Anna Turley, the shadow minister for civil society, has acknowledged the last Labour government should have done more to make it difficult for the Conservatives to cut back public services and place a greater burden on charities.
Speaking at the annual conference of the charity leaders group Acevo in central London yesterday, Turley also pledged to investigate recent rumours that the government planned to cut £230m of funding from the Big Lottery Fund and would take part in a Westminster Hall debate on the matter on Tuesday, the day before the government sets out its comprehensive spending review.
The appearance was Turley’s first major speech since taking up the shadow role in October. It also marked the launch of Acevo’s report on public services, Remaking the State, which highlights the need to focus on early intervention in areas such as health, youth work, employment and offender rehabilitation.
"Early intervention and prevention save lives," said Turley. "They also save money and prevent the tragedy of wasted human potential and suffering.
"I am proud of much of the early intervention and prevention work that the last Labour government undertook. But I look back now and think we didn’t go far enough or fast enough to shift public sector spending downstream.
"It is unlikely that we will be in an era of such significant public sector spending again. I feel a pang of regret that we didn’t sufficiently rebalance public services towards prevention and early intervention, and what work we did has been so easily unravelled by sharp, short-sighted, overly severe cuts to spending that will cost more in the long run."
She said the community and voluntary sector was "better than anyone" at offering crucial early intervention programmes.
Turley also rejected the Conservative big society idea as "a hollow gesture, a flimsy excuse to roll back the frontiers of the state, without providing civic society the support and resource to flourish in its place.
"This is what is left of the big society vision – a fragmented, cost-driven approach to public services and a sector impeded by a financial straitjacket."
In a question and answer session after the speech, Turley confirmed she would be raising the issue of online claims that the government was planning in the spending review to significantly reduce funding for the Big Lottery Fund to make up for budget cuts in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The claims were made last week in a blog by a group called Save Big Lottery. If true, this would represent a 48 per cent cut.
Turley said: "I’m deeply concerned about some of the rumours we’ve heard surrounding the BLF. We’re going to be trying to expose some of that.
"We see the work that gets funded by the BLF around the country in many parts of the voluntary sector, often in deeply deprived areas, so we want to get to the bottom of the rumours and find out if they are true."
She said she was also deeply concerned about the possible impact of any cuts on the voluntary sector.