General Election 2024

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Saskia Konynenburg

Saskia Konynenburg

Executive Director

Executive Director

Civil society hustings highlights

Saskia Konynenburg

Saskia Konynenburg

Executive Director

Executive Director

A round-up of the key talking points from the only national hustings dedicated to the voluntary sector.

We feared your voices might not be heard during the general election. We’ve already noticed a sizeable gap in many party manifestos about the voluntary sector.

This is despite us all knowing no party can solve society’s challenges without working with charities, community groups, faith organisations and volunteers.

So, we made a stand. On Wednesday 19 June, we hosted the only national hustings dedicated to the voluntary sector.

Hundreds of you put forward questions to our cross-party speakers. But what did we hear? We’ve picked out some key reflections from the debate.

You can watch a recording of the hustings event below.

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Volunteering is essential, but there is disagreement in the ranks

Michael from Cheshire West Voluntary Action asked the panel to imagine the crisis we’d be in if all volunteers stopped giving their time. The panel nodded and looked sombre. They were then asked how they would support volunteering.

All speakers agreed there are many benefits to volunteering, but the sticky issue of mandating volunteers saw a clash of opinions.

Stuart Andrew (Conservatives) supported his party leader’s recent announcement of national service and mandated volunteering for young people. He explained the proposal came from surveying young people about volunteering. He said the proposed scheme would reduce barriers and ensure all young people have opportunities to volunteer.

Angus MacDonald (Lib Dems) described the proposed mandated national service as a ‘gimmick’. All the other speakers agreed volunteering shouldn’t be mandated.

Stephen Ashfield (Green Party) suggested working with employers to champion volunteering leave. Lilian Greenwood (Labour) also referenced this and other solutions including:

  • engaging with the Vision for Volunteering
  • ensuring people know where to find volunteering opportunities
  • making volunteering accessible to people from differing backgrounds.

Andrew backed big schemes like The Big Help Out that encourage people to volunteer.

Ellen Forson (SNP) said that we first need to figure out why people are not volunteering. She cited the cost of living crisis as being one of the biggest barriers.

MacDonald emphasised the need for leadership within communities and creating a sense of national pride by publicising the value of volunteering.

We can and should speak out

Nicola from Lynchpin Support asked if the panel would, without reservation, support the right of civil society organisations to campaign on issues that matter to their communities.

The panel all agreed charities should campaign, with some reservations and caveats. Many highlighted the importance of following the Charity Commission’s guidance on campaigning and maintaining party political independence.

Greenwood (Labour) promised to support charities’ right to campaign. Even when they are providing unwelcome criticism of government.

Forson (SNP) emphasised that even when they receive government-funded contracts, there should still be ways for charities to campaign.

Andrew (Conservatives) said charities must feel confident when campaigning and understand the guidance.

Ashfield (Green Party) said he thought the current regulations restrict what charities can campaign on. He suggested, in his personal view, there could be a review of the regulations.

MacDonald (Lib Dems) said he had nothing to add on the question of campaigning.

Partnership working is vital

All speakers sent a clear message that collaboration with our sector is essential to make a difference in society. This applies to both policy making and service delivery.

Andrew (Conservatives) talked about his experience of raising the concerns of charities across government departments. He gave the example of collaborative work with charities on loneliness. In relation to public service delivery, he emphasised the role of training to help charities bid for public service contracts.

Greenwood spoke of Labour’s intention to ensure charities are represented on mission boards across government. She said charities would also be represented across departments, including the Treasury.

She stressed the importance of involving charities early in decision making and ensuring procurement processes are accessible. However, we were told there would not be a lot of additional funding under Labour.

Ashfield said the Green Party would support a civil society strategy and a minister for civil society in the Cabinet Office. He stressed the importance of streamlining procurement processes for charities.

MacDonald (Lib Dems) also supported the idea of a minister for civil society. He spoke of the challenges charities are facing with budget cuts.

Forson (SNP) highlighted the role of the Third Sector Tracker in understanding the sector in Scotland. She also spoke about the importance of codesign.

Other highlights

Both Greenwood (Labour) and Andrew (Conservatives) spoke about the importance of philanthropy. Andrew also stressed the need to review Gift Aid. Greenwood highlighted the role of social investment.

The panel were asked what they'd do to stop small charities closing. Both Greenwood (Labour) and Ashfield (Conservatives) spoke about the importance of tackling the economic climate.

Ashfield (Green Party) highlighted the challenges small charities face when accessing banking.

Looking ahead

Throughout the event we heard messages of support for our sector and an intention to work in partnership. Many of the speakers referenced their own experience of charities and volunteering.

Whatever the outcome of the election, we stand ready to work with the next government. We will work across parties to ensure charities and volunteers are valued and have the conditions they need to make a difference.

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