Election '05: Scant attention for charity sector

The voluntary sector received only passing references in the election manifestoes published last week, but all three main parties recognised the role of voluntary organisations in the delivery of public services.

Labour promised to reintroduce the Charities Bill, but did not commit itself to a proposal, trailed in The Guardian, to give council tax rebates to volunteers.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats included plans for reforming the National Lottery. The Tories are expected to issue a separate mini-manifesto on the voluntary sector shortly.

Labour and the LibDems both recognised the role of social enterprises in the provision of key local services, which was welcomed by the Social Enterprise Coalition.

LABOUR

In a chapter on democracy and citizen empowerment, the party offered to give communities a chance to assume greater responsibility and ownership of community assets such as village halls, community centres and recreational facilities.

It recognised the role social enterprises and co-operatives play in the provision of services and said a framework of incentives and rewards would be set up "to recognise the special people in every community whose voluntary efforts transform the lives of others".

This would add to the creation of a national framework for youth volunteering, with an investment over the next three years of up to £100m and matched funding from business, the voluntary sector and the lottery.

Criticised by the Conservatives on the way it deals with the National Lottery, Labour promised the launch by the end of the year of a consultation on how proceeds for good causes are spent after the new lottery licence is awarded in 2009.

Voluntary organisations would be given the opportunity to work with the private and public sectors within a National Sport Foundation, designed to invest in grass-roots sporting facilities.

Labour said charities in the health sector would have more opportunity to run services as part of the NHS as its capacity expands. "We will continue to encourage innovation and reform through the use of the independent sector to add capacity to, and drive contestability within, the NHS," said the manifesto.

Labour reiterated its plan to offer voluntary bodies more opportunity to run services for offenders as part of the reform of prison and probation services (Third Sector, 16 March), and to provide job-seeking services.

CONSERVATIVES

The party said carers would receive strong support. "We will boost respite care for carers and give them more choice and information about support available," said the party's manifesto.

Without mentioning any specific measures, the Tories said they would support voluntary bodies and youth clubs that contribute to crime and drug prevention.

They had earlier issued a separate manifesto on arts and heritage in which they pledged to abolish the Big Lottery Fund (Third Sector, 30 March) and to ensure the four good causes each receive 25 per cent of lottery funding after the current licence expires in 2009. This would provide more than £4bn over seven years, according to their figures.

The Conservatives criticised "political interference" with the lottery, which they said had lost arts and heritage £1.5bn in funding since 1998. "Public confidence in the lottery has been undermined by politically correct grant awards and Labour's misuse of lottery funds," said the manifesto.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Like Labour, the Liberal Democrats said social enterprises should play a greater role in service delivery. The party's manifesto focused on empowering local communities through services provided by social enterprises.

"It makes no sense that local decisions are taken by distant bureaucrats or politicians who don't know local services," said the manifesto. "It's time to trust local communities to take their own decisions again."

The Liberal Democrats would restore the independence of the National Lottery, and would require the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to separate government spending from independent lottery spending in annual reports.

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