Charities need to defend themselves

I have written before about the threat to the income charities make from telephone fundraising. But the argument that charities should be allowed to call members and supporters who are signed up to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) has been lost. From now on, charities will be unable to call people registered with the TPS unless they have explicitly given consent, i.e. notified the charity that they are happy to be called.

This means that some charities will no longer be able to speak to 70-80% of their donors and charity income will drop by an estimated £40 million a year. Ultimately it is not charities which will suffer; it is the causes and people for which we exist.

With less telephone fundraising, the quest to find an unobjectionable way to ask people for money will go on. One reason telephone fundraising caught on was that it was relatively low cost, meaning more money went to beneficiaries. Any suggestions of alternative fundraising channels – cost-effective and inoffensive – are welcome.

Charities will find other ways to raise money, but the existential crisis of the charity sector looks set to continue. Continue reading ‘Charities need to defend themselves’

What the Labour leadership candidates are saying (or not saying)

Having been very critical of the Government’s record on the environment in its first ten weeks of office, I have spent some time trying to find out what the candidates for the Labour leadership are offering. It has not been easy.

Liz Kendall’s website has a few policy speeches, but they are light on detail and there is little of interest for CPRE’s agenda. On housing, for instance, the Guardian quotes her as saying: “I don’t want to see £27bn going on housing benefit. I want to see that money going on investment in new homes.” Quite right, but how? “We are going have to rethink what we do.”

Yvette Cooper’s website has about 80 news stories, but again it is hard to find much policy detail. Until now, it has all been quite vague. For instance, it is reported that Cooper is committed to 300,000 homes a year, but (and I accept I may have missed it) I could find no detail on this policy. Now I have seen a leaflet promising “over 2 million homes in a decade – reviving the bravery of post war governments to build new Eco towns and Garden Cities”.

Andy Burnham has issued a manifesto which at least manages to say something. But for better or worse, the candidate with the most detailed policies is Jeremy Corbyn. This is partly what has won him so much support.

Labour looks a long way from power. Does any of this matter? I think it does, not just because one of the candidates might become Prime Minister, but because an effective opposition should have influence.  One reason the newly elected government has been so abysmal on the environment is that it has faced no serious Parliamentary challenge. And when the last Labour government did good things on the environment, it was at least partly because it was challenged to do so by a credible Conservative opposition in its ‘vote blue, go green’ phase.

So I think this contest matters to CPRE, and it as CPRE chief executive that I am writing this blog, not as someone who was active in the Labour Party as recently as 1999.

What, then, do the candidates say? Continue reading ‘What the Labour leadership candidates are saying (or not saying)’

In defence of the Green Belt on its 60th anniversary

The Green Belt is extraordinarily popular both with the general public and with politicians. Two-thirds of the general public say it should not be developed and in the recent general election politicians of all parties, from the Prime Minister down, queued up to say how much they love it and want to protect it.

So, what is the problem? Why does CPRE feel it necessary to launch a big campaign on the 60th anniversary of the introduction of the Green Belt as a national planning policy?

There are two reasons. First, in spite of all the support for the Green Belt, real and rhetorical, it is being steadily eroded, particularly by new housing. Second, as any reader of newspapers and magazines such as the Times, Financial Times or Economist will know, opponents of the Green Belt are growing in influence. Continue reading ‘In defence of the Green Belt on its 60th anniversary’

In defence of (some) telephone fundraising

Like many other charities, CPRE engages in telephone fundraising. Indeed, it is our most effective method of recruiting new members and asking existing members to upgrade their contributions. We cannot afford newspaper or billboard advertising; we do not do street fundraising (‘chugging’); and other face-to-face fundraising has, like direct mail, proved too expensive to be justifiable.

Without telephone fundraising, CPRE would find it much harder to recruit members and raise money. Consequently, we would be less able to achieve our charitable purpose of protecting and improving the countryside for the benefit of the nation.

But telephone fundraising is now under the spotlight, and not just because most people are sometimes irritated by phone calls from salespeople or their automated machines (if the firm that keeps ringing me about my accident at work is reading this: please stop calling, I haven’t had an accident at work). The criticisms of charity fundraising are much more serious, with allegations of charities preying on vulnerable people. A series of articles in the Daily Mail has uncovered fundraising practices that, in the words of the NCVO chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington, ‘have shocked not just the public, but also many people who work for charities’.

The Government now plans to legislate and it is consulting the sector on what sort of regulation is necessary to stamp out bad practice. This is as it should be. No one should condone the harassment of vulnerable people, and it is the more obscene if charities are engaging in such harassment.

But moral panic followed by a rush to legislate rarely leads to sound laws. Continue reading ‘In defence of (some) telephone fundraising’

Rural areas and the right to buy

Here is a slightly longer version of my column in the forthcoming issue of the Countryman.

I am usually uneasy about the argument that the countryside deserves special treatment, and not only because everyone says that their particular group or cause deserves special treatment. Much of what makes the countryside different is also what gives it its character – its beauty, its tranquillity and its remoteness. Remoteness should not mean the absence of services – post offices, shops, local hospitals and so on – but it does mean that the countryside cannot have all the benefits of the town. It other benefits that more than compensate.

But when it comes to housing, rural areas really do present a special case. If we want villages to be vibrant with a mix of ages and backgrounds, we need to build more homes that are affordable in perpetuity. Continue reading ‘Rural areas and the right to buy’

Getting Houses Built

I have been banging on for years about the naivety of assuming that releasing more greenfield land for housing will lead to a big increase in housing supply. The big house builders, who dominate the market to an unhealthy extent, have no great interest in significantly increasing supply. They will build the number of homes they want to build and which they think the market will support; but if they are allowed to build them in the countryside they will do so, rather than building them in towns.

Now CPRE’s housing researcher, Luke Burroughs, has written Getting Houses Built, a report that pretty well confirms this view, backed up by plenty of hard evidence. It strongly suggests that questions of land availability or housing targets, which dominate both debates on housing and the politics of planning, are side shows relative to the question of who is going to build the houses. Continue reading ‘Getting Houses Built’

What makes the countryside different?

Here is my column from the July issue of the Countryman, available by subscription or in all good newsagents.

“Sex and death! That’s what the countryside is really about.” So said Macdonald Hastings, broadcaster and editor, in the 1950s’ of Country Fair, ‘a monthly journal of the open air’.

His son, Sir Max Hastings, used to quote these words with relish as CPRE President, railing against the prettification of the countryside – townees settling in villages and complaining about the cockerel or the mud left by tractors; the district council’s sign by the village pond: ‘Warning. Risk of drowning.’ The countryside, Max was saying, is not the same as the town. We should treasure the differences.

Maintaining the physical difference between town and country was one of the things that brought CPRE into existence in 1926 – the idea that it should be obvious (as it is not in many countries) when one has left one and entered the other. The physical separation between town and country remains important, but what of other distinctions? Continue reading ‘What makes the countryside different?’

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