The Labour Party has refused to commit to appointing a new shadow charities minister, more than a month after Rachael Maskell quit the role.
Asked this week whether Maskell would be replaced, Labour would only say that it will “always champion” the work of the voluntary sector.
Two pieces of legislation directly impacting the sector – the Charities Bill and the Dormant Assets Bill – are currently going through parliament. Jeff Smith MP, who has led Labour’s response to the bills in the House of Commons, is shadow minister for sport, tourism, heritage and music, but charities are not included in his portfolio.
Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory for Social Change, said that a shadow minister was “the very least” the sector needed.
Labour will ‘always champion’ charity sector
Asked whether Maskell would be replaced as part of its Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) team, a Labour spokesperson told Civil Society News: “The shadow team is effectively and diligently scrutinising government ministers each day, including on legislation before parliament affecting civil society.
“We recognise the contribution charities and civil society organisations make to Britain, and the lack of security the government is giving to them – which Labour will always champion.”
Nigel Huddleston MP took over the charities brief for the government in October, three weeks after charities minister Baroness Diana Barran was moved in a reshuffle. Huddleston combines responsibility for charities with youth, sport and tourism policy, unlike Barran who looked after charity and youth policy alongised being the department's spokesperson in the House of Lords.
Allcock Tyler pointed out that, given Labour’s position and Barran’s departure, charities are poorly served in parliament.
She said: “The country has never needed a strong opposition more than now, and the charity sector in particular has never needed more support.
“When any government is consistently failing to stand up for and support the vital work of charities, we look to the opposition to argue our case.
“We have no dedicated government minister and we have no dedicated shadow minister. We won’t get the former. We deserve the latter at the very least.”
‘It is important that the government can be scrutinised’
Both NCVO and ACEVO said that they still hoped a dedicated shadow minister would be chosen.
Chris Walker, public affairs manager at NCVO, said: “We’ve been working with the Labour DCMS team on the progress of the Charities Bill and we look forward to working with the new shadow minister once they are appointed.
“With the potential of charities to play a key role in addressing many of the challenges and opportunities facing the country, it’s important that the government can be scrutinised in parliament.”
Alan Lally-Francis, head of influencing at ACEVO, said: “Having a shadow minister for civil society is very important for the sector, particularly in terms of holding the government to account, and this brief will take on even greater significance given legislation affecting charities' work that is currently before parliament.
“We hope the Labour Party will appoint a successor soon, and we look forward to working with them on these important issues.”