#ge2015: implications for the voluntary sector

The morning after the night before is probably not the best time to read the runes of an election. It is worth beginning the conversation though, so here’s a starter for 10, from NCVO’s head of policy Ruth Driscoll, and me.


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1. It’s 1992 all over again

What with a clearly shy Conservative-voting electorate (or at least shy when it comes to talking to pollsters), a likely small Conservative majority, backbenches populated by the awkward squad, Europe as a defining issue, and an incoming prime minister whose first words are to invoke one nation Toryism, I expected to find John Major in Number 10. What’s the takeaway? We need to look back at how we worked with the 1992 administration and what we did influence the agenda. [Edit: After writing this blog I found this post from the Institute for Government’s Jill Rutter, on what Cameron can learn from John Major’s government. It is a must read.]

Read more about our thoughts on working with a government with a small majority in Chloe’s blog.

2. There isn’t a coalition to hobble manifesto promises

We’ve been assuming til now that manifesto commitments and subsequent promises to the electorate were just starting points for a coalition agreement, chips to be bargained. No more. In fact, so much was promised in the campaign you almost wonder if there’s trouble ahead. Here’s a few for you: £8bn extra for the NHS, protected government departments, no VAT or income tax increases, current deficit turned to surplus before the end of the parliament, £12bn off the welfare bill. Balancing that one is going to take luck and skill (it’s what FlipChartRick calls ‘la la land’). There’s going to be a lot of ‘thinking the unthinkable’ going on in Whitehall and specifically the Treasury. The spending review later this year is going to be a major event for charities.

3. Whatever happened to open public services?

It feels like there’s mixed prospects for voluntary organisations seeking to play a bigger role: those spending pressures point to a pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap outsourcing model. Nevertheless, the Conservatives are keen on SMEs delivering more contracts (e.g. target of 1/3 of public sector contracts going to them) and innovation in public services. There’s also a commitment to ‘harness the talent and energy of charities’ in the work programme. An imminent review of public service markets and our sector by the National Audit Office (which NCVO asked for in its manifesto) is a short-term opportunity to set the agenda. But will a slim majority reduce the potential for brave decisions such as longer-term focus on preventative spend? There’s nothing on the latter in the manifesto, and need to survive politically sometimes encourages short term decision making.

4. There’s going to be some big changes in the machinery of government

Rumours persist that the high-wire act of deficit reduction will be achieved by wholesale closure of some government departments, and therefore fewer ministers. That’s a whole new set of relationships we’re going to have to build, assuming there’s someone there to build them with. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Office for Civil Society got moved from the Cabinet Office – assuming that there is still an OCS. I hope we’ll still have a minister… and an OCS. I’m worried we won’t have a central voice in government.

5. Who governs Britain – and how?

There’s a massive debate opening up about both the political system in Britain (the union, the voting system, etc.) and our place in Europe. I can see all sorts of political fun and games with a European referendum now guaranteed. Charities are well positioned to bring voices of most marginalised citizens into these debates. We’ll almost certainly be shaking things up through campaigning and influencing in favour of the communities with whom we work, just as the small parties have shaken up the established parties in this election.

6. There’s a number of voluntary sector people who have just been elected to parliament

These include Wes Streeting, Peter Kyle (described as a ‘rock star’ on the radio this morning) and Nusrat Ghani. Charities minister Rob Wilson and shadow Lisa Nandy were re-elected. Nick Hurd survived the impending routing of High Speed 2 through his constituency. In short, it’s good to see more parliamentarians who understand and have worked with our sector. There’s a fuller list of runners and riders in this blog from NCVO’s Chloe Stables.

7. The Lobbying Act still needs fixing…

…but this arguably just got tougher, given that the parties proposing reform or abolition won’t be forming the new government. That’s not to say that we should pack up and go home, but we’re going to have to be strongly evidenced about its impact if we’re going to make the case going forward. More broadly, there’s more to be done to champion the right of charities to campaign and influence given hostility from some on the right.

8. The volunteering agenda is looking like our single biggest positive opportunity

The manifesto commitment to allow three days paid leave a year from big companies and public bodies is fantastic – but the devil is in the detail of implementation. We’re just mulling over whether this needs legislation though – potentially tricky with a backbench keen to remove red tape. But we’ll finish with a tweet from Woodhouse Community Centre in Leeds that tallies nicely with the message from our own Sit Stuart Etherington yesterday: maybe elections don’t matter as much as us finding our own vision and our own solutions to the challenges ahead.

So, there’s our starter for 10. Any other thoughts?

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding served as NCVO's chief executive from September 2019 to February 2021.

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