Nick Hurd – committed, engaged, knowledgeable

After a record length of time in the role, Nick Hurd has stepped down as minister for civil society. I wanted to put on record my appreciation for his outstanding work on behalf of the voluntary sector and volunteering, both in government and in opposition.

Difficult circumstances

Nick has been a minister in difficult circumstances. A background of economic trouble with an imperative to cut spending could easily have seen a lesser minister become rapidly unpopular with those in their ‘constituency’. But Nick’s clear, genuine belief in what the voluntary sector can do shone through. That he has received glowing testimony for his dedication even from political opponents is a mark of the man.

Achievements

Nick has some significant things to his credit that are already well known. His development of the National Citizen Service, and his commitment to youth issues generally, have been warmly welcomed by many. And he goes out on a high, having recently played a crucial role in helping to broker the deal that tapped into hundreds of millions of pounds of European funding for the sector and our beneficiaries.

Nick’s sustained focus on social investment has helped raise the profile of a funding mechanism that has significant potential. At first, we were concerned that the government’s emphasis on social investment was disproportionate, but over time their positions have become more nuanced and sophisticated – a clear sign of a willingness to listen and take on board feedback.

Behind the scenes

But Nick was not only an advocate for the voluntary sector in public, but also behind closed doors. I am particularly grateful for all the work he did to highlight our concerns about, for example, the lobbying bill and the 2012 budget charity tax changes to colleagues. His interventions made a meaningful difference for the better. Where the government has done things that have risked damaging the sector, it has been despite Nick, not because of him.

Integrity

It is typical of Nick’s style that he would deal with the conflicts and events that any minister has to handle with integrity and openness. We haven’t always agreed, but it was always clear in my conversations with him that we were having a realistic dialogue about what the government could and couldn’t do, and what he could and would do. Where there were issues to resolve, Nick got people together to do so. I never had any doubt that he is an advocate for voluntary organisations and social action within government, and in opposition.

Knowledge and commitment

I’m sure his team at OCS will miss him, though I’m sure they won’t miss his penchant for only ever arriving to any event with seconds to spare and for writing his speeches on a napkin minutes before he speaks. But of course the fact that he did this meant he wasn’t just reading speeches that had been prepared for him. Nick knew his brief inside out and talked with palpable passion and affection, but also with real insight and understanding. His knowledge and thoughtfulness are in part a consequence of the commendable length of time he served in the role but also of his clear personal engagement and commitment.

I doubt this will be the last we hear of Nick in the voluntary sector. For his successor, he leaves a department in good shape, and a sector with a positive view of the role.

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Stuart Etherington Sir Stuart Etherington has been chief executive of NCVO since 1994.

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