Meet the Minister for Civil Society
The charity sector welcomed a new Minister for Civil Society last September. Rob Wilson is the MP for Reading East, and a former private secretary to Chancellor George Osborne. Now six months into his minsterial role, we caught up with him to find out how he’s helping to shape your charity sector.
What are your main responsibilities as Minister for Civil Society?
“My role as Minister for Civil Society enables me to lead on the civil society agenda on behalf of Government. At the centre of my role is the desire to build a bigger, stronger society. I help to support this aim through my responsibility for a number of policy areas including the fantastic National Citizen Service and youth policy, social action, social enterprise and investment and support for the VCSE (voluntary, community and social enterprise) sector as a whole.”
What challenges do you face in the role?
“The overarching challenge is to give organisations – from large companies to small grassroots schemes – the capacity to do more in their communities. I know that there are challenges for voluntary and community organisations to do this, which is why I am helping to open up government contracts and reduce the amount of paperwork and permissions that get in the way of great work. I also work to protect the sector from people and organisations that try to give it a bad name, through legislation such as the draft Protection of Charities Bill which will help to close legal loopholes that are currently being exploited by a minority of charities.”
What are your main objectives?
“The VCSE sector is a thriving hub of both expertise and energy and my job is to help it grow in size and strength by supporting its work nationally and locally; fostering innovation and helping smaller charities professionalise and become sustainable.
I want to see more people getting involved in their local area through volunteering and social action, helping to create stronger communities. The National Citizen Service is helping to create new generation of engaged socially aware young people – since May 2010 we have seen over 130,000 graduates – and I’m hugely excited about seeing what can be achieved over the next couple of years.”
“I also want to get more people and organisations involved in social investment to build a long-term source of future finance and I am determined to continue to work on social investment as an alternative funding stream for VCSEs.”
What is a typical day like for you?
“No two days are ever the same when you’re a Minister! Whether it’s meeting with representatives of charity groups to discuss plans, launching a report or visiting charities and projects around the country, no day is typical. For example, I recently spent a day visiting North West England, where I met three inspiring charities in Preston before heading over to Leyland to host a roundtable with social enterprises and finishing off at the inspirational Wigan Youth Zone – one of the biggest youth centres in UK.
My visits run alongside Ministerial duties such as meeting with key stakeholders, leading debates on Civil Society topics in Parliament and working with my policy teams on new ideas to make the sector stronger. It makes for a fascinating job and gives me a unique, comprehensive view of the entire sector.”
Earlier this year you complained to the Charity Commission about a charity’s use of social media. In what way do you think social media is changing the charity sector?
“Social media is an exciting channel for charities to talk directly to their volunteers and fundraisers and also raise awareness of their cause. Recent social media campaigns such as the Ice Bucket Challenge and the No Make Up Selfie campaign have enabled millions of pounds to be raised for good causes. The most exciting aspect is the incredible speed at which these viral campaigns take off – sometimes by fundraisers themselves and not even the charities!
I am pleased that the Charity Commission has recently clarified some key points around campaigning and social media, enabling charities to understand how to use this incredible tool without falling foul of Charity Commission guidelines.”
A CharityJob survey in 2013 asked users if they thought there are too many charities. A staggering 63% of respondents said there are too many, compared to just 30% who disagreed and just 7% who didn’t know. What do you think?
“Charities undertake a great deal of hard work and many do struggle to get the support and funding they need. However I’m making sure that the government is doing everything possible to support those charities, such as making it easier for charities to bid for government contracts. We are also working with a series of commercial partners to deliver practical master classes to the VCSE sector designed to share skills, tools and techniques.”
Do you think the sector is doing enough to attract and recruit talent?
“Attracting the best and brightest talent to the charity sector is important for its success. There are some great ways that the sector is doing this, for example Charityworks, a graduate recruitment programme for the sector. Charityworks is a paid, 12 month graduate programme for graduates starting a career in the non-profit sector. It is open to any charity or housing association regardless of size or profile and is a fantastic way to bring enthusiastic, talented graduates into the sector. More information can be found here.”
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