Friday 12 December 2014

Christmas carols and faith charities

I had 2 possibly competing events Wednesday - but they were united in one theme: the value and role of charity.

In the morning I was at a breakfast meeting ACEVO had organised for the leaders of Muslim charities. Many of our CEO colleagues talked about the challenges they face, in their work, dealing with the hostile environment of islamophobia. It was good to see Dianne Abbott MP who talked about the problems Islamic faith charities are facing in Hackney. We also had two senior staff from the Charity Commission, who made a really helpful contribution to the discussion. But the Commission still have many questions to answer, as I said at my appearance before the joint Commons and Lords Committee on the draft Protection of Charities Bill on Tuesday.

Then in the evening it was off to a carol concert at St Stephen's Walbrook, in the City. Organised by the London Air Ambulance, that great charity, and starring that great Prelate, Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London. Graham Hodgkin, the charity's CEO (and an ACEVO member), told me afterwards that the Bishop had remarked, "ah , I see you have The Bubb here". Fame indeed when one becomes a noun with a definite article! And the carol "Good King Wenceslas" was rather apposite in the wake of the Parliamentary report on hunger in the UK. After all, the carol is all about feeding the homeless and poor - the good King was a walking food bank. Many great points in this report, which was powerfully advocated by His Grace of Canterbury.

As politicians contemplate yet more spending cuts, we need to ensure the vital work that charities like the food banks perform is not harmed. I fear it will be. The feedback from ACEVO's CEO members at our regional forums is worrying in this regard.

We are constantly hearing yet more disturbing news from our members, at the moment, about cuts to services from local authorities. Leeds CC and Rotherham are cutting by £40m next year. These have been confirmed as all external cuts, since these authorities have already made all the cuts they can internally. It is apparent that the first services to go will be those up for renewal next year. This may be the simplest course of action, but it will badly hurt front line services. I heard from one ACEVO member that they will have £3.8 million of contracts cut next year. That's equivalent to one third of their income, and they cannot get the local authority to talk with them about this. As well as the impact to beneficiaries, this also affects the core of the charity and other services they provide. As they said, there's 'a huge car crash about to happen'.

We heard similar examples from members in Manchester forum this week. It's disturbing.

This will be a major debate on spending cuts in the next few months before the election. Despite the insistence of some - like UKIP and the Lib Dems - that there's little difference between Labour and Tories, we're starting to get more clarity about their different fiscal approaches. In all this coming debate, the charity voice must be heard. We can't just rely on the random generosity of  "good king Wenceslas" and his modern ilk.

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