The champagne was put on ice and the grand Giving Summit very much toned down. The 19 (yes 19!) action groups set up to feed into the summit were testament to the original idea for a rather splendid affair topped off with a reception for the great and good of the sector. In the end it morphed into a bit of a squib—a meeting of the chairs of those action groups only—and most of us in the sector could take the night off.
So do we laugh or cry at this turn of events? We all know why it happened. The philanthropy tax stands in the dock. Right or wrong, the charity and giving community was pretty appalled at what took place in the Budget and it was too embarrassing to have them assemble at a fancy do at a major venue as originally envisaged. No consultations, no hint of what was to come. And when the sector reacted with shock and disbelief, the government dug itself in deeper by an attempt to suggest that it was all to avoid philanthropists evading tax through donating to weird off-shore ‘front’ charities—a suggestion that collapsed before a distinct lack of evidence. Whatever the government does now as a result of the consultation on the tax relief cap, the idea that the coalition thinks that philanthropy is a code word for tax dodging is one that will stick.
The conversations were good and open. And a number of precise ideas came out of them.
But it is a major shame that the Giving Summit did not take place as originally planned. I was lucky enough to be on two of the action groups and they were two of the most well-organised and focused discussions I have attended in my (admittedly brief) time as head of NPC. One looked at how to get core costs funded—a massive issue for the sector for both charities and funders—and the other talked about how to improve the advice given to high net worth individuals to get them more interested in philanthropy and promote good, high impact giving. The casts were high powered but mixed. The conversations were good and open. And a number of precise ideas came out of them.
I hope these ideas get followed up and implemented. Nick Hurd will, I am sure, do his best. And perhaps the Treasury, with their heads hung low, will try and help these new ideas happen to make up for their blunder on tax relief.
As the state withdraws and plays a new role in this age of austerity we need to think hard about how people give, why they give and to whom. Government taking a lead here is useful—although in the end the sector must work these things out for itself with initiatives like the Give more campaign or the Philanthropy Advice Forum.
In the meantime, let’s hope they keep that champagne on ice, in case we do get a sensible change in the proposals for the cap on tax relief on charitable donations.