Anna Turley MP - the new shadow minister for charities

Andy Hillier meets Anna Turley, just six months an MP, but already the shadow minister for the voluntary and community sector and civil society

Anna Turley
Anna Turley

Anna Turley says she was surprised to be offered the role of shadow minister for the voluntary and community sector and civil society after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader in September.

She became an MP only at the May general election after winning back the seat of Redcar, near Middlesbrough in the Tees Valley, from the incumbent Liberal Democrat, who had taken the seat from Labour in 2010. "I didn't expect to be on the shadow front benches at this stage," she says. "I'd been an MP for only a few months and I was intending to find my feet, but there was no way I was going to say no to this."

Turley, 37, is no stranger to parliament. For most of her career, she has worked in the civil service, becoming a special adviser in the Cabinet Office and the Department for Work and Pensions under the Labour government. Later, she became deputy director of the local government research organisation the New Local Government Network before setting up the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network, which supports local authorities to work in partnership with local communities.

Before she moved to Redcar in 2012, Turley was an active Labour Party member in Islington, north London, where her local MP was Jeremy Corbyn. He backed her campaign to become the candidate in Redcar, praising her contribution to the local community and "her good understanding of how to get things done and to represent people, particularly those up against it in difficult times".

She says: "My background and experience in the Cabinet Office showed me how crucial third sector organisations were to building the kind of society I want: more equal, fairer and stronger. The community and voluntary sector is fundamental to the values that I'm in politics to represent and fight for."

She admits she does not have the same knowledge of the sector as Lisa Nandy, Labour's previous shadow minister for charities, who had worked in the sector for several years before becoming an MP. But she says she is not a complete novice. "Everything I've done in my previous careers has been linked to the sector," she says. "I started off as a civil servant working on youth crime, where I saw the huge role for preventive work, particularly in the youth justice sector.

"Then I went to the DWP, specialising in child poverty, and saw the huge part that the community and voluntary sector played in that area. After that I worked in a local government think tank and set up the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network, which was about getting councils to change the way they do things and encourage co-production with the local community."

Turley is also a trustee of Redcar Development Trust, a local charity that helps to get people into work, and has been a trustee of a Sure Start children's centre and a school governor. "I've had a few roles that I hope will enable me to see it from the sharp end of funding bids and governance," she says. "I've been on that front line."

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Since her appointment, she has had to focus on matters in her constituency. In late September, the owners of the steelworks in Redcar announced that it was closing, with the loss of about 2,200 jobs. Turley has been at the forefront of a campaign against the closure, which she says has left her little time to get to know her new brief. But she is "itching to get started".

Nandy has spoken in the past about the party's desire to scrap the lobbying act and open up more public service contracts to charities. Turley says she has been given "a clean slate" and will look at the party's policies afresh. Like her predecessor, she intends to take some time to meet people in the third sector. "My door is very much open," she says. "I want to hear people's thoughts and ideas - not just on the sector, but any interesting policy thinking."

But she says her priorities will always be to help the most excluded, tackle poverty and support the most vulnerable. She also describes herself as an "evidence-based person", arguing that public sector policy is too often driven by ideology, rather than evidence of what works. "We've seen what happened with Kids Company," she says. "Sometimes governments get pet projects, and that can be unfair on the sector as a whole. I think it's important to look at the pros and cons of the work that is going on and try to make sure that funding is fairly distributed."

Corbyn is well known as a critic of privatisation and wants to bring more services back into public ownership. But charities have become increasingly reliant on public sector contracts in the past decade: 83 per cent of the money they receive from government sources is in the form of contracts, according to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations' UK Civil Society Almanac 2015.

Turley, who backed Andy Burnham in the Labour leadership election, believes charities should continue to play a role in public services. "In the past there was a view that the state knows best and there's only one way to deliver services," she says. "I don't think that's true. I'm not pro-privatisation on an ideological basis - but, as a Labour and Co-operative MP, I'm a big believer in looking for many different ways of providing services. However, I'd put for-profit services towards the bottom of the list of preferred providers."

Turley has been following the progress of the recent government-commissioned review of fundraising practices and believes it is important to ensure that charities are able to raise funds. But she also says the public needs to be protected from the "more aggressive forms of fundraising".

She describes the government's pledge to offer three days of volunteering leave to staff who work in larger companies and the public sector as "great in principle", but questions how many people would actually be able to do it. "We live in an age where there's a lot of part-time work, a lot of low-paid work and a lot of inflexible work," says Turley. "People in the public sector are also under more and more pressure.

"There's a lot we could unleash with time that volunteers could give, but you have to make sure that it's well used and you're not just doing something for the sake of it. The effort and energy needs to be channelled into something that makes a difference. There's a danger that it could be tokenistic and fail to really support the work of the voluntary sector."

She also disagrees with criticism by some Conservative MPs of issues such as executive pay in the sector. "There's a bit of ideology in the Tory party - they seem to think you can earn top salaries only if you work in the private sector," she says.

"I fundamentally disagree. If you're doing a good job in the community and voluntary sector, the pay should reflect that. I value the sector. There's no more important job in society than how you care for the elderly or volunteer in the community. We should recognise and respect that."

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