Labour’s Civil Society Shadow Minister, Anna Turley MP, addressed ACEVO’s annual conference today and spoke about the challenges facing the sector and her support for a greater role for Third Sector organisations in public service delivery.
Anna highlighted the triple whammy faced by the voluntary sector over the last five years from: reductions in public funding, greater demand on third sector services because of a shrinking state, and the devastating impact of welfare reforms.
She said the ‘Big Society’ agenda had become a “flimsy excuse to roll back the frontiers of the state, without providing civic society the support and resource to flourish in its place”. She also criticised the way the private sector had been allowed to take the majority of contracts by a government that “sees the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”
Anna welcomed the ACEVO Report as ‘timely and important’ in light of the challenges the sector faces.
The Shadow Minister said the boldest and most important recommendation was the emphasis on increasing the proportion of public spending measures aimed at prevention.
Anna described her frustrations at the “lost opportunity and money wasted in a system of public services that waits until the crisis to act”, reflecting on her work on juvenile reoffending at the Home Office and the experience of unemployment in her constituency.
Anna said short sighted spending cuts had unravelled what progress had been made under the last Labour government and that she intended to seek every opportunity to rebalance public services towards prevention and early intervention.
Anna also welcomed the recommendation to enshrine a Public Service Constitution in legislation.
She said her own experience with her constituents had shown her people were often let down by the failure of public services, despite the dedication and professionalism of staff, and that too often people felt they had no voice.
She said people should play a greater role in designing services suited to them and that they should have more power to act when things go wrong.
Anna showed her support for the idea of a ‘Community First’ test to put people before profit and social outcomes before the lowest cost.
She referred to ACEVO research pointing to the domination of a few large companies in public services, and argued that they squeezed out the great, innovative work of voluntary providers and their often more personally tailored services.
Anna also reaffirmed her commitment to work with and support the sector.
“I say as the Labour Shadow Minister for Civil Society, we will be here to support you.
I intend to spend the first six months of next year getting out and about to visit all the good work you are doing, and setting out a number of policy work streams that we will launch in the New Year and publish next autumn.”