Office for Civil Society is no longer a priority for Tories

Shadow charities minister Nick Hurd says policy was written in a different political age

The Conservatives might shelve their plans to create an Office for Civil Society with wider powers and responsibilities than the Office of the Third Sector.

Shadow charities minister Nick Hurd told Third Sector yesterday that the OTS was a young department and needed more time to bed in. "We are less persuaded that a new OCS is a priority," he said.

Hurd was speaking after telling a London audience that measures to benefit the voluntary sector would be pursued by a future Conservative government on the basis of ‘must have' rather than ‘nice to have.'

This was because the overarching priority of the next government was bound to be restoring the public finances to health, he told a seminar organised by sector think tank NfpSynergy.

The party's policy green paper, published a year ago, had been written in "a different age, politically", he said. The paper contained the Office for Civil Society proposal.

However, he said there would be action on Gift Aid, reforming the Big Lottery Fund, creating a social investment bank, improving commissioning and reducing bureaucracy.

He said work on Gift Aid would start with improving administration and increasing its use by donors, and would then look at a possible switch to an ‘opt-out' system.

The Big Lottery Fund would be replaced by a Voluntary Action Lottery Fund, which would give grants only to the sector.

Moves to set up a social investment bank would be linked to a review of the work of other infrastructure organisations, including Futurebuilders and Capacitybuilders.

The commissioning of public services from the sector by national and local government should give more weight to value in relation to cost, Hurd said.

"The system should also be made simpler, concentrating on outcomes rather than targets and processes," he said. He also repeated a pledge that social organisations working with the state should be allowed to generate surpluses rather than just covering their costs.

Hurd also told Third Sector after the seminar that the move to a Voluntary Action Lottery Fund would mean it could not be raided by government to fund public projects. He said it would not mean less money for the sector.

Umbrella bodies the NCVO and Navca have warned that the proposal could mean less money for the sector. The NCVO's response to the Tory green paper said it would receive only 40 per cent of total funding while the BLF receives 50 per cent.

The NCVO in its response also welcomed the commitment to an Office for Civil Society, saying it had long campaigned for it. It said that there should be a Department for Civil Society, headed by a Secretary of State, rather than just an Office for Civil Society.

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