Speaking at ACEVO’s Gathering of Social Leaders on 7 May 2014, MPs and charity and social enterprise leaders set out their vision for the third sector one year before the General Election.
Ben Page, Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI, opened proceedings with a pollster’s view of the year to come. Saying that no party was clearly in the lead for the election, he highlighted charities’ continued high level of public trust. He pointed out that the economy was declining as a voter concern, leaving other issues to come to the fore.
Ben Page also picked out social media as a newly decisive influence in public debate before the election – and one which the third sector could use to its advantage. A panel of sector experts discussed his findings, drawing attention to the Lobbying Act as a new factor in public campaigning in 2015.
Sir Stephen Bubb then gave a short speech to introduce Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society. He said:
“As a trusted sector, charities are essential to the success of the programmes of all potential governments after 2015. With one year to go to the election, our sector’s enormous reservoir of trust we have built up from the public gives us a duty and an ability to speak out and raise the interests of our beneficiaries in an otherwise narrow election debate.”
Sir Stephen also drew attention to the public’s high trust in charities (never below 60% according to Ipsos MORI).
Nick Hurd argued that the future requires a better balance of power between more humble state, more responsible private sector and more robust, responsible civil society. He highlighted the Government’s achievements with social finance and the National Citizen service in particular. In social investment, he said, the Government is “building a third pillar of funding for the sector”.
Lisa Nandy MP, Shadow Minister for Civil Society, then outlined the next Labour Government’s vision for the third sector. She said they would
– Level the playing field for public contracts, reducing the sector’s reliance on consultants and its need to enter payment-by-results contracts.
– Focus available funds on capacity-building, and extending social impact bonds to new areas.
– Repeal the Lobbying Act and remove gagging clauses from public service contracts.
– Reestablish regional ministers to combat regional disparities.
Jon Cruddas MP, Head of Labour’s Policy Review, closed the political contributions with a speech looking at Labour’s plans to devolve more power away from Whitehall. He spoke of their aspirations for institutional reform, a focus on prevention, collaboration in service delivery between different sectors, and the restoration of a contributory principle of citizenship.
The keynote speeches were scrutinised by panels of third sector leaders. Panellists included Paul Farmer (CEO, Mind), Virginia Beardshaw (CEO, I CAN), Dr John Low CBE (CEO, Charities Aid Foundation) and Anne Longfield OBE (CEO, 4Children). The Conference wass chaired by Lesley-Anne Alexander CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and Chair of ACEVO.
Lesley-Anne Alexander closed the day with comments on the importance of the third sector making its voice heard in the national debate. With the result of the 2015 Election impossible to predict, she said, the sector needed to work with all political parties and produce detailed manifestos for their consideration.