Relocation of the Office for Civil Society offers 'great opportunities', says minister

Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, says the sector should not be worried about the move to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society
Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society

The recent move of the Office for Civil Society from the Cabinet Office to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is "really exciting and offers great new opportunities" for the voluntary sector, according to the charities minister, Rob Wilson.

"I don’t think the sector should be worried for one second about it," he said in an interview with Third Sector. "I’m bringing the Big Lottery Fund with me, so all the lottery functions are now in one place. If you look at sports and culture, volunteering is part and parcel of that, which is one of my responsibilities in civil society.

"And if you look at which department has the best access to philanthropists and philanthropy, that’s the DCMS – there are so many synergies that it really does make sense.

"I can understand why the sector was worried about cross-government reach, but the fact that the Prime Minister launched our two new youth programmes at the weekend showed how much interest in and awareness there is of the work we’re doing."

Wilson added that the sector could also benefit from the experience of the DCMS in working in partnership on the arts and sport with corporations and big foundations, while the sector could share its experience in social investment.

"So far DCMS involvement in social investment has been quite limited, with things like the Arts Impact Fund, so they could learn and do a lot more. I know there’s enormous interest in other parts of the department in what we have been doing."

The OCS, originally the Office of the Third Sector, was set up in the Cabinet Office in 2006 to take over and expand the functions of the former Active Communities Unit in the Home Office. The move to the DCMS comes as the Cabinet Office is expected to concentrate its resources on Brexit activities.

He said there was an ongoing and open conversation between the OCS, the Department for Exiting the EU and the voluntary sector to understand the implications of the UK's decision to leave the European Union. 

"We will continue to listen to any concerns do that we can design a system in the future that works for all," said Wilson. 

Wilson said the government had guaranteed that all structural and investment funds projects signed before the Autumn Statement 2016 would be fully funded, even where those projects continued beyond the UK’s departure from the EU. 

Umbrella bodies and other sector organisations have said they are concerned that the OCS's move to the DCMS will mean that it loses influence and its strategic purpose of promoting the interests of the sector across the whole of Whitehall will be weakened.

Wilson said he told Theresa May before she became Prime Minister that he wanted to retain the civil society job and was "absolutely delighted" to be able to build on the "substantial progress" that had been made in the past few years.

He said his priorities now included the work of the Dormant Assets Commission, which is due to report by the end of the year about gaining access for the sector to £1bn or more of unused assets in the investment, pensions and insurance industries, and working with the sector to make it easier for smaller organisations to compete for national and local government contracts.

He declined to be drawn on the so-called anti-lobbying clause for all voluntary sector contracts, which was proposed earlier in the year but then put on hold when it became clear that a judicial review was likely.

"The Cabinet Office has been listening and talking and looking at what to do next, and I think that the principle that taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be used to lobby for more taxpayers' money is a very good, strong and honourable one," he said.

"The Cabinet Office will make the decision, but will work in close consultation with me."

Wilson said he expected the Independent Schools Council would want to talk to him shortly about the proposal in the Prime Minister’s recent statement on education that private schools should do more for the wider community.

"It’s quite clear that some schools are doing a great job and some aren’t doing such a great job, so there’s a real mix," he said. "There will be a consultation, the government will look at the views that come in, some will be acted on and some won’t."

The full interview with Wilson will be published in the October edition of Third Sector magazine

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