Would like to meet... Nick Hurd
He is the fourth generation of his family to become an MP, he has a passion for local communities working to rebuild Britain’s 'broken society'’ and is excited by his role as shadow minister for charities. Andrew Holt met him to find out more

Nick Hurd has been shadow minister for charities, social enterprise and volunteering for four months and he is on a mission to push the Conservative message among the sector. He starts though, by giving his positive outlook of the sector.

Nick Hurd

"I think The Third Sector is relatively strong, which may surprise many people because of the recession with very real issues and challenges, which I fully understand. But particularly in comparison with other countries on the third sector and its relationship with government it is really quite strong and progressive."

What then is his mission? "It is a real pivotal time, because some of the best solutions to the social problems we have to tackle are coming out of the third sector or through smaller organisations embedded in communities. The prize is to create a bottom-up approach and keep it sustainable, but some people say what a ridiculous thing when there is a recession on, but it is times like this, when people's minds are open and they are reassessing their priorities, their definitions of success, what is important ask them what are they doing and say you are lucky and can you help. Look to create new social norms."

The Conservative Party's green paper: A stronger society: voluntary Action in the 21st Century was well received by the sector, and is the building block for Hurd’s on-going work. But the paper did leave many asking whether there was clear blue water between the two main parties when it comes to the sector.

Hurd says there is a clear distance between the two parties on the nature of the state. "There is a main difference about one objective: which is how the state works a lot closely with the sector; there a big difference in the 'how'. I think that reflects the view that the Labour Government is likely to believe in the benign power of the big state and we don't.We are more concerned with the creeping dependency of the state."

So what can the Conservative do to achieve this?

"We are looking at how to make it easier to do business with government, driven that it is too complicated at the moment. A large part of my job is to engage with the local Conservative authorities, because from the point of view of charities interfacing with the state begins with local government and we control over half of the local authorities in England.We have a particular responsibility and opportunity to try and make these work better on the ground.”

The challenge is also about implementation. “The government and us have similar objectives, but the challenge is actually getting it done on the ground. The challenge is looking at the culture of commissioning and how it is going to work on the ground. I want to spend a good deal of my time talking to local authorities and working with volunteer organisations to find out what the day today issues issues are."

Hurd is currently undergoing a comprehensive process of consultation with the sector, speaking with groups once or twice a day, getting written responses and structuring issues on a regional basis.

"For us, it also about being driven by what David Cameron has called the 'broken society' and the need to create a stronger society, which is not the same as the state.What can we do to make the sector stronger on its own feet and what can we do to make it much easier to do business with the state. These are the questions I have in my mind and the work we are doing and the consultations we are undertaking.”

He admits the party does not claim to have all the answers now .“But we must get this right. This relationship is so important to us. My door is open for anyone who wants to make a comment or observation."

In 2006, Hurd successfully took through Parliament a Private Members Bill, the Sustainable Communities Act, and was subsequently awarded the Parliamentarian of the Year Award in 2007.

He also highlights an issue on grants and contracts. "There is a big psychological difference between grants and contracts, you have a contract with someone it is there, a grant doesn't have all the terms and conditions attached to it: we are concerned with the squeeze on contracts; we want contracts to be based on outcomes not processes; the best we can do is cover costs.”

He gives a great deal of respect to Iain Duncan Smith for the work he has done in dealing with communities. “He has opened our eyes to the fact that the third sector is able of cracking some of the social nuts we face and that there may be ways for the state working more closely together with the third sector."

Hurd was elected as MP for Ruislip-Northwood at the time of the last election in May 2005 and from early on specialised on environmental issues, serving on the Environment Audit Committee which scrutinises the effectiveness of the Government's policy towards the environment.

Has there, I ask him, been an ideological shift away from Margaret Thatcher's days when she announced there was no such thing as society and the belief that more rich people would create a greater trickle down effect into the charity sector?

"There is some truth in that. There is much work being done by a new breed of young philanthropists. I wouldn't want to say nothing has happened but I agree not enough has happened, which is why we want to shift to creating new social norms. Poor people do give three times more of their income than rich people so that says there is a lot more we can do. There is such a thing as society, but it is not the same as the state."

As the son of a famous minister during the Thatcherite era did his father Douglas, stir him on to be an MP? "I definitely wanted to be my own man. Dad was always very supportive and said 'do it your way'."

How does he compare ideologically with his father? "I am probably more sceptical then him on Europe, which is maybe a generational thing, but I think I am from the same broad church as him within the party known as One Nation Toryism, which is why I feel comfortable with this agenda, because I have always thought as a party we should be deeply committed to social justice."Nick is the fourth successive generation of his family to serve as an MP.

How does he view the current Labour Government? "It came into power with some really good instincts but had no real idea of how to do it. They struggled when they focused on the delivery bit. Ten years on what has actually changed according to the big picture? Has it become easier to set up and run a charity? No. Have we seen a cultural shift in terms of giving? No. Has it become easier or harder to do business with the state? You are left thinking what has actually been achieved in those ten years? I see a lot of activity, a lot of policies, lots of initiatives, but there has not been a far enough shift in the sector.We are trying to do that and move forward."

One of the legacies of the Labour Government is the relationship with the Big Lottery Fund. "We think the Big Lottery Fund has been abused by this government for ten years and should be brought back to its independent roots.We are different from the government to be a catalyst, to nudge people into building more cultural attitudes in terms of giving."

What though of the view that like Tony Blair, David Cameron is all about image: "David Cameron has that ability of communication, no doubt at all, but Blair's failure was in the implementation and we are looking at how we deliver our agenda in government. What drives us is the priorities set out by David Cameron, and top of the agenda is tackling the broken society. There are some real issues out there: family breakdown, drug despondency, children excluded from schools, that have been there for a long, long time and the state has not proved effective in tackling this.We need new approaches. There is plenty of work to do."



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