Peers have raised concerns about whether the minister for civil society will be able to prioritise charity issues alongside other areas he is responsible for.
Nigel Huddleston was named minister for civil society in the latest reshuffle. He had already been the minister for sport, heritage and tourism and continues to hold these roles.
The sport and civil society portfolios have been combined previously, when Tracey Crouch held the role, and similar concerns were raised then about the minister’s bandwidth.
Baroness Pitkeathley, a Labour peer who is also president of NCVO, asked the government about the impact of the current arrangement.
“Research by the [Law] Commission on Civil Society showed that ministerial engagement with the social sector is significantly lower than engagement with business, despite the huge contribution made by that sector in the Covid crisis,” she said.
She suggested that if a full-time minister was not possible, then each government department should have a nominated civil servant to engage with the sector.
Baroness Merron (Labour) added: “The voluntary and community sector deservedly gained a high profile during the pandemic, particularly as so many people responded to the call to volunteer at a time of national need. What assessment has the minister made of the effectiveness of government machinery in harnessing that activity to support the sector?”
Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Addington, said the current arrangement “does not exactly instil confidence”.
He added: “Also, if they are not going to have a powerful enough minister, when will we get an idea about a coherent strategy throughout government for dealing with the charitable and voluntary sector, which is simply too big to ignore?”
Lord Parkinson, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Lords’ minister, defended the government.
He said: “We greatly value the important role that charities and civil society groups play, and work across government to support them as they do so.
“This includes in the areas of sport and heritage where, as in so many others, charities and volunteers play a crucial part. Aligning those ministerial responsibilities creates a real opportunity for an innovative and collaborative approach to growing the sector’s contribution.
“My honourable friend is committed to his brief and will ensure that charities and civil society organisations benefit from significant attention.”
Include volunteers on the census
Conservative peer, Lord Colgrain, suggested including volunteering roles on the census.
“What measures can the government take to facilitate their rapid return after the pandemic to both charities and those other organisations where volunteers fulfil a vital need, such as special constables in the police force?
“Will he also give an opinion on whether the position of volunteers could be included on future census forms?”
A second Conservative peer, Baroness Sater, called for a commissioner for volunteering to “galvanise the spirit of volunteering by introducing a framework that links a volunteer’s voice within and across national and local government” and act as a “champion to protect and recognise achievements”.
Lord Parkinson highlighted the £7m volunteering fund announced earlier this week and said that the Community Life Survey captures volunteering levels. He said he would raise the idea of a volunteering champion with the minister.