Children England responds to the Labour Party's civil society strategy, From Paternalism to Participation

Children England is delighted to see the Labour party’s plan for civil society recognise the integral role of the voluntary sector – especially local charities and community organisations – in advocating for residents and connecting them to the services and structures that shape their lives. This is particularly important for vulnerable groups like children, and we hope that Labour’s vision for deepened local democracy includes an equal role for our youngest citizens.

We welcome the acknowledgement that civil society cannot thrive without genuinely inclusive, accountable local investment. As members of the Grants for Good campaign, we support the pledge to reinvigorate government grants to local charities, to create a Community Innovation Fund for new local projects and to involve civil society groups in designing a UK Shared Prosperity Fund that is democratically distributed. Increased representation for civil society on local enterprise partnerships, if these bodies are to continue making local investment decisions, is a good start but more will need to be done to make this a truly transparent and accountable mechanism for community growth.

The strategy’s positive view of campaigning by charities is much-needed: as Labour recognises, the Lobbying Act and gagging clauses in government contracts are undermining the ability of charities to challenge social injustice, and it rightly seeks to abolish them.

In reviewing the Social Value Act, Labour will find a rigorous set of recommendations set out by John Tizard, chair of NAVCA, which can help them realise the full potential of social value – and their ambition to shift responsibility away from a handful of large companies like Carillion and towards the full range of capable and responsive voluntary sector providers.

Finally, whilst the strategy proposes new rights and vehicles for communities to own and create public spaces and other assets, we hope no political party or community group forgets that powers such as Community Asset Transfer are already available to bring local resources into local ownership, and that what is needed to reverse the drain of communal spaces from public ownership to private is a significant shift in central government policy, which is currently driving councils to sell off assets in order to replace lost government funding. Local areas will only be free to realise the laudable vision of people-centred, community driven public services and initiatives if central government provides sustainable investment in them.