1. The Lobbying Act remains a massive issue
All five UK parties agreed that charities ought to be able to speak up and campaign. But they disagreed vehemently over whether last year’s Lobbying Act has had a negative effect on the sector. Unsurprisingly, Rob Wilson, minister for civil society, and Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, said “no” and argued that charities are still trying to influence parties and politicians “properly” despite restrictions. Labour and the Greens saw it as a much bigger deal, wanting to repeal the Act and warning that it had had a “chilling effect” upon voluntary groups. Who’s right? The impact and involvement of charities over the election period will make the picture clearer.
2. Parties want charities to get involved in public services
All parties want to get charities involved in public services. But while the Conservatives are proud of their record in this area, Wilson came under attack from the shadow minister for civil society, Lisa Nandy. She criticised the tendency for large firms to get contracts, leaving charities to fight for scraps as subcontractors. The Greens and Ukip approach this issue on more traditional political lines. For Bill Rigby of the Greens there should be solely not-for-profit involvement, while Nathan Gill, leader of Ukip Wales, advocated the opening of public services to competition between all organisations, charitable or private.
3. Volunteers ‘personalise’ public services
The three largest parties saw a role for volunteers in delivering personalised services. Wilson praised his government’s record on engaging volunteers and Nandy said that they bring warmth to services and communities. For Ukip and the Greens this was a rare instance of agreement: core services like the NHS should not be dependent on volunteers. All parties were quick to praise volunteers and their impact, but their relationship with the state over the coming years needs much more unpicking.
4. Ukip have a vision for the voluntary sector
Many in the charity sector had little idea of the party’s policies towards the sector until now, but MEP Nathan Gill was able to put a marker down. From a commitment to introducing a more Americanised system of tax breaks for charitable giving, to advocating that government guarantee the bank accounts of charities working in at-risk areas, Ukip put forward new ideas. Not all of his advice went down well but his policy positions were new and something for the sector to think about.
5. The sector remains pessimistic
Finally, there is little enthusiasm from the sector for politicians. Live-polling tracked audience reactions to what speakers were saying, and whether it made them optimistic about the future of the sector. At no point did the audience’s pessimism fall below 70% – perhaps unsurprising given the challenges faced by charities over recent years.
Wednesday 25 March 2015 16.32 GMT
For more info visit: