There are too many small charities, ex-minister tells Tory party conference

04 Oct 2022 News

Lynn Perry, chief executive of Barnardo's, Jerome Mayhew, Conservative MP for Broadland, Francesca Fraser, Onward, Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham and Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics

There are too many small charities so they should be merged to improve efficiency, former pensions minister Guy Opperman told the Conservative party conference yesterday. 

Opperman, who was pensions minister for five years before prime minister Liz Truss' recent reshuffle, also criticised charities for being too involved in politics.

Lynn Perry, chief executive of Barnardo’s, agreed that charities should improve how they collaborate but defended their right to advocate on behalf of their beneficiaries.

‘I would scrap the lot’

Opperman pre-emptively apologised if he offended anyone from a small charity in the room and explained that when he had a brain tumour he accessed support from up to 40 different brain tumour charities. 

He said: “If I was going to be a legislator, and obviously I’m not going to be for the next 18 months that’s quite clear, I would intervene in the medical world massively and I would effectively mandate that you can’t have small charities.

“The bottom truth is you are a really inefficient use of your resources and you are replicating stuff that people are by and large already doing.

“I would scrap the lot and amalgamate them all into one or two at most, so we can drive forward real change there. They can have some localised input, but the truth is there is too much amalgamation of pre-existing work and loss of the impact that you could have. But don’t worry, there is no chance of me being minister to do that.”

In response, Perry said she that as a sector “we need to get better at coordination” but that Barnardo’s “does a lot in partnerships”.

Though she said she shared some principles with Opperman, she said he had expressed some “devaluing of what the sector can bring in some of the challenges” in his speech. 

Meanwhile, Matt Whittaker, chief executive of Pro Bono Economics, said: “You need to nurture any sector that’s important for growth and wellbeing. The role of the state with civil society is to invest in its capacity, and to work with its partner – as seems to be the automatic for business.”

Also at the conference, Lee Anderson, the Conservative MP for Ashfield, accused people of setting up food banks for their own sake rather than for their beneficiaries.

At a young Conservatives event, he said: “I'm a big believer that we do need food banks, but not to the degree we've got them. Every do-gooder is starting these little projects to make themselves feel good.”

‘Charities dabble in politics too much’

Opperman also said that charities “dabble in politics way too much to the detriment of themselves”, to nodding from panellist Jerome Mayhew, Conservative MP for Broadland.

He said charities should avoid politics and “focus on what you are actually doing, that is my strong advice”.

Perry said she did not agree that politics is not charity's place and that it is important for the voices of the children and families to be heard. 

“We don’t necessarily see that as ‘dabbling in politics’, but we do see that as seeking to influence change for people in our communities who for whatever reason are experiencing disadvantage or vulnerability and whose needs are unmet,” she said.

Perry said she felt it was “really important that those voices are heard and expressed” by the government. 

Earlier on in the event, Opperman said he felt the UK as a country was “apathetic to wealth” and that “one of the reasons we don’t have [as much] philanthropy is because we denigrate wealth”.

In contrast, he said the USA celebrates wealth, so their philanthropy is “streets ahead of ours because they don’t feel like they’re being ostracised”.

“So charities have got to change their approach to that,” he said.  

The fringe event was hosted by think tanks Pro Bono Economics and Onward.  

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