General Election 2010: how the policies compare

With the voting just two days away, John Plummer takes a final look at what the three main British parties say they would do for the voluntary sector if they came to power

Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative manifestos
Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative manifestos

The voluntary sector has featured more prominently in the 2010 general election than ever before, but all three main parties’ policies on the key sector issues remain vague, according to Jay Kennedy, head of policy at the Directory of Social Change.

The Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat election manifestos all emphasise support for voluntary organisations. But specific proposals on issues such as Gift Aid and service delivery are hard to find, says Kennedy.

He says the Tories’ ‘big society’ agenda presents the most radical vision for charities, but adds that many people believe it is an attempt to get charities to deliver services more cheaply than the state.

The Conservatives’ philosophy puts a lot of trust in the voluntary sector being able to deliver when the state shrinks, says Kennedy.

The most striking aspect of the parties’ policies is their similarity, he says, with action on the National Lottery being the most notable exception. The Tories are pledging to reduce the proportion of lottery money going to the Big Lottery Fund from 50 per cent to 40 per cent but say all of it will go to charities. At the moment, the BLF funds statutory as well as voluntary sector projects, which has led to allegations of political interference. All three parties claim their proposals for the lottery would result in more funding for the sector.

Kennedy says the Conservatives’ plans to redirect repayments from the Futurebuilders loan book to community grants is another clear dividing line, while the Liberal Democrats are the most specific about Gift Aid. He says the Tory pledge to publish details of all government spending greater than £25,000 would improve the transparency of cross-sector relations.

Kevin Curley, chief executive of local infrastructure group Navca, says both Labour and the Conservatives appear committed to supporting grants, but he is not convinced the Liberal Democrats share their enthusiasm.

Labour have demonstrated their understanding of the importance of grants for local voluntary action through programmes like Grassroots Grants and the Hardship Fund, says Curley.

The Conservatives highlighted the importance of grants in their ‘big society’. But it’s not clear if the Liberal Democrats have taken this issue on board. It doesn’t appear to be a key part of their approach to the voluntary sector.

Anne Blackmore, head of campaigns and communication at the NCVO, says: All three parties are offering broadly similar things. They all talk about the importance of philanthropy and the lottery, but until we get more details it’s impossible to comment on what it could mean. We’re pleased that the sector is an issue for all three parties. There is a recognition that they have to have a relationship with us, which we might not have expected 15 years ago. But all three are being very cagey.


Party policies: how they compare

Labour

Compact: Consult on giving Commission for the Compact statutory powers and greater support for the Compact at local level.
Gift Aid: A working party on the options for reform is due to report in September.
Grants: Instigate a review of government grant-making processes to make them as simple and speedy as possible.
National Lottery: Big Lottery Fund would continue to receive 50 per cent of National Lottery money. Pledge to restore Olympics lottery money to the arts, sport and culture after 2012.
Service delivery: Greater support for charities competing for public sector contracts, ensuring there is parity between the public and private sectors.
Social investment bank: Use £75m from dormant bank accounts to establish a social investment wholesale bank.
Volunteering: Introduce a national youth community service in which young people contribute at least 50 hours to their communities by the age of 19.

Conservatives

Compact: Keep the Commission for the Compact as an independent monitor to ensure that the Government is held accountable for meeting the commitments of the Compact.
Gift Aid: Set up a task force to find ways of reducing the bureaucracy of Gift Aid, which the party says falls disproportionately on small charities.
Grants: Redirect repayments on the Futurebuilders loan book to a community grants programme; give government departments and local authorities more effective guidance to ensure charities get a fair deal.
National Lottery: BLF would receive 40 per cent of National Lottery money but all of this would go to charities and none to statutory projects, emphasising social action instead of supporting ministers’ pet projects.
Service delivery: Pay charities by results to get people back to work and promote the delivery of public services by charities to local authorities.
Social investment bank: Create a ‘big society bank’, also funded from dormant accounts, to provide start-up funding and support to voluntary organisations bidding for government contracts or delivering services. No amount specified.
Volunteering: National citizen service to get 16-year-olds doing community work; train 5,000 community organisers to establish neighbourhood groups and provide grants to poor areas; encourage civil servants to undertake social action; introduce an annual Big Society Day to encourage volunteering.

Liberal Democrats

Compact: Support the Compact, but no plans to introduce statutory powers.
Gift Aid: Introduce a single rate of 23 per cent, removing the rebate available to higher-rate taxpayers.
Grants: Review grant-making bodies funded by the Office of the Third Sector to make sure that money is being
used effectively.
National Lottery: Reform the National Lottery so it is taxed on gross profits rather than ticket sales, which the party claims will deliver more for good causes and the Exchequer.
Service delivery: Make public service contracts smaller to enable charities to compete; work with the Local Government Association to streamline procurement processes for voluntary organisations.
Social investment bank: No plans to set up a bank; pledge to introduce ‘easy-giving bank accounts’ that allow people to operate charitable giving accounts alongside current accounts.
Volunteering: Reform Criminal Records Bureau checks so volunteers require only one record, rather than multiple checks for each activity.

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