government, I lean towards trusting the organisations that we fund, within the limits of having our owns standards of accountability, and that we are as flexible as we can be with the funding we give them," she said.

Barran added that there was also room for government to be "rather longer term than has been the case recently" with funding.

She said she had been nervous before the meeting, but it had provided "extremely thoughtful and helpful feedback" from attendees, who included Sarah Atkinson, director of policy, planning and communications at the Charity Commission, Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group, and Karl Wilding, who will take over as chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations next week.

Barran said: "The thing that came through loud and clear, which I was delighted to hear because I entirely agree, is that we must start with local people and listen to them and their communities.

"We can’t just be wise in Whitehall, because that won’t land much outside SW1."

She said she was surprised by the emphasis that had been put on local democracy, agency and involvement, because she believed many charitable organisations had "found the localism agenda very challenging".

But Barran added that this would be an important part of the role charities could play in connecting communities and healing divisions.

The meeting coincided with the launch of a £500,000 bursary fund that will provide financial assistance to 400 people to complete youth work qualifications.

Another priority as minister, Barran said, would be to ensure that "the brilliant range of work that goes on all around the country" in the charity sector would continue.

Part of this, she said, would be ensure that people who were critical of charity sector pay were aware of the "challenges, stresses, strains and skills required" in charity sector roles, particularly chief executive positions.

"It’s for the trustees to work out what they feel is appropriate in the context of their organisation, sector, donors staff and so on," she said. "I think there is a message to communicate, which is what an important and challenging role it is."

Similar meetings to today’s round-table discussion with people and organisations are planned in Newcastle, Liverpool, Nottingham, Bradford, Norwich and Birmingham over the coming weeks. There will also be an online forum.

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