Sector bemoans 'demotion' of charities minister role to DCMS

New Prime Minister Theresa May has moved the Minister for Civil Society role to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport


Voluntary sector bodies have said that moving the charities brief to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport is a backward step for the sector.

It was announced over the weekend as part of Prime Minister Theresa May’s first ministerial reshuffle that Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, would move to the DCMS but keep his role.

The DCMS has yet to announce the details of Wilson’s move, including whether or not the Office for Civil Society will continue to exist or if he will have any other responsibilities added to his brief.

Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research at the publication and training charity the Directory of Social Change, said the move at this stage "reads as a demotion for civil society policy".

He said "It’s a sign that the new government is even less serious about constructively engaging the voluntary sector than the last.

"We hope we’re proved wrong, and time will tell, but we don’t see the logic behind this change and there are many questions to be answered."

Those questions included how the would DCMS deliver a joined-up approach across government on issues such as commissioning and public service delivery, he said.

Neil Cleeveley, chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca, said the move appeared to be a negative one for the sector.

"We will work to make this a success, but this move suggests that the OCS is losing its strategic role," he said. "It will be even harder to get the interests of the voluntary sector considered across the whole of government."

Dan Corry, chief executive of the think tank NPC and a former head of the policy unit at 10 Downing Street under the Labour government, said it was easier to influence government policy from within the Cabinet Office than it would be from the DCMS.

"My sense is that the move is not good for the sector," he said.

The DCMS was not a big hitter in government and was regarded by some within Whitehall as a bit of a joke department, he said.

But he added "it was not that we had some mighty powerful beast that was firing on all cylinders" and had suddenly been replaced.

Corry said it was better that someone who was familiar with the brief retained the role rather than it arrive in a new department with a new minister.

Andrew O’Brien, head of policy and engagement at the Charity Finance Group, said it was important not to get too hung up on which department the portfolio sat in, "but there can be no denying that moving from the Cabinet Office to the DCMS would be perceived as a backwards step for voluntary sector policies both outside government and within government".

He said: "The one positive from this move may be that it gives officials the chance to reset relationships with colleagues across Whitehall and ensure that the potential of working with charities is better understood and our needs are taken into account when policies are designed."

The umbrella body Social Enterprise UK called for the government to set up a unit for social enterprises, social investment and mutuals within the newly created Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

It said that Nick Hurd, the former Minister for Civil Society, who has been appointed as minister of state at the new department, would be well placed to take a lead in this area.

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of SEUK, said it was difficult to see why responsibility for civil society policy had been moved to the DCMS.

"It’s a curious move with potentially serious consequences for our sector’s future," he said. "There is a danger that the needs of social enterprises, social investors and mutuals will be sidelined."

"Social enterprise has its roots in the third sector, but it has evolved, as has the landscape – the sector now encompasses social investment and mutuals. The broader sector needs policies that will help to drive its growth in the coming years to tackle the many social and environmental challenges facing local communities."

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