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Society & Community

Gentle steps forward on the Giving Front

Slowly but surely, things are advancing in the charity realm

Charity words

Many people feel annual States budgets in Guernsey are a morass of complicated numbers and complicated explanations which, with clearer language, might help them ring true.  But for those with interests in specific sectors, they bring developments up to date, often telling us things that are new.

So it is with the charity sector in the 2019 Budget Report from the Policy & Resources Committee (P&R), released earlier this month.  Here is a list of what we’ve learned:

  • A new “Participatory Budgeting Fund” is recommended to receive £1 million.  Participatory budgeting allows communities to fund spending on local initiatives – examples in Guernsey might include the Town Christmas Lights, the restorative works at La Vallette, playground equipment in public parks and one-off cultural or sporting events, the Budget report says.  The States would seek a third-sector partner to decide priorities.
  • A separate £1 million is recommended for Overseas Aid over and above its existing allocations.  This sum is to go into a “Guernsey Development Impact Investment Fund”.   Investments must be approved by P&R, and returns would be available for the Overseas Aid committee to use.  The aim is to have a lasting impact in the least developed countries with sustainable objectives in mind.  Note, both £1 million sums are seen as the proceeds of efforts over recent years to rebuild budget surpluses.
  • A new use of “pooled budgets” in areas where a cross-committee effort is essential.  This has happened in respect of efforts to support the island’s youth, a scheme known as the Children and Young People’s Plan.  The move is ground-breaking, and creates an entity called the Multi-Agency Support Hub, known predictably as “MASH.”  The committees involved are Health & Social Care, Education Sport & Culture and Home Affairs, with an overall spend of more than £500,000, though not of “new” money.
  • P&R’s previously-trumpeted Social Investment Commission is now supposed to be up and running in the first quarter of 2019, although the committee wishes to set up a shadow body before the end of 2018.  This body is expected to invest in the charitable sector in ways which help deliver a somewhat ill-defined long-term vision of the future which embraces a healthy community, lifelong learning, social justice and so on.  Talks have pressed ahead on this with charitable foundations, the Association of Guernsey Charities and the Guernsey Community Foundation, and the shadow body – once it is set up – is supposed to identify how it would work in practice.  It won’t be easy.
  • As to funding for this initiative, one key source is likely to be dormant bank accounts – deposits left unclaimed and untouched for a protracted period.  Separately, a dispute continues over how Guernsey’s nascent gift-aid scheme might help.  One view, promoted publicly by the Association of Guernsey Charities, is that larger tax-aided charitable donations should be allowed.  The alternative is apparently to scrap gift-aid and simply use the overall income tax pool to fund the scheme – itself an odd suggestion.  P&R’s response is to leave things as they are.  Plainly a controversial matter.

Here’s what else is not mentioned in respect of charitable efforts in the Budget Report:

  • Escheated assets.  Funds accumulated from, say, the proceeds of crime can find their way into the hands of the Procureur General who can deploy them to the benefit of the community as he sees fit.  How many charities have benefited from this is unknown, although at least one has done so, marking a likely precedent for the future.  How much is available in this form is not known.
  • Ecclesiastical Court proceeds.  As a result of changes in the arrangements whereby the court’s probate-granting responsibilities will transfer to the island’s Royal Court, the proceeds of this activity – estimated to average some £700,000 per year – will accumulate to the States’ general revenues.  This is due to take place over the coming three years or so.  It has been widely presumed that these might be available to charities.
  • Lottery money.  Currently the bulk of the proceeds of the Guernsey lottery go to fund Beau Sejour, but the Association of Guernsey Charities distributes a proportion of the Christmas lottery (just £190,000 last year).  Scratch card proceeds go to the States – and they are mounting.  But controversially, funds allocated to Home Affairs to fund measures to combat gambling addiction lie unspent.

All this said, it remains the case that, however much the States and large institutional donors help fund Guernsey’s charitable efforts, the amount raised in this way is rarely enough, and charities continue to depend on the efforts of their volunteers.  Donors know that at root it is not helpful to fund the whole of a charity’s commitments, and better to match what is raised by the charity’s own efforts.  This has the effect of keeping everyone motivated.

There are certain charities which would fold without States funding.  There are others where the States gets a good deal from charities – that is, where the charities provide services which, were the States to do the job instead, States coffers would suffer and taxpayers would end up paying even more.  Striking this balance remains a core problem.

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