After a lengthy delay the government has published its response to the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities.
The government welcomed the committee’s report, which was published in March with 43 recommendations. It broadly agrees with many of the points around improving governance and support for charities and said they would feed in to its new Civil Society Strategy – a consultation on which will be launched in January.
But it rejected calls for a consultation on a statutory duty for employers to give people time off to be a trustee. And the response does not reference any plans to legislate or change policy to implement any of the report's recommendations.
However the response did reaffirm a commitment to the Compact - the agreement between the sector and the government which guarantees charities fair funding and the right to speak out on behalf of their beneficiaries. The Compact - agreed under Labour - is rarely referenced by the current government.
Normally the government has eight weeks to respond to reports from committees, but this response was delayed by the General Election and appointment of a new minister.
In the foreword to the response, Tracey Crouch, minister for civil society, said: “I want to not only present a positive response to this report but in doing so I also want to send a strong positive message about government’s vision for its work with and for civil society.”
The report added: “The Civil Society Strategy provides an important opportunity to engage with civil society and improve partnerships between sectors and local communities to build a stronger and fair society for all.
“The strategy will look at how policies across government fit together to help shape a wider ambition for the voluntary sector and civil society as a whole.”
Grants and commissioning
A number of the committee’s recommendations for government focused on making it easier for charities, particularly smaller charities, to deliver public services and urged the government to consider grant funding.
The government said it recognised the value of grants, but that mechanisms like social impact bonds could “support innovative solutions”.
It said a crown representative for the voluntary sector would be appointed “in due course” and a “big part of their role” will be addressing the barriers to public sector delivery.
The government originally announced its intention to find a new crown representative last December.
“Central government continues to follow the principles of the Compact,” the government said, and suggested that the process of forming the new Civil Society Strategy would be an opportunity to consider how to improve it.
Charity Commission governance
The committee expressed concerns about the makeup of the Charity Commission’s board.
In response the government said appointments are made by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on “merit”.
“Recruitment of a new legal board member and a new chair for the Charity Commission are near completion,” it said, and added that adverts had been placed in a range of places to attract applicants.
Responding to concerns about the Commission’s plan to launch a consultation on charging, the government said: “We agree with the committee’s recommendation that any proposals for charging should make clear how the proposals would benefit charities and strengthen the sector overall, and that the Commission must be transparent in how any additional revenue would be spent and what additional or enhanced services would be provided as a result.”
The committee recommended that the government consult on ways to support more employees to become trustees by giving them statutory time off to attend board meetings, but the government said there are no plans to do this.
NPC: 'Warm words are not enough'
Dan Corry, chief executive of charity think tank NPC, said: "Warm words are not enough to support the charity sector to deliver the impact so desperately needed. Given the lack of action in this response, it is a mystery as to why it has taken more than half a year.
"It is strange to see so much weight placed on the new grants standard, which many in the sector have complained is not being followed with the Tampon Tax.
"The sector was excited when Tracey Crouch became charities minister. Now we need to see what she can deliver. The pressure is really on the new Civil Society strategy. Charities can’t afford another missed opportunity."
ACF: 'A commitment to ongoing dialogue is also important'
Keiran Goddard, director of external affairs, said: "Although overdue, we welcome the government’s statements about the vital role that charities play in civic life.
"In particular it is pleasing to see the value of the Inspiring Impact project be acknowledged, along with a recognition of the vital role that grants can play in delivering meaningful, patient and innovative social change.
"A commitment to ongoing dialogue with the sector is also important, and we hope to see this rhetoric backed up with robust and sustained action via the civil society strategy and beyond."
CFG: 'Disappointing about the lack of clarity'
Andrew O’Brien, director of policy and engagement at the Charity Finance Group, said: “It is good that the government has responded to the report, but it is disappointing that so many of the recommendations aimed at government did not receive clear answers. For example, the House of Lords Committee made strong points on the need for the government to do more to ensure full costs of delivering services are covered so that charities can be sustainable, but the government has seemingly avoided the issue. Putting pressure on other government agencies to do more on core costs is one of the biggest single things that the Office for Civil Society could do. A lot of decisions are also deferred to the Civil Society Strategy, so it is appears that this strategy will now carry a significant amount of the hopes and fears in the sector. We will all need to engage with it closely and ensure that the recommendations in the report are not lost.”