Charity leaders welcome ‘hopeful discussion’ with Labour at summit

Sir Keir Starmer and a host of shadow cabinet ministers took part in the event

Sir Keir Starmer addresses the summit (Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Voluntary sector leaders have welcomed the Labour Party’s promise to include the sector as a key partner if it formed the next government. 

Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, told an audience of charity leaders in London yesterday that the sector was “essential” to his party’s plans for a decade of renewal and pledged to reset the relationship between government and civil society. 

The event, which was hosted by the think tank Pro Bono Economics, also included sessions featuring discussions with other members of the shadow cabinet including Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, and Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary. 

Starmer said he was asking the charity sector to work with a potential Labour government to create a “society of service” that would “harness civil society as one of the three key engines of renewal”. 

A group of senior leaders had a private lunch meeting with Starmer after his speech, while other charity representatives had round-table discussions with members of the shadow cabinet.

Sarah Vibert, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the day had been full of “hopeful discussion” and “created an opportunity for us to highlight the scale of the challenge that lies ahead”. 

She said: “Crucially, though, we have also had the opportunity to demonstrate how the resilience, innovation and perseverance of those working in, and volunteering for, the charity and voluntary sector is vital for a government committed to tackling inequalities.

“We made it clear that the power of charities must be realised. The sector is asking for nothing more than it deserves – partnership, commitment, and investment and value. And in return, we can offer trust, expertise, skill and compassion.”

Vibert said: “We’re clear that, as part of a healthy democracy, charities can and should give a voice to people, especially those who are often unheard. 

“Recognising the vital role that charities play, highlighting the opportunity that close partnership can create, and acknowledging the tough conditions politically and economically are an important step in creating a better future for us all. 

Matt Whittaker, chief executive of Pro Bono Economics, said charities were essential to solving the major challenges facing the UK. 

“It was encouraging, then, to hear that recognised by Keir Starmer in his keynote speech today, as he rightly acknowledged that the sector has been ignored for too long by policymakers, amid the competing demands of the state and business.”

He said Starmer’s “society of service” vision set out in the speech marked the first time a political leader in the UK had outlined a strategic plan for how the sector could serve as a partner to the government since former Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘big society’ concept in 2010. 

Importantly, this new vision also recognises the essential role the sector has to play in the country’s economic regeneration,” said Whittaker. 

“Today, the sector is a vital source of jobs – employing nearly one million people nationally – and it plays a pivotal role in supporting people back to work and facilitating local regeneration.

“Charities sit at the centre of everything the nation aspires to – from the health of the economy to the quality of life we enjoy. 

“It is vital, then, that the government which comes to power following the next general election introduces concrete policies designed to help the sector unleash its full potential.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, welcomed Starmer’s comments about the sector’s voice needing to be heard. 

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