The newly appointed shadow minister for civil society Steve Reed has said that there has been a deliberate move by government to undermine the sector, done as an attempt to cover up significant funding cuts.
Speaking to Civil Society Media shortly after his appointment, Reed said that in order to cover up these cuts to funding, which he says have been “slashed to what is beyond reasonable”, the government has “thrown a few googlies at the third sector, which I think the sector has by the large batted off”.
When asked about the recent scrutiny of the sector which has been heightened over the last year, he said that it “is right that issues about governance and issues about pay and how much goes on the frontline service should be scrutinised publicly”, adding that that is a “useful function”.
But, Reed said: “I think there has been some attempt to undermine the sector, and that has been done as a deliberate move to cover up that funding has been slashed way beyond what is reasonable.”
He continued: “We have seen funding cuts to local government in some councils of 50 to 60 per cent, and that has had a direct impact on third sector organisations that work with local authorities, who are then denied the capacity they need to pick up doing some of the activities that the state sector used to do itself.
“You can’t have it both ways, you can’t have the state withdrawing and expecting the voluntary sector to step in when you are slashing your resources at the same time.”
He added that this doesn’t mean that he does not think scrutiny is important, and that “direct accountability is one of the strengths of the third sector”.
'Delighted' with the job
On his appointment, Reed said he is “delighted”. He said: “I think it is a fantastic job to have. It is an area that I have always had a very strong interest in, back from when I was leading Lambeth Council.
“We did a lot of work there trying to reconfigure how public services work and how public decision making works to give a bigger role to third sector, voluntary and community organisations, which I still think is one of the most radical approaches to transforming local government that has been attempted so far.”
Reed said that his first move in his new role is to speak to the sector, and hear what their challenges are. He said he will be setting up meetings with the umbrella bodies, including both NCVO and Acevo.
Reed said : “I think you are wise when you are in any new role to spend your initial few weeks listening rather than speaking, so that is what I will do.”
The new shadow minister said he has already had conversations with Anna Turley, who held the role before resigning as part of the mass-resignations in protest over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Reed said that he worked closely with Turley previously, when she was working at the New Local Government Network when he was setting up Lambeth as a Co-op Council.
Turley was full of praise for Reed, in a statement sent to Civil Society Media she said: “Steve is an excellent choice for shadow civil society minister. I had the pleasure of working with him on the Cooperative Councils initiative before we both entered Parliament.
“Steve’s work championing local communities, devolving power to them and giving them a voice, including by building up civic capacity, means he brings valuable experience and knowledge of the third sector to this role. He will passionately speak up for charities and the third sector and I look forward to working with him on that.”
Reed also said that he spoke to Lisa Nandy, who held the shadow civil society minister role before Turley the evening that he got appointed into the position. He said he has received a congratulatory tweet from Rob Wilson, minister for civil society, which he said was “very kind of him”.
Reed said that he sees priorities in his new role being to “stand up for the sector as a voice in parliament”, adding “given what the government is doing to the sector is so damaging I think that that is important. I think I need to listen to the sector first before I lay down too many lines of my own. But that just makes sense.”
He added: “I want to champion the sector in the way that I did when I was at Lambeth. And that doesn’t mean that you can try and magic away all the problems and challenges that organisations are facing, but that does mean better understanding of how you can properly integrate the third sector meaningfully in public service delivery and decision making.”