Charities have a 'legitimate role' to play in EU referendum debate, says Wilson

19 Apr 2016 News

Rob Wilson, former minister for civil society

The minister for civil society has given his backing to charities that want to campaign on the EU referendum.

Speaking at NCVO’s annual conference yesterday, Rob Wilson, minister for civil society, said the ability for charities to campaign was “a legitimate role” for the voluntary sector and “one that I really respect and absolutely value”.

“The law sets some limits but providing charities stay within these and stay out of party politics, they should be able to speak up on behalf of their beneficiaries,” he said. “That remains the case in the context of the forthcoming EU referendum. I welcome that charities’ voices could and should be heard as part of that debate.”

His comments follow controversial guidance issued by the Charity Commission last month which warned charities who failed to “explain or justify” their reasons for voicing opinions about the EU referendum of “regulatory scrutiny”. The guidance was attacked by sector leaders for its “negative and prescriptive approach”.

Getting small and medium-sized charities involved with public services

Wilson also announced a series of roundtable discussions to consider how to get more small and medium-sized charities to get involved in delivering public services. 

The first takes place later this week and will be chaired by NCVO chair, Sir Martyn Lewis.

The roundtables will form “part of [his] desire for open policy making”, Wilson said.

“I hope they will inform policy options which we may wish to take up in the future,” he said.

“I would particularly like to express my thanks to Sir Martyn Lewis who has agreed to chair the initial stakeholder meeting later this week. I’m sure he will do an absolutely brilliant job of bringing together charities and commissioners to explore the opportunities in this area and I look forward to having this conversation over the coming months.”

Wilson said small and medium sized charities “who sometimes struggle with the shadow of their larger cousins” were “especially close to [his] heart” and he would do more to support them through a series of support programmes.

It has been a “difficult 12 months” for the charity sector but that it was now time to “look to the future”, Wilson said.

“I won’t pretend the next months will be easy or that we will agree on everything. But I will continue to do everything that I can to support the voluntary sector through a wider programme of reform,” he said.

“I and this government will do our bit to improve the long-term outlook for charities – for social investment and ultimately together, we can create a bigger, stronger society for all.” 

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