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Charities (Economic Downturn)

Volume 495: debated on Wednesday 1 July 2009

5. What recent assessment she has made of the effects of the economic situation on the charitable sector. (283142)

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson). The recession affects different organisations in many different ways, and that is why we have provided a significant package of support that has different elements to it—support for volunteers, grants for small organisations, social enterprises and support for jobs, as well as loans to assist partnership working.

I thank the Minister for her reply. On Monday, Cancer Care Cymru, which is a local charity based in my constituency and which funds specialist cancer nurses to work closely with people who are suffering from cancer and receiving treatment in the NHS, announced that it was closing because of a slump in fundraising. That is a terrible loss for people suffering from cancer in the Cardiff area. What can we do on a general level to help to stop such closures?

My hon. Friend has raised a very serious issue, which could be happening in different places, but I recommend that she looks at the different funding that is available. First, I recommend the hardship fund that will be in place at the end of this month. I also suggest that she looks at the package of £42 million that is available to provide real help now, and she might find that there is a way there to help the local community. Support is also being given through the National Council for Voluntary Organisations to help organisations with things such as fundraising, because that is key for things such as cancer care. She might find that there is some support there that she can talk to the NCVO about, so that her charity can get some extra support with fundraising, too.

Is the Minister aware that the very hardest hit in the charitable sector are the small charities that provide services that are much valued locally and that will not be provided by any of the statutory or larger organisations? I am referring to small charities such as the young mental health charity in my constituency. What advice can she give Members of Parliament and others to try to help these small charities to survive the present recession?

The hon. Lady makes a significant point. It is often the smallest charities that make a real difference to people’s lives on the ground. May I direct her to the funding that is available through the grassroots grants? About £130 million is available that is issued locally. In her area, there will be a department of a third sector organisation issuing those funds in sums of anything from £5,000 to a few hundred pounds. On the ground, that can make a real difference. If she has any problems, I ask her please to come to me, and we can direct her to the funding in her area.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution relies totally on donations from the public. I declare an interest as a member of its national council. One of the burdens that it faces in this recession, and has faced throughout its existence, is the VAT that it has to pay on equipment and fittings. Will the Minister take that matter up with colleagues in other Departments to try to get some sort of exemption so that the RNLI can carry out its work on behalf of us all?

I pay tribute to the RNLI for its work. In a previous life, I met its representatives on many occasions. This is a matter for the Treasury, but we will draw my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of Treasury Ministers—[Interruption.]

Order. There is quite a hubbub of private conversations taking place, and I note that some of the people busily chattering away have already had the good fortune to ask a question. I hope that they will extend a similar courtesy to others.