Think again David Cameron – is this really the legacy you want to leave?

Paul Streets, Chief Executive of Lloyds Bank Foundation, was one of 130 Chief Executives to write to the Prime Minister in opposition to the anti-lobbying clause on behalf of the small and medium-sized charities the Foundation funds. Here he responds to the recent discussion around the clause:

The public discussion on the Cabinet Office guidelines to prohibit organisations in receipt of grant funding from influencing government or parliament has centred on large organisations: with parallels drawn with commercial sector providers who overlap markets where large charities operate like social care.

There may even be some justification for this for the very small number of large quasi- commercial charitable providers who have grown up in the last 20 years and who operate in effect as outsourced large scale public sector providers with little or no voluntary income.

…what few are pointing out is that the most invidious and damaging effect will be felt in the 97% of the sector with an income of less than £1m”

But what few are pointing out is that the most invidious and damaging effect will be felt in the 97% of the sector with an income of less than £1m. About half of these provide important services which are primarily local. Many are focused on the most vulnerable: homelessness, domestic abuse; mental health; community based drug and alcohol services; families who are ‘troubled’. The majority are funded by a mix of public, voluntary and trust income. These are organisations that understand their communities and are often the first ones to notice how changes in policies and processes are affecting those most at risk. Recent research we commissioned from NCVO and IPPR shows these organisations are already under the cosh. Since 2008 their income from local and central government has fallen by up to 44%. Their overall income is increasingly volatile and many have had to downsize in order to continue working at all.

For organisations already on the edge the stakes are high for those they serve. As demands keep rising, charities have a duty to try to stem the problems the people they help are experiencing.

Much as Government – both national and local – would have us believe their grant making or local commissioning is an entirely rational process: as Kids Company has shown in extremis, patronage is a central, if unspoken, driver too. And, just as patronage can be given: so it can be taken.

Now: let’s play this out. Let’s say I run a local charity where I support vulnerable children; women experiencing domestic abuse, or vulnerable adults with mental health problems. Half my money is grant funded or commissioned – some from central government; some from local government, perhaps a health trust or a PCC. The evidence that is coming through my door tells me that the impact of benefit cuts, reductions in health support, changes to local housing, local policing – or all of the above – is having a significant impact on those I serve. To help these people most effectively, I need to feed this information back to those who have funded me.

In theory half my money is independent. I can use my ‘independent’ time and resource to make the case; report public safety issues to regulators; argue for changes to be made, turn the spotlight where it is needed. In theory those who need to know will welcome the feedback and listen.

That is what the Government would have us believe.

In practice I am acutely aware that a quiet word from a Minister, local Councillor, Police and Crime Commissioner or Chair of the Health Trust to an official could make the difference to my next grant application or commissioning bid being above or below the funding line.

So do I speak up, or keep quiet – because I fear that to do so will jeopardise my funding, bring my whole house down and deprive those I serve of a vital service I know they need?

canary

Every day over 40,000 small and medium-sized local charities provide support to millions of the most vulnerable we should all care about. They do this quietly and without drama: unsung heroes. The mining canaries of society. When they sing we need to hear and respond.

We all need them to be able to speak truth to power: especially tax and rate payers – who should know if the public services we all fund, or the politicians we have elected, are failing the most vulnerable in our society.

Think again David Cameron – surely this is not what you want if your aspiration is to leave a legacy as a Social Reformer.

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