By Brooks Newmark, Minister for Civil Society
Last week, I was delighted to be invited by the Prime Minister to join the Government as the Minister for Civil Society at the Cabinet Office.
I told David Cameron that I was thrilled to take on this role and am really looking forward to taking on a brief that includes volunteering, charities, social investment, youth and more broadly supporting third sector organisations in their ambitions.
My new role is one that is close to my heart – especially when it comes to supporting the efforts of individuals and organisations to build a bigger and stronger society. The Jewish community does so much to help the vulnerable in our society and two charities close to my heart are Jewish Care and Norwood, both of which I have supported for several years.
Since I was elected an MP in 2005, I have seen first-hand the impact of some amazing projects and remarkable work going on up and down the country, by all kinds of organisations, from large companies to small grassroots schemes to inspirational individuals. The Government is committed to helping these people and organisations do more good and is backing local communities to take action to help others and shape where they live.
We are supporting these groups and individuals in a variety of ways, from grant funding to encouraging innovative business models, such as mutuals and social enterprises, and creating new powers for communities to take control of their own assets. It is a very exciting time to be involved. On a personal level, working in an area that aims to increase the number of volunteers in the UK – already up six percent since 2010 ¬– it fits very well into other projects I have taken on over the years.
I am a co-founder and director of A Partner in Education (APIE), a charity that is working in partnership with Rwandan teachers to provide the best quality education possible, something I am hugely passionate about. APIE seeks to transform the learning experiences of children by focusing on the provision of training for teachers and school managers. I have been travelling to Rwanda for eight years and have taken all five of my children out there to work on a variety of social action projects, in addition, of course, to taking my wife Lucy with me.
I very much look forward to working with the wide variety of charities and social enterprises that do such remarkable work around the country. I have often heard the Office of Civil Society referred to as the ‘Charities Department’, but I have quickly come to realise that the work is so much more than that.
My first week was a case in point. After the whirlwind of my appointment and a quick meeting with new colleagues – and saying goodbye to others – I delivered my first speech at a Westminster Hall debate on National Citizen Service (NCS), an initiative that is helping to enable young people to feel that they can, and should, affect positive change in their communities. NCS has been a real success since launching after the last election and it is on track for its 100,000th graduate later this summer.
Indeed, just this week, NCS was launched in Wales and I am really looking forward to steering its progression. After that, I visited a Local Enterprise Partnership in Cambridge to find out about the activities of charities and social enterprises in the area. In addition, I took the time to learn more about our policy work from our excellent officials in the Office for Civil Society.
I feel extremely lucky to take on the responsibility in Government for all of the work we are doing in this area – from growing the UK’s social investment market (already the most advanced in the world), to leading the growth of NCS to supporting the charitable sector whenever and wherever possible. So much has been achieved by so many volunteers and charitable organisations up and down the country.