Last week, it was confirmed that Stuart Andrew MP has been appointed as the latest Minister for Civil Society. Andrew has already been a minister in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) team since early September, responsible for sport and art, but now civil society, loneliness and youth have been folded into his brief, along with the separate world of tourism. But who is he, and what does this mean for charities’ relationship with the Government?
He brings charity experience
Andrew’s challenging in-tray includes the impact of the cost of living crisis on both charity beneficiaries and organisations themselves, ongoing debates about the sector’s campaigning role, and decisions on how to spend the latest round of Dormant Assets funding. However, several of the sector’s representative bodies have already noted positively his background in their initial responses. Prior to entering parliament in 2010 – when he gained the Yorkshire marginal of Pudsey from Labour – the bulk of his career was as a charity fundraising officer and manager, first at the British Heart Foundation and then with a series of hospice charities. This culminated in him “leading a team charged with raising £4 million a year” as Fundraising Manager with the Leeds-based Martin House Children’s Hospice.
As an MP, he has continued to champion these causes. Among the thirteen All-Party Parliamentary Groups he has joined, he chaired the APPG on Heart Disease, for which BHF provided the Secretariat, and he was a member of APPGs on Hospice & Palliative Care and Children Who Need Palliative Care before becoming a minister.
In 2011 as a new MP, he also cited his “16-year career in the charity sector” during a Commons debate on David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ agenda, quoting John F Kennedy’s mantra on contributing to country and suggesting “we should encourage people and communities to do x and y, where they can”. Noting his work as a fundraiser, he talked about the risks of charities becoming too dependent on a single funding stream, but welcomed £100m of funding the Cameron Government had announced. While some quarters of the sector criticised the ‘Big Society’ concept, the minister’s experience and continued engagement with charity issues as an MP are encouraging for the sector. On Tuesday, he told the Association of Charitable Foundations that “I’m committed to listening to your views and looking forward to working with you in a sector that is incredibly close to my heart”.
Background on the civil society brief
In a frank reaction, the Directory of Social Change commented that “it’s positive that he’s an MP and not in the Lords” (a reference to only one of the last three civil society ministers residing in the Commons, where the Government’s agenda is felt to originate), but also remarked on the need for the minister to work with other big departments “like the Treasury, BEIS and DHLUC” that touch civil society and on the responsibilities Andrew will have alongside civil society, suggesting “a sector that’s estimated to contribute £200bn to society deserves far greater consideration, especially now.”
These have perhaps become familiar gripes in the sector. From the first ten years of its life, the Office for Civil Society sat within the Cabinet Office, a powerful department able to coordinate cross-government agendas (and where Stuart Andrew cut his teeth as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in 2012). However, in 2016 the civil society post moved to DCMS, prompting the NCVO to ask “how to ensure cross-cutting issues, such as charities’ role in public services, can be dealt with in the same manner” at the time.
Andrew is now the seventh charities minister in DCMS, so the brief being housed there is by now well-established, though Boris Johnson’s second minister, Nigel Huddleston, this year sought to reassure the voluntary sector that “I always say that I lead civil society but it’s a cross-government responsibility” (while also suggesting that charities should “come together, build an evidence base together and make sure the voice is channelled through some effective advocates” to better get a hearing in Government). However, civil society being rolled together with other DCMS areas like tourism and arts within one broad single brief is a newer innovation with the last three ministers. Under Huddleston, and it appears under his successor Lord Kamall, when the minister was on the road their civil service team would sometimes aim to schedule them to visit voluntary, heritage, sport or tourism-related events together, something that charities extending invitations to Stuart Andrew might want to take into account if this trend continues.
What are Labour doing?
Finally, with an election due by January 2025 and politics in flux, it is worth paying attention to indications from the Opposition too on this front. Keir Starmer’s initial shadow civil society minister Rachael Maskell had indicated a future Labour government would move the portfolio to the Cabinet Office, as well as ensuring the brief was led by an MP (rather than a peer).
After Maskell resigned in December 2021, sector press did note a three-month delay before Labour appointed her successor, Barbara Keeley, who like Stuart Andrew has some sectoral background, having researched for a carers’ charity and consulted on community regeneration projects. Keeley was previously shadow minister for mental health and social care under Jeremy Corbyn and then a member of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, potentially a positive for charities involved in health and social care. She also has an adviser well-versed in the charity sector in former Principle Consulting colleague Iona Casley. In an interview with Civil Society Magazine in September Keeley touched on cost of living, the relationship between civil society and politicians, and public sector procurement regimes, though here as elsewhere, the Labour agenda still remains to be fleshed out.
Elsewhere, the not-for-profit sector has also noted another potential link into the Opposition this year in Vidhya Alakeson, a former chief executive of the National Lottery-backed community business trust Power to Change and deputy at the Resolution Foundation, who is now Starmer’s Director of External Relations.
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