Civil society plans ‘a timid, tick-box exercise’, says shadow charities minister

Steve Reed accuses the government of attempting to cover up its neglect of the sector

The government’s plan to develop a civil society strategy is a timid tick-box exercise, according to the shadow minister for civil society.

In a statement released this morning, Steve Reed accused the government of neglecting the sector and said it was attempting to cover this up.

Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Civil Society, today announced plans to develop a strategy through a listening exercise that will begin next year.

But Reed said charities would have little faith in the “timid” strategy, particularly after the government rejected the recommendations of Lord Hodgson’s review of the lobbying act.

“This civil society strategy is little more than a tick-box exercise to cover up the government’s total neglect of the sector,” said Reed.

“It doesn’t take a year-long review to find out that demoting the civil society brief from a powerful, cross-department position in the Cabinet Office was always going to leave the sector isolated.”

Gemma Walpole, chief executive of the small charity the Norfolk Family Mediation Service, welcomed the announcement that the strategy would explore how charities could collaborate.

“It’s really good news,” she said. “But small charities are already doing lots of collaborative work on how to be more effective together, so I hope that the strategy listens to small charities and takes into account work that has already been done, rather than duplicating it.”

Andrew O’Brien, director of policy and engagement at the Charity Finance Group, said it was important that the strategy was backed up by funding and a “beefed-up” Office of Civil Society to implement it.

“Without this, any strategy has the risk of becoming merely words on paper and having no impact on the operating environment for charities,” he said.

“Given the tough times ahead, we cannot afford to waste the potential of the sector.”

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the charity leaders body Acevo and the Association of Charitable Foundations all welcomed Crouch’s announcement.

Karl Wilding, director of public policy and volunteering at the NCVO, said: “Making sure voluntary organisations are valued and supported by the government will mean they can do even more across society.”

He said the consultative approach set out by the minister was right to get the best results.

Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo, said: “It’s good to see Tracey Crouch’s commitment to producing a civil society strategy that will protect the sustainability of the vital work our sector does.”

She said she hoped the strategy would “provide a platform to support and develop our sector and its impact in the years ahead”.

The strategy proposal has also been welcomed by those representing small civil society organisations.

Mandy Johnson, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition, said: “I’m genuinely excited about it. Tracey Crouch has a track record, having developed a similar strategy in her role as sports minister, which seems to be going well.

“My only concern is that she is talking to the right people, not just those with the money, and recognises that 97 per cent of the charity sector is the little guys.”

Tony Armstrong, chief executive of the community charity Locality, said the strategy needed to focus on how government could harness the power of community by providing more support for community organisations.

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