Tories pledge fundamental shift in charities' links with state

'We want an independent sector, not a nationalised one,' shadow minister tells Third Sector

The Conservatives will pledge to "shift the fundamentals" of the relationship between charities and the state when they gather for their conference in Manchester next week.

Shadow charities minister Nick Hurd told Third Sector the party wanted to help charities emerge strongly from the recession and create a "genuine sense of partnership with government".

He said the party wanted to encourage the public to give more time and money to charities so that their reliance on government would be reduced and they would stand more strongly on their own feet.

"We are worried by the trend of growing dependence of the sector on the state," he said. "We want an independent social sector, not a nationalised one."

Hurd said the Tories wanted to make it easier to run a charity, and in particular to reduce the administrative burden of Gift Aid. They would also look at simplifying the process of doing business with the state.

"Everyone tells us that it is too bureaucratic and complicated at the moment," he said.

The party is concluding a consultation on its green paper, Voluntary Action in the 21st Century, and working on the details of its election manifesto. An implementation plan was also being drawn up, Hurd said, to ensure the party was prepared for action if it wins the election.

He rejected Labour's description of the Conservatives as "non-interventionist" (22 September, page 2). "This is rich, coming from a government that has rejected our calls for a Treasury loan scheme to support sound charities destabilised by the Icelandic bank crisis," he said.

"What we need is an honest response to another inconvenient fact for this Government. The money has run out. Just look at the scale of the recession action plan that the Office of the Third Sector had to scramble together from existing budgets: a paltry £40m."

He said the next government would face the worst public finances since 1946. "The response cannot just be about spending cuts. It must also be about finding new solutions to old, expensive social problems."

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