The sector needs to rebuild relations with the Tories, says Friends of the Earth campaign lead

Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference, Samuel Lowe says the advent of a new Prime Minister is a good opportunity to stop being at loggerheads with the Tories

Samuel Lowe
Samuel Lowe

The charity sector has been at "loggerheads" with the Conservative Party for too long and should reset this relationship, according to a spokesman for Friends of the Earth.

Speaking at an event organised by Acevo called "Building a better tomorrow: the civic action rally" at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham last night, Samuel Lowe, campaign lead at Friends of the Earth, said the appointment of Theresa May as Prime Minister this summer represented an opportunity to change how the sector related to the government.

"We’ve really hit a point now that, with a new PM, it’s time to reset the relationship between the Conservative government and charity," he said. "For too long, we’ve been seen as at loggerheads."

Lowe’s words appear to represent a change of approach for Friends of the Earth, whose chief executive Craig Bennett said in a Guardian interview last year that the then Prime Minister David Cameron was playing to the ideology of the "swivel-eyed loons in the Conservative Party" and that the former energy and climate change secretary Amber Rudd – who is now Home Secretary – was an "ideological hypocrite of the first order".

He said: "I don’t hold out too much hope with this government." He also described the organisation at the time as being at war with Cameron and his allies.

Javed Khan, chief executive of the children’s charity Barnardo’s, also spoke at last night’s event, which was billed as a rally to "celebrate the contribution of the sector and its right to speak truth to power".

Khan said that, like the rest of the sector, Barnardo’s was grappling to overcome the challenge posed by reduced levels of trust and confidence among the public.

"Charities are going through a very tricky time at the moment," he said. "None of us can afford to bury our heads in the sand. There have been mistakes from well-intentioned activities that haven’t been executed very well – that’s been extrapolated and we’ve all suffered as a result.

"Fundraising in particular has taken a hit, so it’s time to rebuild that confidence. We can’t do what we do without public trust."

Khan called for charities to rebuild this by publishing impact reports and being transparent about the proportion of their resources they spend on helping beneficiaries. "I’m proud to say that at Barnardo’s we spend 91p in every pound that is donated on our front-line services," he said.

The other speakers at the event were: Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising; Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society; David McCullough, chief executive of the Royal Voluntary Service; John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation; and Kate Lee, chief executive of the cancer charity Clic Sargent, who joked that she was the "token female" among the speakers.

Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, did not attend, despite having originally been scheduled to speak at the event, according to the Conservative Party conference fringe agenda.

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