Labour launches civil society strategy

The Labour Party has launched its civil society strategy, which includes pledges to increase grant funding for charities, repeal of the Lobbying Act; and create a Charities Leadership Programme designed to increase diversity among charity leaders.

Stating that “Labour believes the law should energise civil society, not stifle it”, the party proposes replacing the Lobbying Act with a new Community Empowerment Charter that will enable civil society organisations to campaign within clear parameters for fundraising, transparency, accountability and representation based on the principles of the Hodgson Review. It would also ban anti-advocacy “gagging clauses” in government grants or contracts.

The plans are outlined in a 14 page document, From Paternalism to Participation, which details a vision that would complement the party’s plans to “decentralise public ownership and investment and democratise the economy”.

“We want to […] transfer real power to the people of this country so they can take control of the decisions that affect them,” the document states. “Doing that requires a strong independent civil society as its cornerstone.”

Labour would increase the availability of grants for smaller projects; and promises a collaborative approach to decision-making on public procurement, designed to “promote community wealth building and local employment”.

It would also create a Community Innovation Fund, using money held in dormant bank accounts alongside philanthropic donations to fund community activities.

The party also pledges to introduce a public Right to Space: the right to have public spaces for communities and groups to meet; and a Right to Control, allowing communities to take over unused or neglected assets for public use.

Other proposals include a review of the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme with the intention of encouraging more small-scale giving; a new social enterprise strategy that it hopes will double the size of the cooperative sector; and increasing the representation of charities on Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Labour also plans to enhance the status of trustees, giving them the same legal rights to obtain time off work to complete their duties as that already available to school governors and local government councillors.

Directory of Social Change (DSC) director of policy and research, Jay Kennedy said his organisation was “absolutely thrilled to see the new commitment to increase grants to ensure smaller charities can benefit, and to use funding from dormant financial assets to support community organisations and projects.

"We hope and expect these commitments to be part of Labour’s next election manifesto," he said.

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