It doesn’t matter how big the new minister’s portfolio is, what matters is whether or not she is effective, argues Kirsty Weakley.
The short answer to the question above is no. Charities should stop worrying about the size of the minister’s brief.
A number of responses to her appointment yesterday focused on the fact that the new charities minister is the minister for sport and civil society, with concerns that her portfolio was too large and the fear that charities could come second to sport.
But based on what we've seen so far I don't think there's much need to worry. It looks as though Tracey Crouch is good news for the charity sector, and frankly we should all enjoy a bit of good news where we can get it these days.
Apart from anything this a rejigging of responsibilities within the Department for Culture Media and Sport, with some of Crouch’s previous responsibilities, for arts, heritage and tourism, being transferred to John Glen. These were not add-ons to sport but an important part of the work of the DCMS’s work. Tourism, for example, accounts for about 10 per cent of the UK’s gross domestic product.
At the same time she has not taken some parts of Wilson’s old portfolio, with responsibility for libraries going to Glen and ownership of the First World War commemorations going to Lord Hyde.
It’s also worth noting that the Office for Civil Society is about more than its minister and any further cuts to its funding that see it stripped of resources is a far greater risk than a reduction in the amount of time the minister spends shaking hands.
Passion counts for a lot
In any case I’d argue that the competencies of an individual are far more important than the amount of time they have to do the job. Generally if you give a hard working person a lot to do they find a way to make it work, sometimes by prioritising and delegating to make efficient use of the time available.
It’s a relief to have someone who not only has some actual experience of the charity sector, but actually seems enthusiastic about it. Even if she has less actual time to dedicate to OCS issues it won't matter if she uses that time productively.
Just contrast Crouch's opening remarks to the sector with those of her predecessor, Rob Wilson.
When Wilson was appointed, he spoke not about how important the sector was to him, but how important it was to David Cameron.
"This is an enormously important sector to the prime minister," he said. "He made it clear to me how important it was.
"I will do my best to make sure this continues to be a thriving sector and I will do my best to make sure it is well supported."
Whereas Crouch said yesterday that she “couldn’t be happier”, she “can’t wait to meet the sector” and she looks forward to being “a real advocate” for the sector.
It doesn’t appear that these are platitudes for the sake the sector press.
She’s the patron of a variety of local charities, volunteers as a football coach and you can even find a video of her taking part in the Ice Bucket Challenge on YouTube. Unnervingly it looks as though she’s a normal human person.
Basically it looks as though she already gets it and will be able to hit the ground running.
Obviously there are still many things to worry about and it’s up to charities and the press to hold the new government to account. (Though I wouldn’t blame anyone for waiting until Monday.)
The questions she needs to answer include but are not limited to:
- What does her appointment mean for fundraising regulation?
- How will charities be taken into account when it comes to Brexit?
- What does her appointment mean for reform of commissioning?
- What about the review of the Social Value Act?
- What are her views on the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme?
- What is the future for social investment?
- Will there be a second Local Charities Day?
There are also many factors that could prevent Crouch from getting much done, or living up to expectations. The big two are Brexit, which is set to dominate British political life for the next two years, and the fact that the government doesn’t have a majority in Parliament.
If there are issues further down the line I for one will not be letting her, or the government, off the hook with the excuse that the brief was “too big”.