Charities are advised to prepare for a possible Tory government

The sector is being urged to take the Conservatives more seriously and engage with them more proactively.

Despite last week's widespread media coverage of infighting among the Tories, polls have shown Labour's lead over them narrowing to as little as 1 per cent.

But sector experts are warning that charities have got used to the political status quo and that too many are unprepared for a Conservative government.

"Having the same party in power since 1997 means we have got used to working with Labour," said Dan Beety, head of public affairs at Sue Ryder Care.

"The sector has to think about the prospect of a Conservative government and prepare for it."

Pete Moorey, parliamentary and media manager for umbrella body the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, agreed. "The important thing for the sector to do now is to try to influence the Conservative manifesto as it is drafted in the coming months," he said. "We can push for those proposals we support and try to ensure any approaches we oppose are amended or discarded.

"In particular, there may be concerns about their understanding of our campaigning role and too great a focus on our role in delivering public services."

Greg Clark, the shadow charities minister, said the Conservatives were keen to hear the views of the sector.

"David Cameron has made it clear that voluntary action will have a central place in what we want to achieve," he told Third Sector. "Helping the voluntary sector will feature very strongly in the manifesto."

Earlier this week, Volunteering England gave a guarded welcome to Cameron's plans for a national citizens' service to encourage 16-year-olds to get involved in their communities. It called for further guidance on the boundaries between compulsory service and volunteering and details about how the service would fit in with the existing infrastructure for volunteering (Third Sector Online, 10 September).

They said it

- "It will be a way of learning respect for our country and for each other" - David Cameron on his national citizens' service plan

- "Organisations whose dominant activity is political campaigning should not have charitable status" - Greg Clark on the review of campaigning

- "An expanded view of the sector is at the heart of what our administration would be" - Greg Clark.

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