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Labour and Civil Society Summit – what can we take from it?

On Monday 22 January key individuals from the Labour Party and from across the charity and voluntary sector came together at the Labour and Civil Society Summit in London facilitated and organised by Pro Bono Economics. The aim of the event was to set out a vision for a powerful partnership between civil society and a potential future Labour Government, if that is the outcome of this year’s election. The event explored the value of civil society in the successful delivery of Labour’s ‘Five Missions’ and achieving a better Britain for all.

Throughout the Summit, encouraging words were heard from Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer, Thangam Debbonaire (Shadow Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Wes Streeting (Shadow Secretary for Health and Social Care), Yvette Cooper (Shadow Home Secretary), Bridget Phillipson (Shadow Secretary for Education), and Lilian Greenwood (Shadow Minister for Civil Society). The themes across the day were designed to address Labour’s five key missions and the keynote address by Kier Starmer set out his vision for a ‘Society of Service’. Our CEO Jane Ide spoke on the opening panel to address civil society’s role and value in a mission-led government alongside Thangam Debbonaire, Neil Heslop (CEO of CAF), Rajinder Sangha (head of transformation at Let’s Go Southall) and Priya Singh (chair of NCVO). Further panel discussions followed on the role of charities and voluntary organisations in addressing and mitigating health inequalities, halving serious crime including violence against women and girls, and breaking down barriers and spreading opportunity for all.

So, what can we take away from the Summit?

The words we heard from the Labour front bench resonated well and made evident that they have listened to those advocating for the sector. Keir Starmer shared his view that for too long civil society has been ignored by policymakers and left out of key policymaking processes and he spoke of civil society being a partner to his plans for a ‘decade of national renewal’. The policy responses coming from any government next in power need to address the root causes of long-term trends in decline of national economic and social wellbeing and policymaking processes must involve the groups that have the insight and crucially, the trust within communities which it’s clear that politicians do not have.

What many in the sector wanted going into this Summit was to securely land the message that civil society is key to helping Labour achieve and deliver its five missions and that civil society needs to be viewed as an essential partner in co-producing policies that are long-lasting and not simply ‘short-term sticking plasters’. In so much as it’s always a win for anyone in the business of influencing to hear your key messages repeated back to you, what was heard on the day was certainly a good omen for what might come.

Themes from the panel sessions

The Shadow Secretary for DCMS, Thangam Debbonaire acknowledged the need for better philanthropic measures and better grant-making processes, ensuring that the smaller organisations who have just as much impact if not more than the larger organisations, are equipped with the skills and tools needed for a smooth process.

We heard how an incoming government needs to recognise the impact medical charities have in mitigating health inequalities and how public policy needs to improve to correlate with the willingness people have to contribute to health trials.

We listened to how the mindset around competitive funding practices needs to change, how creating youth prevention partnerships and funding youth hubs can prevent young people getting drawn into crime early on, and how better data can determine who is getting what from government funding and who is over- and/or under-represented to then allow funding to be targeted.

We heard the notion of young people being more exposed to internships in order to give them the opportunity to have ambitious futures and break down the barriers so many in society face.

If these intentions come to fruition, it could mean more time and opportunity for civil society to act in a preventative and positive mode rather than in crisis response mode – and that we can shift away from being viewed as “the emergency plumber” and instead be recognised as an expert, valued, co-designer and architect of effective public services. It should mean less demand on our over-stretched services and more capacity being put towards doing what we do best and helping the population thrive.

Re-setting the relationship

Hearing what we want to hear from a party that isn’t in power is welcome but by no means a guarantee of anything that will come, whether they are successful in gaining the keys to Number 10 or not. However, building stronger relationships for our sector with policy makers and elected representatives of all political parties is always a priority and there’s no doubt that what has been achieved with the Labour party so far is very welcome.

We welcome the desire of the Labour leader to re-set the relationship between civil society and the Labour party in a potential future Labour government. We see the Shadow Minister for Civil Society cognisant of the fact that any future government needs to harness the trust charities have with communities. We heard the word ‘partnership’ throughout the Summit and that is Starmer’s main ask of us: to come to the table and work in partnership with a future potential Labour government.

We are ready. We are ready to play the role that is being asked of us but it’s clear that our sector needs to be supported to play this role in an environment where it can thrive and where our power and voice in holding any government to account is not only tolerated but actively welcomed.

Next steps for ACEVO

We will of course be continuing to engage with the Labour party and follow up on many of the commitments made at the Summit. We are developing policy proposals to support and enable civil society to play its role in Keir Starmer’s vision for a ‘Society of Service’ and ‘decade of renewal’, and we are continuing to engage with political parties and policy makers across the spectrum to champion the role of civil society across government.

With NCVO, we are jointly producing a sector manifesto which will be used to engage with all political parties ahead of the general election and with elected representatives after the election. You can read the discussion paper here: and submit feedback.

For full details, read Starmer’s speech here and watch the full Summit here. The panel session that ACEVO’s CEO Jane Ide participated in can be found at 22:06.

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