Gareth Thomas won some senior charity sector support yesterday after criticising coalition ministers for not representing or listening to sector concerns well enough.
Speaking at the Civil Society Question Time event in Westminster yesterday, the Labour shadow minister for charities said that the failure of government to prevent or predict the detrimental impact of the public spending cuts, the donations tax relief cap, or the inability of charities to participate fully in the Work Programme indicated a lame-duck representative of charities in government.
Thomas said that since he was appointed as shadow minister last year, he has heard constant complaints from charities about getting their voice represented in government.
“When the conversation with representatives of charities has turned to government what I have consistently heard has been frustration with a lack of leadership, the lack of serious heavyweight ministerial leadership at the Cabinet level in particular, for charities, across Whitehall. And a profound sense, too, that the government is standing up for the wrong people,” he said.
“The truth is that charities are being sidelined; that the interests of the sector are not really being fought for by Cabinet ministers and that the leadership that the sector needs in government is not being given,” he said. “I think that’s a tragedy.”
“I’ve searched the columns of Civil Society high and low, and I cannot see an occasion recently when Francis Maude last spoke up for charities,” he said.
“The Cabinet Office is either not going into battle, or it’s not winning any of those crucial battles.”
Agreement from sector
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, backed the sentiment that charities are not close enough to government policy.
"The architecture of government is insufficiently tuned to civil society," said Sir Stuart.
Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of Charity Finance Group, similarly noted that "charities are an after-thought" for government.
Labour supports some coalition measures
Thomas offered some double-edged support for some coalition government initiatives. He welcomed the National Citizen Service scheme, but said was undermined as it sat alongside cuts to other types of social action.
He also backed the Small Donations Bill as seeming “at first glance, essentially a very good thing”, but again said its impact would be paltry in the face of wider funding cuts to the sector.
And he praised the creation of Big Society Capital, a concept he claimed as Labour’s, but said the latent social investment market was undermined by the inclusion of the community interest tax relief in the tax relief cap. “There is real concern that the social investment might not grow as fast as it could have done,” he said.
The shadow minister had been due to debate against his opposite number, Nick Hurd, but the latter was called away to a family matter.