Monday 30 April 2012

Saving listed buildings for the community.

Another brilliant move in the budget may jeopardise Government plans to encourage more community use of public assets . This budget has turned out to be a real disaster area for the third sector!

Plans to charge VAT on alterations to listed buildings could be a "fiscal torpedo" for the government's Right to Bid scheme, set up to enable community groups to buy disused publicly owned assets.

I have written to my good friend Eric Pickles, the communities secretary to warn that the proposal to remove the zero rating will harm voluntary organisations that already own or look after listed buildings.

It would also put charities off acquiring such buildings through the government's Right to Bid scheme, designed to make it easier for community groups to buy local assets.

In the context of the deeply damaging cap on philanthropy and the cap on community investment tax relief, this VAT change sends a further terrible message about the government's commitment to localism and its ability to prosecute those agendas effectively. It also risks doing serious damage to the work of voluntary organisations up and down the country.

For example some of the buildings that SIB have made loans for are listed, so for example the great plans to turn Hitchin Town Hall into a vibrant community facility, or the rescue of a beautiful Tudor barn in Leominster.

My friend Steve Wyler, of Locality, estimates that some 30 % of the proposals they are seeing for community acquisition under the right to buy or challenge are listed.

So whilst you might imagine this is something that only affects cathedrals or castles, it will hurt our third sector.

A consultation paper from HM Revenue & Customs, which proposes that the zero rating for alterations to listed buildings is abolished from 1 October, closes on 4 May. So get writing to place your comments!

And how interesting that on this plan they want a very limited consultation, whereas they think a leisurely
one year is fine on the charity tax cap!

Friday 27 April 2012

The Charity Commission

Where were they ? The recent debate on the charity tax cap saw Government Ministers talking about dodgy charities, especially European ones, and dodgy philanthropists. At the very least you might think this is a criticism of the work of the Commission. But more importantly, any suggestion from Government that there are fraudulent charities can do damage. People give to charity because they have trust and confidence in the system that regulates charity. And there are high levels of trust in charity. Any suggestions that there is fraud is potentially very damaging; that is why some of us reacted so strongly to the disgraceful remarks from Government, who then so signally failed to back up their claims.

Surely we should have heard from the Charity Commission. A vigorous regulator would have been on the front foot demanding evidence for these claims so they could mount an immediate investigation. I'm afraid this was a case of the mouse that signally failed to roar.

Monday 23 April 2012

More cuts on way!

So cheerful Danny Alexander MP tells departments to plan another 5% cuts. Well, we know who will bear the brunt of that! Last year we know that the third sector took cuts at twice the rate that the public sector did. So we can be sure that again we will bear the brunt of the new cuts round. And this is not a about our organisations, but about the services we provide. So vulnerable and excluded communities will once again take the pain.

Perhaps the Chancellor should bear this in mind as he contemplates the effect of his giving cap. As John Low reminds me, many of the family foundations that have been set up through wealthy philanthropists make generous contributions to local causes, to unpopular and excluded communities. A cap on giving hurts them,and not just the big national charities like the great cancer organisations.

I was asked onto BBC PM to respond to the comments from the Chancellor on Saturday. He said he wanted to talk to us so that we were not damaged by the cap. This is clearly welcome. But we need this matter resolved now- not in a languid summer consultation. I'm afraid I don't trust HMT. Maybe I'm cynical , but I suspect this is an attempt to get it off the headlines, then implement the change when they think it's no longer going to be noticed.

So Chancellor, let's talk now. Let's sort it. There is a deal to be made in lifting the cap on giving relief , but by ensuring there is no tax avoidance if they worry there are, as they suggest , dodgy charities and wealthy people trying to avoid paying tax by giving to dodgy charities.

The Giving Summit is now well and truly off the agenda. I think its looking like a Giving meeting- they have cancelled much of it and the PM is no longer coming. They could have saved it by sorting the issue quickly. A shame, but not surprising as this was all about a celebration of one year of the giving white Paper. And in one foul swoop the Governments giving agenda is in tatters.

Not much joy in any of this.

But a reminder of just how good our sector can be was demonstrated when I went to Liverpool on Thursday. I went to see Steve Hawkins, who runs " Local Solutions" which is a dynamic body supporting people in Liverpool, whether they are young or old; working in social care and training, jobs and advice and support for communities that are at the edge. They have grown from small beginnings in the 70s to be a stalwart of the local sector.

Steve had organised a meeting for me with leaders from other sector bodies. Prominent, as you would expect was the good Alan Lewis of Liverpool CVS. A good discussion. Highlighting the problems and the opportunities we face. A lively debate on payment by results. Needless to say the work programme and its many failings was much referenced! But I was upbeat. As Leaders we have to get out there and make the weather. Seek out opportunity for those we serve. And speak out for the marginalised. Increasingly our role defending communities will be needed.

And earlier I had been out to Crosby. My good friend and ACEVO member Liz Williams, who runs Sefton Carers, took me out to the Church where there is a vault with 8 members of the Limrick clan. Classed now as a War Grave because the young William Somerville Limrick died in action, just 26 on HMS Alanya in the dying months of the First World War.

He is commemorated on the grand Crosby war memorial. His Liverpool cousin Osborne Limrick was also killed in the trenches and is commemorated at Liverpool University. He is buried in France.

We need more sun!!!

Stephen Bubb

Thursday 19 April 2012

Solidarity, VAT and Liverpool.

It has been great to see the wide support across our sector on the tax cap and the major lobbying efforts from the key umbrella bodies and how philanthropists have been enraged and engaged.

Of course our sector would not be its rich diverse self if there had not been some dissenting voices. And there are certainly some with a poor understanding of the concept of "charity" when it comes to supporting others in trouble. Martin Narey's unhelpful article in the Times and various comments from individuals who thought it clever to use this opportunity to attack big nationals was sad. But they were very much an exception.

It was great to see so many smaller charities who may not get the support of rich philanthropists taking the line that an attack on one is an attack on all. Debra Alcock- Tyler put this so well in her column in Third Sector.

One particular letter from an organisation I'm not going to name as it might only encourage further outrage from them suggested that the Government were right and this would be good as the big charities got less money to support their CEO and director salaries! So never mind that a number of the international aid charities have said their donations have already been hit and their emergency relief work cut as a result- let's have a go about salaries!

Now we also know the charity tax was not the only budget problem; the change to VAT rules on listed buildings is also causing problems for members in the arts, heritage and faith sectors. The Churches have made a strong case about how this change may affect them but I also had an anguished email from a member who runs a hospital that has been around 600 years and who believes this will bring a massive new bill for him.

I also know that for some of the investments that the Social Investment Business have made this will cause a problem. Some of our investees have been converting old buildings for use as community hubs. One such brilliant example is in Leominster where a magnificent old Tudor barn is to relive as a community centre.

Yet another problem for our sector from a budget that has proved so difficult in so many ways.

Anyway, I'm now off to Liverpool for a meeting with the Council and a meeting with ACEVO members. I'm also going to see a Limrick family vault at St Luke's Crosby which one of my members Liz Williams of Sefton Carers has searched out for me! More on that later...know you can't wait....

Stephen Bubb

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Wet and windy

A miserable day in London. Wet and windy. Sums up beautifully the mood in the third sector as we survey the wreck of the "Big Society" idea. What have we been offered so far? Actually nothing. In fact worse than that, we have had Government ministers traducing us with talk of dodgy charities, suspicious foreigners and naughty philanthropists.

The big announcement to the press this week? We are told there will be a consultation. When the Budget was announced it was stated that the proposals would be subject to consultation. So what are we now offered? The same: "consultation", despite the compelling evidence we offered that this announcement was already inhibiting giving.

And this will be an HMT summer one (would I be cynical to think this may even take place during the Olympics?). We know what this means. The technical term is " kicking into long grass"; a practice the Treasury have refined over decades.

I've been to one of these famed consultations. Over gift aid; I ended up walking out when it became so clear the main purpose of Treasury officials was to shoot down all ideas and pack the working group with people who would always have different ideas. So I would not be surprised when they set up this new consultation to see Polly Toynbee and Martin Narey on the invite list.

But to be clear; if HMT think they can drown opposition in a sultry summer chat then think again. You have roused the wrath of a strong and influential sector. We never forget, even if we might eventually forgive. So surprise me Treasury: treat this seriously and change tack.

Stephen Bubb

Monday 16 April 2012

Taxing times and any questions.

" Some u- turns are just common sense". So concluded the Sunday Times excoriating Editorial on the charity tax. The Sunday papers were full of the continuing story; it now cannot be long before common sense does prevail.

I have a feeling that now the PM is back he will move to get a grip on this . I suspect this week will now prove crucial. And there is a sensible way forward so let's hope we can move quickly to sort this unnecessary row.

The Charities Aid Foundation have published a survey which shows the Government don't have the support of their own MPs.

The scale of Conservative and Liberal Democrat backbench discontent at the Government’s proposed cap on tax relief for charitable donations is revealed in the poll published today.

Almost two thirds of Government backbenchers surveyed during the Easter recess say that tax relief on charitable donations should be exempt from the proposed cap announced in the Budget and that the Government should review its proposal.

Sixty five per cent of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs surveyed agreed that “tax relief on charitable donations should be exempt from the proposed cap”.

Sixty eight per cent of the backbenchers surveyed agreed that “The Government should review its proposal to apply this cap on tax relief for charitable donations”.

The ComRes survey, also showed that 93 per cent of Government backbenchers surveyed agreed that the Government “should do all it can to use the tax system to encourage charitable donations from wealthy donors.

Amusingly I got a chance to beard Ken Clarke on this on Friday. A good friend of my sister Lucy had a spare ticket for Any Questions, that brilliant BBC Radio4 programme that is a treasure of the airwaves from when it first broadcast some 60 years ago. I thought it would be good to go as practice for when I appear on the show myself.

And obviously I could hardly not ask a question! On the tax cap. And they picked me but although I only used my name I was outed by Edward Stourton who revelled in revealing my true identity and assured Ken it was not a stitch up!

Most satisfactory!

And Sunday was a day of rememberence for my great aunt Marjorie, now in her hundreth year. Her cousin Harry Barrow was one of the many who drowned on the foundering of SS Titanic, one hundred years ago , aged just 35.

Stephen Bubb

Friday 13 April 2012

Digging holes!

Every time the government comment on the charity tax proposal it seems to get worse.

We now have HMT talking about dodgy european charities, seemingly unaware it is the HMRC who police the scheme for tax relief for foreign donations. There are strict regulations. They are administered by HMRC. So if HMT are saying there is dodgy behaviour why haven't they sorted it out ? Instead of making wild accusations perhaps they might like to look in their own backyard and sort it.  If there are officials not doing their job- as seems to be implied by Ministers, then surely they should be removing them?

Instead these unsubstantiated claims are made which do further damage to our sector's standing and reputation.

It is simply unacceptable to attack charities in this way. It must stop before more general  damage is done. 

I have had a  reply from the Charity commission CEO but who, in respect of the claims being made by HMT state,

"We have been in touch with HMRC this week and there are no relevant cases that have brought to our attention in recent weeks”

So,  either HMT and HMRC are sitting on cases of fraud which they are not investigating or there are none and this is a desperate attempt to shore up an increasingly untenable position.

And then I'm back home after a round of the studios on this very issue and I hear Danny Alexander MP making the absurd claim that he has been talking to small charities and they are not concerned! So Danny, every thing is alright even though  you are being told by Cancer Research,  by Unicef, by Wateraid, by Macmillan; that they will be hurt, is it? But at least his colleague Vince Cable has seen sense and is calling for change. Indeed we know a range of Cabinet ministers are privately urging change, as are many MPs. Let's hope they are successful.

The test of leadership is shown when if presented with evidence that what you are doing is damaging you rethink. Instead we get behaviour that is causing more fury and anger amongst charities and philanthropists.

Time for a rethink before it gets worse.

And it was sods law that today when I decided that as I only had internal meetings I wouldn't wear a suit. Or shave. And then I get requests to do a round of media interviews down at Milbank. Not good but I guess it just added to my general grumpy demeanour. But if it all helps make the case for change that's good- there were also stirling performances from my colleague and former Chair  John Low, who with patient logic demolished the case for a cap on charitable giving. David Bull of Unicef was impressive in an impassioned plea for change- he pointed out lives are at risk if their fundraising is hurt ( did you hear that in HMT ? ). And Dame Shirley for the philanthropists was scathing in her attacks. Her performance on Newsnight against the Treasury minister from whom she demanded an apology was magnificent. You ought not to get on the wrong side of this lot frankly!   

I was impressed with the Times editorial this morning. As they say pointedly,
"Regardless of immediate political cost the PM must give an unequivocal indication that philanthropy is both valued and essential to Britain's future. Then he must safeguard loudly the structures that enable it. Its the Big Society, stupid ". 

Instead of digging holes how about a phone call?  Time to talk about a way forward I say to Government.

Thursday 12 April 2012

On the road to Wigan Pier (no dodgy charities found).

A good day in Wigan ( though not at the Pier; which does exist and I have visited: btw refers to Orwell novel!).

I was meeting Lord Peter Smith, Leader of the Council , and chair of the GM councils group, and his team to talk about how to follow up on the Youth Unemployment Commission. We discussed potential for action both in Wigan and Greater Manchester and possibilities on youth bonds. Its exciting to be able to work with a council that wants a partnership approach across the 3 sectors.

I know Wigan well from my days doing pay negotiations for local government. The Chair of the Employers, Cllr Baldwin was a councillor here and I'd be a regular visitor. Wigan town centre is charmingly untouched by nasty 60s redevelopment. And following our meeting Lord Smith took me and my 2 brains Policy Director  Ralph off to see their one stop shop jobs and skills centre- a real model for how to help the unemployed back into work by working on the person and the reasons they can't get into work; often many and varied. A good Council.

And just time to grab fish and chips from Roy's chippie just opposite the Station to eat on way back to London and the gathering media storm on the charity tax cap.

Although it was good to watch the statements from the PM in Indonesia he still muddied the waters by talking about dodgy charities , this time european ones. And in the morning press we see HMT have listed ways in which they believe charities and philanthropists are dodging tax. I even managed a phone in programme for the BBC on my mobile on the train!

I have written formally to the Charity Commission to ask them to investigate. This story has now developed in a way that may undermine the trust and confidence of the public in charities generally. It is the job of the regulator to stamp out abuse. They must now act to investigate these claims. It is increasingly untenable for them to say nothing and I await a response from them to my request.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Attacking charity?

Bed late ( doing Newsnight). Up early ( going to Wigan ). I rather enjoyed the Newsnight gig. A panel discussion on the Chancellor's tax cap on giving; fired up by suggestions from a nameless no 10 spokesperson that there are dodgy charities that rich people are using to avoid paying tax.  As I said on the programme , its a legal requirement that charities must operate for the " public benefit". If No 10 know of some charities that do not do this it is their legal duty to pass those details to the Charity Commission so they can be investigated,  and if found to be operating unlawfully closed down and their assets transferred.

I have written to the Charity Commission to ask them to investigate this as a matter of urgency. Anything that undermines public trust in charities generally is a serious matter and these allegations need to be dealt with. It a serious matter if HMT and No 10 are suggesting there are some tax dodge charities. That clearly is tax evasion and that is illegal. I assume HMRC have some evidence so let's see it and get it sorted.  In the vernacular " Put up, or shut up ".

In the meantime the anger of both philanthropists and charities gathers pace. Was this really what the Government intended?  Is that what they want through the campaign to encourage giving. I'm baffled. What is going on?

So now I'm off to see the Leader of Wigan Council to talk about our Youth Unemployment Commission report. There is much interest in greater Manchester in all this so we are thinking how we engage councils with the third sector on this vital cause. 

Tuesday 10 April 2012

When in a hole....

Amazing to get tweet from Guardian saying PM press spokesperson had defended the Osborne charity tax cap. They said " there was strong evidence it was being used aaa ethos of tax avoidance. Some of the wealthiest people in the country were giving to charities that don't do a great deal of charitable work in order to wipe out their tax bills. " An outrageous claim from No 10. If they know of charities who are abusing their charitable Status their duty is to report them to the Charity Commission , and if there is evidence to support the accusation from No 10 then charitable stauts must be removed. This implies that No 10 have information on fraud which they have not given to the Chairty Commission. The Chair of the Commission must write immediately to No 10 and demand the names pf these so called charities. If they cannot do that then this accusation must be withdrawn. Apart from the slur this also denigrates the contributions of the many philanthrisys who support great charities and are now being classed as tax avoiders. I can't think of anything that would make charity leaders and donors more angry. Frankly I was hoping that we would see common sense and get this changed. But if this is the level of debate we are to expect then I can't see anyone turning up for the May Giving Summit as it makes the claims of the Governmnet to want more philanthropy look hollow. And surely that cannot be what they want. A crass intervention. When in a hole , stop digging!


Well that was an interesting boat race!  I'm glad to say that my nephew Julian's boat Isis came a resounding first- 4 lengths ahead of somewhat paltry effort by Cambridge ( and no lone public school swimmers attempting hari kari either!)

A couple of photos for your enjoyment.

I'm afraid this one does rather emphasise ones growing age!  I could almost be Julian's grandad

 And here is me . My 2 sisters and nephews and niece at the splendid OUBC dinner at the Hurlingham Club afterwards.

And the Isis crew.

The rest of Easter was uneventful, apart from trip hot foot from Mass to Sky studios to do my Easter message to the Chancellor calling on him to lift the cap on tax relief on charitable living. The Observer had carried the story front page with a brilliant letter from acevo members Harpal Kumar ( Cancer Research ) and Ciaran Devane ( Macmillan Cancer Care ) demonstrating the effects this cap may have . HMT have poured oil on the fire by an insulting summer consultation in a clear attempt to do the usual treasury talk long and do nothing. It won't do.

So glad the Chancellor has backed the idea of Cabinet members publishing their tax details. This will enable us to rank them according to how much they give to Charity. Must check up on Boris and Ken!
Sir Stephen Bubb

Thursday 5 April 2012


Command. Its the origin of the festival of Maundy Thursday; Christ's mandate to his disciples to "do this in memory of me".

And my command to my members is to enjoy the Easter break . It's hard to unwind if you are a CEO, but it's essential to do that every so often. I shall be helped by the fact that our servers are being cleaned, or whatever you do with such things, so I shall have no email and will be forced to give my blackberry a holiday.

Last nights dinner was rather delayed as I ended up talking on the BBC World Service news about the idea of loans for the third sector and Big Society Capital. The World Service is a national treasure. Its an important service which is hugely respected around the world. Knocks spots off CNN frankly! I always watch it when abroad. So I was delighted to do the interview. And it was in Bush House (Nations shall speak peace unto Nations!) which is another treasure! But an odd way to spend ones evening...

I shall be in London this Easter; regrettably not in gorgeous Charlbury but its the Boat Race on Saturday. My nephew is rowing. I must join the Bubbs on the banks of the Thames in cheering him on to victory. Here are the 2 boats practising.

And celebrating with the crews at the Hurlingham Club dinner in the evening; now that will be fun.

A Happy and blessed Easter to you all.

Sir Stephen Bubb

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Loans r us!

Off to the Stock Exchange; now its not often a third sector leader can blog that- for the launch of Big Society Capital. I'm a board member of the Trust that oversees it.

I'm a fan. And I think this is a landmark day for the third sector. And indeed a UK first which other countries are looking to copy.

Big Society Capital is a groundbreaking £600 million institution. And it was important that it was launched by the Prime Minister today. Its mission is to grow a new market and so make it easier for charities and social enterprises to access affordable finance. In turn, this will help us innovate, expand services and develop better solutions to social problems.

Big Society Capital will be capitalised with a total of £600 million. An estimated £400 million of this will come from unclaimed cash left dormant in bank accounts for over 15 years and £200 million will come from the UK's four largest high street banks .

Big Society Capital will grow the social investment market which blends financial return with positive social impact. It will do this through the development of socially orientated investment organisations that support charities and social enterprises that have the ability to repay an investment through the income they generate. I know from the work of SIB that we can make loans , help expand the sector and get the money back to reinvest.

For years, the City has been associated with providing capital to help businesses to expand. This is about supplying capital to help civil society expand. Finance from the City has been essential to help businesses grow, so finance from banks could be essential to helping tackle deep social problems that we exist to tackle.

Big Society Capital , the Social Investment Business and others will encourage charities and social enterprises to prove their business models and help replicate them.

It was great to hear from Sir Ronald Cohen Chair of Big Society Capital who said  "What we've done for business entrepreneurs we must now do for social entrepreneurs. We must give them the resources to innovate in the way we resolve social issues. ". Exactly!

And I do have to admit to asking the first question- which was not a question- but me giving credit where credit is due to both Cameron and the government and to Ronnie.

Then it was off to do interviews with Sky and then BBC World at One. The later also enabled me to give both credit but to remind people that our sector is losing money through cuts and to talk about the budget cap on tax relief and the need for that to be lifted.

A good day, but we cannot underestimate the problems and challenges we still face in terms of cuts and the increasing problems faced by communities and citizens.

Sir Stephen Bubb

Tuesday 3 April 2012

The Truth about Stanley.

Saw an amazing film last night. A searing critique of the way we treat homelessness. And a brilliant reminder both of the damage this does and the fact that homelessness is rising.

I was a guest of Anchor House Director Keith Fernett who is one of our members at the premier of this new film:  In the best tradition of charity fundraising a glitzy affair with Princess Michael of Kent.

The film tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a young runaway and an old Congolese man living rough. This short film has been made to be viewed virally so you can see it. I'd recommend it.

Go to

The photo shows the 2 actors, and the director

And Monday was a an auspicous day for the innovation and creativity organisation NESTA! I had lunch with Geoff Mulgan, the Director and he told me that on that very day they had become a third sector organisation; transferred out of the public sector into the light and freedoms of our marvellous sector. I wish him well. Geoff is a real one man tour de force and I welcome him to that great network that is the leadership of the third sector. He has agreed to have a lunch session with members in the autumn on the drivers for innovation and strategic planning.

Good to get back from the film premier for the news and to see the scenes from Burma and to marvel at the power and determination of Daw Suu Kyi. I'm intending to go to Burma soon. Last time I went I was only able to get a letter to her , through the auspices of the Archbishop of Burma. This time I hope to meet her.

And I've just been contributing to a scheme set up by Bishop John Wilme in Tangoo diocese to raise money to enable the church to purchase a paddy field next to St Johns Hostel, which is used to house 35 children. The paddy field will be used to grow rice and enable the hostel to become self-sufficient. The land will cost about $2000 and St Stephens Church, Pimlico and my mother are helping raise funds for this. And if you feel moved to provide some practical support for the incredibly brave and downtrodden people of Burma let me know!

Sir Stephen Bubb

Monday 2 April 2012

Preparing for mortality and "giveitbackgeorge"!

What could be more appropriate: the launch of a new ACEVO member pension scheme at our Health Conference! I have to admit as I get closer to the magic day when I reach 65 I think about pensions!  Sad but true. The advances in medical science and how conditions are managed means many of us can expect to live for many decades into retirement. Just think- decades for sitting on  trustee boards and bemoaning modern times.......
In October 2012,  new legislation is coming into force that will affect employees generally and so ACEVO members in particular.  Pension Reform will see all organisations having to offer a workplace pension and contribute to their employees pensions. We know from our own ACEVO pay and pensions survey that some third sector bodies do not offer any pension scheme.   

There are also changes that mean all staff have to be in a scheme ( quite right too! ). For some members the cost implications could be significant. And many pension providers will not now set up a scheme for any charity employing less than 100 people.

So to support members with Pension Reform planning, we  launched the ACEVO member pension scheme.  The scheme has been negotiated by national financial advisers Foster Denovo and set up with the award winning pension provider AEGON.
The scheme can be used by all our members and is particularly beneficial to smaller organisations that will not have access to such a competitively priced scheme for staff.  ACEVO members with an existing scheme in place can also benefit due to the competitive charging structure.

And talking of "age" ,  it was chilling to hear David Behan, the NHS's Director of social care at our conference say that the girl who will reach the age of 126 is already born! Have to say I'm glad I shan't reach that age. Frankly being 100 is alarming; once I get beyond enjoying a fine claret its off to Switzerland! But it was gratifying to be told by one delegate at the conference that he strongly recommends my Blog to others as I am a " wise old hack " !

Now let me bring you with some photos from last week;

Sir David at our Conference

And here is Kershaw, Big Issue with a statue in the Ashmoleum.

And general views!

And finally; have you signed up your support for the campaign being run by NCVO ( and supported by ACEVO and many others ) to  to get Treasury to scrap the cap on gift aid donations ?  Visit the website now!

Already over 1200 have signed up as Stuart tells me, so let's get it to 5000 !  Go!