Small charity representatives grill Nick Hurd at round-table discussion

The civil society minister makes a note of charity concerns at meeting organised by the Directory of Social Change

Civil society minister Nick Hurd
Civil society minister Nick Hurd

Every now and then, a government minister decides to step out of the Westminster village and meet some 'real people': the ones running small local organisations, rather than the heads of national groups and umbrella bodies who are usually consulted about policy changes.

This often results in superficial chat, a lot of photographs and a few easy headlines, and is not always a genuine attempt to shape policy-making around the needs of the grass-roots.

So when representatives of 21 small charities, mostly locally-based service delivery organisations, met the civil society minister Nick Hurd at a round-table discussion organised by the Directory of Social Change last week, they might not have had high hopes. The 28 per cent cuts to local councils announced in the government's comprehensive spending review a week earlier must have lowered expectations still further.

But those at the meeting were pleasantly surprised. The minister made a note of their concerns about the local commissioning process, then said he would try to find a solution that could be worked into new policy and legislation.

One chief executive said the work of charities was hindered by the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations when they took over service delivery from local authorities. Hurd said he would use the government's reform of commissioning, to be published early next year, to address this concern.

Other concerns were harder to bat away. When one charity's project manager said it had stopped taking volunteers because its funding might expire after April next year, all Hurd could offer were assurances that ministers were aware of anxiety and that cutting the deficit would inevitably result in a period of uncertainty for many people.

And when a chief executive said his charity's project might fall through because of the decision that the loan fund Futurebuilders will close in March 2011, the minister was unable to help.

In agreeing to attend the event, Hurd had put himself into a near-impossible situation: to reassure a room full of nervous, frustrated people that, despite the spending cuts, the government would act in their interests. On this occasion, he seems to have pulled it off.

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