My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for securing this debate and for introducing it in such a constructive manner. To tell the truth, I would not have read the pastoral letter Who Is My Neighbour? if I had not seen this debate listed, but when I read it I was so inspired that I wanted to speak today. Therefore, I thank the right reverend Prelate for giving us the opportunity to start the very conversation that he wants us to have resulting from the letter.
I found the letter uplifting, refreshing and very thoughtful. For me, it articulates clearly a vision of the kind of society we should all be striving for. I was particularly struck by the reference in the letter to William Beveridge, because he understood that if the state is given too much power to shape society it will stifle the very voluntarism that prevents the state being hopelessly overburdened by human need. The right reverend Prelate talked about how we negotiate that and create a balance.
When I was the director of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in the 1980s, I always used to quote something William Beveridge said, which I still think is very important. He said that,
“an abundance of voluntary action outside the citizen’s home both individually and collectively, for bettering his own and his fellows’ lives, are the distinguishing marks of a truly free society”.
This letter argues for informal and independent structures that are small enough not to need every activity to be codified, through which we can learn to work together in trust, and it gives examples of intermediary bodies such as housing associations, credit unions and, of course, the churches.
I unashamedly draw the House’s attention to another intermediary movement with which I am associated as its president: the community foundations. Community foundations were started in the 1980s. Since then they have flourished. There are now 48. They are a best-kept secret and in my view need to be better known. I am passionate about community foundations, because they are about local engagement and inclusiveness—the very thinking that underpins the sentiments expressed in the letter Who Is My Neighbour?. They are about social bonding, which the right reverend Prelate talked about.
The figures showing what this movement has achieved over the last few years are impressive. Community foundations have invested £65 million in grants to community-led organisations, have made 21,000 grants, and have half a billion pounds in endowment funds. They also engage a number of volunteers. As I say, the figures are impressive, but what I like about community foundations is the thinking that underpins them. It is about local engagement, local giving and bringing together donors and doers to support local communities to meet local needs. It is about building local social capital, inclusiveness, investing in local communities, empowering local communities and valuing community-led solutions to local issues.
At the end of last year, when talking about community foundations, Mark Carney said:
“Community foundations are helping to deliver a more inclusive capitalism, one in which individual virtue and collective prosperity can flourish”.
I am very pleased to draw the House’s attention to a very positive example of the partnership work between government and community foundations. In 2011, community foundations launched the Community First endowment match challenge. This initiative, supported by government, allowed community foundations to offer donors a 50% uplift on endowment donations through government match funding and thus provided a catalyst for the work which community foundations undertake. This programme finished in 2015 and was assessed to be a great success. The flexibility gained through the introduction of a national pot or central reserve of funds to lever local giving was invaluable.
In the light of the success of the Community First endowment match challenge, will the Minister please tell the House whether the Government are minded to do something similar in association with community foundations? If not, will the Government please consider looking at such schemes that lever local funds and engage local communities and that may contribute to our vision of one nation?