Give And Take: There’s doing more with less, and there’s the coalition government way

The third sector cannot keep taking more and more cuts or stand many more increases in financial pressure. The VAT rise next January, the ending of Transitional Relief, the fuel duty increase, public funding cuts, worsening returns on investments…the list goes on. But at the very time all this is happening many of us are facing greater call for our services and support. So should we put our collective foot down and ask for more – more support, more money from the state?

It’s a tough one –  but I just don’t think that approach would wash.  Yes, we have to be bold and tough, but we also have to be savvy. The language we use and the impression we give to government about our appetite for change must be balanced and credible.

No doubt you’ll have seen the calls for Transitional Relief to be retained. Finance directors have not been telling us to press for it – in fact the opposite.  So does that make you lacking in strategic understanding and far too willing to accept further blows to the sector? I don’t think so.  I think it shows that third sector FDs are practical, strategic and have their eyes on the long game.

I don’t criticise other organisations for calling for the retention of TR – I understand it entirely. But I think we should focus our energies on practical steps, such as bringing gift aid into the digital age. The figures cited as potential savings, should we win that argument to achieve modification in the immediate future, are significant and could have wider impact than achieving the delay of TR coming to an end. Not only would these changes benefit those currently using the gift aid system: they might remove some of the barriers that exist for smaller charities, particularly in making use of gift aid and maximising the potential it has to generate income.

Yes, we have to be bold and make sure government appreciates that we cannot simply produce more and more on less and less.  But we also have a reputation to live up to, one of a sector that is socially innovative, independent and flexible. There is a need to be realistic that being perceived as “going cap in hand ” to government in the current environment could lack credibility – undermining our ability to influence the debate positively and blocking our access to the discussions on new forms of investment and funding. 

There appears to be an appetite for reform. We would not be serving the interest of the wider sector if we failed to press for lasting and really practical change.

I think it unlikely, but if government does decide that TR being extended provides an easy to achieve respite from further economic distress, we must ensure that its extension isn’t used as an excuse to do nothing more: that in my view would be our failure.

Caron Bradshaw is CEO of the Charity Finance Directors Group. Her blog on the sector, “Give And Take”, can be found hereafter by visiting Extraordinary Items on the first week of every month

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