By Shareen Patel, policy and influencing officer at ACEVO.
A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page
On 10 October, with what I assume was not the start he had envisioned when a protester threw glitter on him, Sir Keir Starmer addressed delegates in Liverpool. He set out Labour’s vision if they were to be elected as the next government.
Generally speaking, leaders use their address at their party conference as an opportunity to put forward policy announcements or pledges. Surprisingly however, there was a lack of this from Starmer. Moreover, he spoke more broadly about what he thought the nation had gone through over the past 13 years under Conservative leadership, and the wider policy direction Labour will take if it comes into power.
So, what does this mean for charities and charity leaders? To be honest, not a whole lot given the lack of actual announcements during his speech, although it is evident that Labour wants to tackle the key issues society is facing, which are subsequently making the services that charities provide more in demand. Cost of living, the NHS, the climate crisis and energy, for example, were said by Starmer to be new priorities and are “totally focused on the interests of working people”. He also mentions the importance of investing in education and mental health treatment/support, particularly in schools. Mental health support is something that charities have been increasingly providing and we know there is an alarming number of school children facing mental health difficulties.
The basis of his speech was about creating a Britain that is “built to last”, which will require an “entirely new approach to politics”. He referred to Labour as being the ‘builders’ and recognised that public services are ‘broken’. We can have hope that Labour recognises the role charities and voluntary organisations play in ensuring public services are effectively delivered and at a high quality. They are extremely vital to support people and ensure communities are strong and able to flourish. Speaking of communities, in his speech, he recognised the need to “give power back and put communities in control”. This coincides with one of the themes of ACEVO and NCVO’s joint manifesto – to build stronger communities – which will be published next year. He also recognised the role of volunteers, albeit referring to clean water. This is a positive for the sector and we want the next government to recognise the value that volunteers bring.
He stated, “no more government contracts awarded via the back door”. The charity and voluntary sector has been working tirelessly to ensure grants and contracts are funded effectively and that all-sized charities do not miss out. NCVO’s chief executive, Sarah Vibert, spoke on a panel at an event at Labour conference where she pointed out that “four in five charities had subsidised their public contracts at some point”. ACEVO supports her urge to a Labour government to uplift public contracts to cover the full costs.
Truthfully, taking his address into account, our sector needs more than just words. Yes, it’s great that safer streets, higher growth, more opportunities in communities and an NHS that is back on its feet have been mentioned as key areas, and that will hopefully alleviate the weight that charities and charity leaders hold on their shoulders, but we need action. And we need it as soon as possible. It seems like the approach Labour will take to tackling these issues will be very different to the approach being taken by the current government. Nevertheless, we need the next government, whoever it may be, to form a partnership with our sector and maintain it. It is not them versus us, but us together to tackle the issues that society faces.