Election 2017: Sector reacts to surprise announcement

Written by Matt Ritchie

Charity sector bodies have begun setting out their positions following the Prime Minister’s surprise announcement that a general election is to be held in June.

Theresa May has announced a general election will be held on 8 June. The Prime Minister said the move aimed to guarantee “certainty and stability” as the nation goes through the process of exiting the European Union.

The Government’s slim majority and division in Westminster jeopardises the work required to secure a favourable exit, May said.

"Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country,” the Prime Minister said. "So we need a general election and we need one now, because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin.”

NCVO chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington said the umbrella group will be using the coming weeks to remind politicians of the crucial role of charities and volunteering in national life.

Charities can make an even bigger difference than they already do with the right conditions, he said.

“Brexit is going to be a very big part of the election debate. Charities have many interests in Brexit negotiations, for example on freedom of movement and staffing. Now is the time to make the case for policies and positions that would be best for them and the people they work for.”

In a blog post on the snap election announcement, NCVO senior external relations officer Chris Walker urged charities to familiarise themselves with Charity Commission election campaigning guidance. Charities should also familiarise themselves with the law around third party campaigning.

However, Walker said most charities are unlikely to be affected by the so-called lobbying act if they campaign on policy matters on a cross-party basis.

Charities Aid Foundation chief executive John Low called for the Government to clarify the rules around the lobbying act ahead of the election. Low noted increasing public activity on social and political issues in recent months, and charities’ role in enabling people to participate.

Low warned that the lobbying act may deter charities from fulfilling this role.

“While not engaging with party politics, it is both legitimate and vital for charities to influence government and opposition policies on behalf of their beneficiaries. We should support and protect their proud and historic role in our national debate,” Low said. “We urge the Government to make it crystal clear that charities can contribute their insight and expertise, which is so important at this crucial time in our country’s history.”

Charity Finance Group chief executive Caron Bradshaw labelled the election a “critical opportunity” for charities to make their voices heard and help politicians understand sector’s role in addressing some of society’s biggest issues.

CFG will be working with partners across the sector to communicate the importance of charities and how government can help the sector do its work, she said.

“Charities must make bold proposals to all political parties, and all sides need to recognise to get the most out of the sector and strengthen our communities, then they absolutely have to help charities,” Bradshaw said. “They can do this by removing the barriers that hamper them from doing their work as effectively as possible.”

Third sector chief executive’s association Acevo set out three key priorities that it said are a test of any party’s commitment to the sector.

The next government must commit to meaningful engagement with charities throughout the process of exiting the European Union, Acevo said, and commit to significant reform of the lobbying act as recommended by Lord Hodgson.

Acevo said the next government must ensure public service contracts deliver social value as well as economic value, including a greater commitment to prevention programmes.

Chief executive Vicky Browning said charities must speak out on behalf of their beneficiaries at “this critical moment in the national debate”.

“A general election underlines the critical role of the independent political perspectives that charities bring to bear. A timid sector does not serve its beneficiaries or causes – that alone should give leaders the confidence to speak frankly.”

NAVCA head of public affairs Barney Mynott warned of the risk of the election becoming “a re-run of the EU referendum”.

“Now is the time for political parties to reverse the recent lack of concrete policies to support social action, volunteering and the voluntary sector,” Mynott said. “We want all main parties to publish meaningful manifesto pledges that support our sector. If they are struggling to think of suitable policies then a great starting point is the recent Lords Select Committee report.”

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