Nick Hurd explains what the government is doing to promote the Big Society ideal and reminds fundraisers that they have an essential role to play
We want to see a bigger, stronger society where people feel more responsibility and power to get involved and make a difference. This isn't new. There are already lots of people right across Britain helping to make our communities better places to live. What is new is the government's commitment to transfer new powers to communities so that people feel they have more opportunity to create the change they want to see. In addition, we are investing in new forms of support that will make it easier and more compelling for more people to get involved.
Fundraisers are at the front line of encouraging civic responsibility. We want to help you reach out to more people and make donating to charity easier. We also want to open up new sources of finance for charities and give them a bigger role in society. That’s why the last Budget contained measures worth about £600m to charities over the life of this parliament. By April 2013, we will have removed paperwork for Gift Aid on donations up to £5,000 and introduced a new online filing system. We also announced a reduction in the rate of inheritance tax for estates that leave 10 per cent or more to charity.
Our commitment goes much further than tax incentives. We want to build a new role for government, using our influence to help charities build relationships with business and philanthropists. Britain already has a generous society but for years levels of giving have flat lined, we want to change this.
In May, we published the Giving White Paper, which offers new ideas to help build a stronger culture of giving time and money. It includes a Social Action Fund to support innovations that help put giving back into in to people’s everyday lives. We also commit to a whole range of simple ideas that could have real benefits. For example, promoting charity appeals on the Directgov website, which gets around four and a half million visits per week, and enabling donations through cash machines that handle ten million transactions a day.
We also want to support a better partnership with businesses. Soon we will launch a year long campaign to promote payroll giving and in the autumn we will hold a high-profile Giving Summit to bring together social entrepreneurs, charities, philanthropists and business leaders.
We would like civil society organisations to play a far greater role in providing public services. Already, policies like Pathfinder Mutuals (where entrepreneurial front line staff are being supported to form mutual and co-operative arrangements to deliver public services, welfare to work and free schools) mean there are more chances for charities and other groups to get involved.
Flashing the cash
The Big Society Bank will also offer new finance opportunities. It will draw on an estimated £400m in dormant bank accounts and will also have an additional £200m from the UK’s largest banks.
We have published a social investment strategy to attract more private investment for social ventures and hope in time that new products like social ISAs and pension funds will be on offer to everyday savers.
However, we are facing the largest peacetime deficit in our history and charities cannot be immune from the necessary reductions in spending. It is as important for you as it is for the rest of society that we get public finances under control. The economic challenges must not hold us back from trying to tackle persistent social problems.
We must not be afraid to do things differently and for us this means a much stronger partnership between the state, charities and voluntary groups, business and citizens.
About the author: Nick Hurd is minister for civil society
This article first appeared in The Fundraiser, Issue 7, July 2011