Neil Cleeveley: New PM needs the voluntary sector more than ever

The chief executive of Navca offers Theresa May a six-point plan to build her 'better Britain'

Neil Cleeveley
Neil Cleeveley

Shortly after winning the Tory leadership contest, Theresa May promised to build a "better Britain". As she settles in to 10 Downing Street as the 76th British Prime Minister, she might reflect that divisions caused by the EU referendum and six years of austerity could make that task harder than it first appeared.

There can be no doubt that, despite the rhetoric that we were all in this together, austerity has caused most pain to those least able to shield themselves and their families from its ravages. The referendum result is largely seen as a two-fingered response to the political class from people who felt they had been left behind by globalisation. But it has also emphasised growing divisions: between generations; between classes; between urban and rural Britain.

The big society collapsed after becoming a creature of austerity. In the years since then it has felt as if some in the Conservative Party were happier offering criticism than support to charities. I felt at times we were being punished for standing up for those suffering the consequences of austerity and the failure of big society. In particular, charity campaigning was identified as something that needed to be supressed.

However, the Prime Minister would do well to use this opportunity to start over again and build bridges with our sector. Rather than being a source of trouble and discontent, charities and community groups are actually important sources of support for the new PM to build her "better Britain".  They bring communities together in a way that government struggles to do. A fresh approach from May should create the space and support for charities and community groups to connect communities, empower people and transform public services.

Theresa May says she wants to build a "better Britain". Navca has created a six-point plan to help her.

Austerity: George Osborne has already signalled that Brexit has meant existing budget plans are being redrawn. Austerity has hit the poorest in society hardest – it must end. The government must create a more equal society, with an economy that creates inclusive growth.

Social cohesion: A lack of honesty on both sides of the EU referendum has left the country divided. The government needs to work with the voluntary sector to build a more cohesive society where everyone is valued.

Devolution: We face a democratic deficit. We need a new settlement that truly empowers people and communities, giving us more control over our lives. Many charities and community groups were set up to do just that and the government needs to tap into their expertise.

Transforming public services: Charities and community groups can help people and communities get involved in the design and delivery of their services. Government should look at what is being achieved in health with social prescribing and person-centred care and see how such approaches can be replicated across all our public services to improve outcomes for people.

Office for Civil Society: this needs to rediscover its purpose and be a champion for the sector across government rather than carp and criticise.

Volunteering: Business has a responsibility to the communities it operates in. The government must honour its manifesto promise to offer all employers in the public sector and organisations with more than 250 staff three days paid volunteering leave and encourage businesses to build stronger links to communities.

We need a fresh approach that creates the space and offers support for charities and community groups to connect communities, empower people and transform public services. Theresa May has the opportunity to create a fairer and less divided country. Forging new relationships with the voluntary sector is key to her chances of being a successful prime minister.

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