Skip to main content

Autumn Statement (Community and Voluntary Sector)

Volume 603: debated on Wednesday 9 December 2015

5. What assessment he has made of the effect of changes announced in the spending review and autumn statement 2015 on local services provided by the community and voluntary sector. (902472)

I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Lady that the autumn statement significantly increased the funding for the voluntary and social sector in the Cabinet Office. That has enabled us to expand the National Citizen Service and our efforts on social impact bonds. I am delighted to see that in the hon. Lady’s constituency, Kirklees Council has issued a very good compact with the voluntary and community sector, showing how the council can collaborate with them. I very much hope that the sector can take advantage of the extra funds now available.

As the Minister will be aware, our country is in the grip of a growing social care crisis, with significant funding shortfalls projected by 2020. There are huge pressures on families, carers and the NHS in my constituency and nationwide. Will he say what specific plans he has to support those charities that are currently plugging the gap in terms of care, but are under enormous strain?

The charity sector as a whole has an income of about £40 billion a year, which is broadly stable. I have been looking at the council accounts for the hon. Lady’s area. It turns out that Kirklees Council has £200 million in useable and unused reserves. The problems to which she refers are not real ones.

Tackling complex needs effectively has been something of a holy grail out of the reach of previous Governments, so I welcome the commitment in the autumn statement to £105 million in social impact bonds to tackle complex needs and perhaps get us closer to that holy grail.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who has been a passionate advocate, as I and others have been, of social impact bonds. This is a huge change in the way our country is organised. We can get to the point where we are actually paying for outcomes, not inputs. We lever up the amount the Government put in on behalf of the taxpayer, with huge contributions from the private sector and from those double bottom line investors. We can see a huge transformation in public services.

Last week, the Minister said that the Government were committed to a flourishing civil society, but in the recent spending review it was exposed that the Office for Civil Society is to be hollowed out to just a handful of civil servants, and is now described by the sector as just a “name on a door.” Does the Minister agree that this is a clear admission that the big society agenda is now dead, was never anything but a cover for cuts to public services, has served its purpose, and is now to be wound down?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not take in what I said in my earlier answer. The funding for the voluntary and community sector increased significantly in the autumn statement. I pay tribute to officials in the Office for Civil Society, which answers to my hon. Friend the Minister for Civil Society. In my experience, those officials are among the finest in Whitehall. They will continue their work, and with that increased budget, they will be able to do more, not less.