The lobbying act must go so charities can speak truth to power and collaborate with the government for the common good, according to a senior opposition MP.
Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was speaking at the launch of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, hosted by the research charity Pro Bono Economics.
The commission is a two-year initiative that aims to examine how the potential of civil society can be unleashed in the UK.
It kicked off with a report that highlighted how the value of charitable work in the UK was undervalued by about £160bn.
At the virtual launch, Reeves said: “We believe we need to reset the relationship between the civil society sector and the public sector so that it is a partnership of equals.
“Labour wants charities and community organisations to play their full role in changing society.
“Democracy is deeper than sporadic elections, it is about what happens in between with citizens’ voice, rights and power.
“That requires guarding the independence and voice of civil society and is why measures in the lobbying act, which mutes so many, really must go.”
The MP for Leeds West said the sector’s voice was its most important asset and that the whole country benefitted when voluntary organisations and charities could speak truth to power.
The Labour MP's tone was in stark contrast to that of Charity Commission chair Baroness Stowell, who drew scorn from charity leaders after she warned charities not to engage in "party politics and culture wars" in a newspaper article at the weekend.
Reeves called for a “civic surge” and a new era of collaboration for the common good because the challenge of rebuilding post-pandemic society would fail without the vital participation of civil society.
“The sector must be around the decision-making tables drawing on your vast experience to help shape the future,” she said.
“Now is the time and the occasion for a civic surge. To put people at the heart of thinking, of creating new solutions and recognising the value of participation and not just outcomes.”
Community organisations should be expanding and reasserting the public realm, claimed Reeves, who said it is the job of government, locally and nationally, to be on their side.
Earlier in her address, Reeves said: “For too long the impression is that the civil society sector is there to either compensate for market failure or to plug holes in the limitations of state.
“It is often defined more against both the private and public sectors in policy terms rather than on its merits.”
“It is not the absence of profit which defines civil society, but at its heart is the full value of people.”
The Labour MP also had praise for the footballer Marcus Rashford’s food poverty campaign in October, which forced a second U-turn from the Conservative government.
She also railed against recent reports of public contracts being given to the powerful friends of those in government and the lack of a trade deal with the European Union.
Reeves said the challenge for a Labour government would be to be an ally for civil society and an enabling force for change.