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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Starmer tells sector: I'll re-set relations with charities

This news post is 6 months old

Labour leader makes pitch to voluntary organisations

An incoming UK Labour government will make charities the “key partner” in a mission to create a “society of service”.

That was the pledge from Labour leader Keir Starmer as he addressed voluntary sector chiefs this week.

Starmer, speaking at an event hosted by the Pro Bono Economics (PBE) think tank, said a Labour government would “harness civil society as one of the three key engines of renewal”. 

He made the pledge in a key note speech in the summit, which was attended by 150 sector leaders.

PBE said this marks the first time in more than a decade – since Tory PM David Cameron’s ill-fated Big Society concept - that a major party leader in Britain has set out a vision for the charity sector.

Starmer told the audience that civil society had become “lost between business and state” and promised to re-set relations between charities and government.

This is a relationship which has become increasingly fractious over the past 14 years as Tory government figures have attacked charities for campaigning against austerity and tried to embroil them in culture wars battles.

Among those in attendance was Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) chief executive Anna Fowlie.

She told TFN: “While much of what was covered at the civil society summit with the Labour Party was only relevant in England, I was very pleased to hear the promise of a change in how government is done at Westminster.

“Our sector is at the sharp end of how the UK government handles social security, immigration, and macro economic policy. All too often we are expected to pick up the pieces of harmful policies that exacerbate poverty and inequality and even create destitution.

“Keir Starmer pledged an end to sticking plaster politics and a desire to work with the voluntary sector, not be at war with it. While I am all too aware of the dire state of public finances, I'm hopeful that the general election will bring a more humane approach to government where the expertise that runs right through the voluntary sector is seen as a valuable asset and our voice is heard.”

PBE is calling for the next government to treat the sector as a strategic partner equal to UK business, rather than simply a lowest-cost provider of public services, in order to unleash its full potential.

It pointed to a new YouGov poll, conducted for PBE and the Charities Aid Foundation, which found that more than a third of people think that charities are best-placed to understand the issues affecting people in the UK today, more than five times the number of people who think the government is best-placed.

Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics, said: “The UK’s charities are essential to solving the major challenges we face as a country today. They are equally pivotal to both Rishi Sunak’s five pledges as Prime Minister and Keir Starmer’s five missions for a Labour government.

“The public recognise the importance of the sector and have greater faith in the country’s charities than policymakers at present. Our new polling finds that the public are five times more likely to trust charities, rather than government, to understand the key issues affecting them.

“Yet Keir Starmer’s speech is the first time a political leader in the UK has set out a strategic vision for how the sector can serve as a partner to government since David Cameron’s Big Society concept in 2010. Since then, the sector has changed enormously and now has a workforce totalling just shy of one million.

“While it has grown in size and become ever more vital to supporting the most vulnerable in society, the charity sector has had to deal with £1.7 billion less government funding in real terms and four million fewer volunteers over the same period.

“Charities sit at the centre of everything the nation aspires to – from the health of the economy to the quality of life we enjoy. It is vital then that the government which comes to power following the next general election does what it can to help the sector unleash its full potential.”

After his speech, Starmer held a private lunch with a group of senior sector leaders, while other charity representatives had round-table discussions with members of the shadow cabinet, including frontbenchers Wes Streeting, Yvette Cooper and Bridget Phillipson.