Tuesday 13 April 2010

Now for the Tories!

"An invitation to join the Government". And I thought they'd never ask! But no, not a seat in The Lords but the Tory Manifesto. So if Labour has a retro cover, the Tories cap it with a somewhat ludicrous overclaim.

But enough frivolity. This is good news for the sector. There is a strong endorsement of our role in an expanded service delivery role. It says,

"Public service reform, including enabling third sector organisations to play“ a leading role in delivering public services”; an “aim to deliver 25% of Government contracts through SMEs”; a ‘fair deal on grants’ to give third sector organisations more stability and allow them to earn a competitive return for providing public services; “work with local authorities to promote the delivery of public services by third sector organisations”; raising productivity in public services including by allowing public sector workers to spin out into co-operatives and mutuals; establishing a ‘Big Society Bank’; and giving third sector organisations a greater role in delivering schools, services to reduce re-offending, children’s services, welfare to work and NHS services".

The emphasis on our role in building better communities and on delivering services is strong. Put another way, the Manifesto states, “in a simple phrase, the change we offer is from big Government to Big Society."

They also talk of the need to develop a strong third sector so they clearly see the need for capacity building.and I like the "community right to buy", something we have strongly advocated.

But it does seem some clear dividing lines; particularly between Labour looking to active Government and the Tories looking to a smaller state and bigger society. How does this translate into policy on the sector?

I think it will mean a much faster and more proactive outsourcing of public services from the Tories, with Labour still trying to face both ways on that. Labour still has too much affection for state delivered services and is probably still too tied to the unions who have a dinosaur attitude to change and an antipathy for our sector delivery role.

The Tories clearly see a much bigger role for a Social Investment Bank (or Big Society bank as they put it!) and have stronger plans for community empowerment.

But the flaw in the Conservative plans lies in the unresolved tension in their ranks over scale. Many want to see the sector as small scale and local and distrust larger and national charities. This ties in with their dubiety over the campaigning role of charities.

Both see a strong role for volunteering and proposals to expand national campaigns but given financial constraints none spell out how they will be fully and professionally funded.

Labour has a more proactive policy on banking reform and support for the financially excluded and, by contrast thought the Tories are clearly more supportive of a Social Investment Bank (Labour's £75m is derisory) they have a ridiculous plan to steal loan money from Futurebuilders and turn into small grants; which is the opposite of empowering!

So overall? I think the Tories see a much larger and and more cohesive role for a sector in building a bigger society, where Labour is still conflicted between state and social action. But many in the sector will be wary that a less proactive state will mean less support for the most vulnerable and the excluded and a less vocal sector attacking Government on behalf of those communities. And neither party is being totally honest about the scale of public spending cuts, nor its timing. Cuts could undermine our sector or liberate it. But no evidence for the later so far from either of them!

And finally, apropo the Tory promise to promote worker coops I saw an amusing carton in my favourite pub, The Plough at Finstock when I was there for an agreeable Sunday lunch. It features David Cameron.

"Sorry, did I say "workers cooperatives". I meant "co-operative workers!"

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