“A city whose confidence and whose extraordinary future we can see in the changing fabric of the urban landscape, the mighty towers of Deansgate Square, last week’s extraordinary International Festival in Manchester.
“We can see it in the Christie, the hospital where the future of cancer treatment will be written at the vast new Paterson building, with new therapies saving the lives of people around the world for generations to come.
“This is not and has never been a city for negativity or navel-gazing.
“Because time and again, when the cynics say something cannot be done - Mancunians find a way to get on and do it.
“And the centre of Manchester – like the centre of London – is a wonder of the world.
“London is today one of the world’s leading global cities (second only to Manchester!)”
Not my words, but just some uttered in the first major speech of our country’s new Prime Minister, delivered at a charity in Manchester last Saturday morning.
Inviting the selected audience at the Manchester Science and Industry Museum (“MOSI”) to feel free to applaud (some did, when prompted), Prime Minister Johnson promised to support Britain’s towns, provide better housing and improve local schools.
Standing in front of Robert Stephenson’s Rocket locomotive, he made a series of pledges around local transport, housing and heritage.
“People who voted for Brexit in the north weren’t just voting against Brussels. They were voting against London too, and against all concentrations of power in remote locations.”
He spoke of struggling young people, growing up in fading municipal towns with proud histories.
“Towns with famous names, proud histories, fine civic buildings where unfortunately the stereotypical story of the last few decades has been long term decline.
“Endemic health problems. Generational unemployment. Down-at-heel high streets.
“The story has been, for young people growing up there of hopelessness, or the hope that one day they’ll get out and never come back.
“Taking back control doesn’t just apply to Westminster regaining sovereignty from the EU. It means our cities and counties and towns becoming more self-governing.
“It means people taking more responsibility for their own communities.”
A series of major spending pledges followed, on top of Prime Minister Johnson’s existing commitment to spending tens of billions on police, improving school funding ad increasing broadband access, in particular:
-to bring forward plans for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (to replace EU funding);
-a £3.6 billion fund for left-behind communities; and
-to fund a new high speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds.
“If we unite our country, with better education, better infrastructure, with an emphasis on new technology, then this really can be a new golden age for the UK.
“Time and again Manchester has shown the UK that anything is possible. Time and again this extraordinary country has delivered the same message to the world. That’s what we are going to do once more.”
Inspiring stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.
And then some killjoy journalist has to go and spoil it all, by asking the question on everyone’s mind
“How are you going to pay for all this?”
The answer comes back, quick as you like, “Fiscal headroom.”
But still, the doomsters and gloomsters persist.
“People have heard this before. Are you really going to have the money for a no-deal Brexit and all these other pledges you’ve made?”
“Er. The answer is yes”.
So, why not test the Prime Minister, to see if Boris really can do “can-do”?
He is, famously, a Classicist, and no doubt will be familiar with the wisdom of the Chinese classic text, Tao Te Ching, credited to the sixth century BC sage Laozi:
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
Spending very little money, but instead investing just a little time of his Government looking seriously at the recent recommendations of an independent expert commission on how charitable giving could be rid of the “bureaucratic red tape” to which he again alluded on Saturday, could free up millions of pounds to help underpin Prime Minister Johnson’s uplifting vision of:
“…making our whole nation not just an alright kind of place to live, or a better-than-average place to live but the greatest place on earth. The greatest place to live, to raise a family, to send your kids to school…
People are generous and want to help those who help the most vulnerable in our society. We see people sleeping in the streets; our children robbed of their childhood, involved in knife crime and drug dealing; our old people living in isolation.
Under two weeks ago the Charity Tax Commission urged an overhaul of tax reliefs offered to UK charities to bring the tax treatment of charitable giving into the 21st Century and so facilitate a huge increase in the amount of money available for good causes – all at minimal additional cost to the Exchequer.
The Chair of the Commission, Sir Nicholas Montagu, commented:
“It has been 20 years since charity tax reliefs were last reviewed, and many of the rules were written for an analogue era. With people giving by text message and contactless payment and with many donors themselves increasingly mobile, we need a system fit for the digital age if we are not to see the UK’s national generosity held back”.
The Commission has come up with a number of short term and longer term proposals. These include:
-enabling higher rate tax payers to pass their tax relief to their chosen charities more easily, potentially raising an additional £250 million for good causes each year;
-the launch of a universal Gift Aid declaration database to provide a single, enduring declaration which individuals can make covering all their subsequent gifts to charities without having to make separate Gift Aid declarations every time donors want to give to specific charities; and
-removing VAT from Wills that include a charitable donation, which could generate a further 15,000 charitable legacies a year.
Sir Nicholas has highlighted that with the continuing strain on the public finances forcing the retreat of the State from its universal funding role in many areas, charities often pick up the slack.
Greater Manchester already has its own strategy to make the city-region one of the best places in the world to grow up, get on and grow old.
And most of the ten priorities the Combined Authority has identified to realise that strategy are underpinned by the work of charities:
-children starting school ready to learn;
-young people equipped for life;
-safe decent and affordable housing;
-a green city-region and high quality culture and leisure offeror all;
-safer and stronger communities;
-healthy lives with quality care;
-age friendly Greater Manchester.
The Charity Tax Commission set out to ask whether the tax system could be better employed not just to protect existing giving, but also to encourage a new way for philanthropy. It suggests that few of us like fiddly forms and none of us want to see too much being spent on unnecessary administration.
If some simple, uncontroversial and timely reductions in red tape can release significant additional funding for charities - at no significant additional cost to the Treasury - then what is there not to like?
The Commission recognises that some more research would be sensible before implementing its recommendations, but after nearly two years’ work surely they warrant serious immediate consideration.
Sir Nicholas Montagu is Chairman of the Financial Ombudsman Service and former chairman of Inland Revenue. He has led a group including the Director of Policy at the Charity Commission and an adviser to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Commission consulted with over one hundred charities, donors, academics, think tanks, representative bodies, accountants, philanthropy and financial advisers, tax professionals and members of the pubic on the effectiveness of current tax reliefs and whether the existing system could be improved to create a better climate for charities to serve their beneficiaries.
In developing its recommendations the technical merits of its proposals were commented on by both an Advisory Group of taxation experts and a reference group of key stakeholders from across the voluntary sector.
It would seem the heavy spadework has already been done. There’s a way, but is there the will?
There’s one way to find out.
If you want it to be easier for all of us to give to the good causes we support then sign this online petition asking Prime Minister Johnson to commit his new Government to looking closely at the recommendations of the Charity Tax Commission in the first hundred days of his Premiership and for his new Chancellor to set out in this year’s Autumn Budget the steps the Government will take as soon as practically possible to make it easier to channel the generosity of the great British public to charity:
While the Government Digital Service offers a Parliamentary debate if its online petitions get more than 100,000 signatories, surely by now we have had enough of endless Parliamentary debates or indeed of grand pronouncements and promises.
Instead Prime Minister Johnson and his new Government might adopt the motto of someone else who delivered rousing speeches in Manchester and beyond, and in whose honour a statue was erected half a mile down the road from MOSI just over seven months ago.
Emmeline Pankhurst, political activist and organiser of the British suffragette movement worked to win women the right to vote - under the slogan, “Deeds Not Words”.
"Time and again Manchester has shown the UK that anything is possible. Time and again this extraordinary country has delivered the same message to the world. That’s what we are going to do once more."