Hot Seat: Steve Reed

The new shadow charities minister is best known for his time leading Lambeth council

Steve Reed: 'I'm excited by this role'
Steve Reed: 'I'm excited by this role'

It might have taken more than two weeks for Jeremy Corbyn to appoint a new shadow charities minister after his re-election as leader of the Labour Party, but when the announcement came it was welcomed by the voluntary sector.

Steve Reed, the Labour and Co-operative MP for Croydon North who was given the charities brief at the tail end of Corbyn's reshuffle, is best known as the former leader of Lambeth Council in south London, which under his direction laid claim to being the first "cooperative council".

The vision behind the idea was to give more power to communities over the public services they access, which created more opportunities for charities and other organisations to become involved in their provision.

Reed, who spent 18 years working in educational publishing before becoming an MP through a by-election in 2012, tells Third Sector that, though he has a lot to learn about the challenges facing the sector, his background gives him an understanding of one of the major issues it faces: local government cuts brought on by the government's austerity measures. "The funding cuts that are being put on local government are having a terrifying effect on third sector organisations," he says.

"There is an expectation that the voluntary sector can put up with this, but organisations are already finding it difficult with demand for their services rising."

He says he wants to draw on his experience at Lambeth to find new models of public service delivery that work for local people and community organisations. But in the short term, he says, he wants to spend time "in listening mode", understanding the issues and challenges facing the sector.

He has set up meetings with umbrella bodies including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the charity chief executives body Acevo, but also plans to get out and about and meet some front-line charities to better understand their challenges.

Reed, who was awarded the OBE in 2013 for services to local government, says he is good friends with Anna Turley, his predecessor in the role, and has already spent time speaking about the job with Lisa Nandy, who preceded Turley.

In common with Turley and Nandy, Reed resigned from a shadow ministerial position in June in protest at Corbyn's leadership of the party. But Reed, who had been shadow minister for local government, says his commitment to the Labour Party outweighs any devotion to a leader and was happy to take up a position in Corbyn's new-look team.

Reed says his credentials for the role include experience of setting up and running third sector organisations. He helped to establish three not-for-profit organisations, including the Young Lambeth Coop, a community benefit society that chooses and commissions services for young people in the borough.

He also has some experience of big charity, having worked for a short spell in the information service at Citizens Advice in the early 2000s.

His appointment was welcomed by John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation. "Since being elected to parliament, Steve has shown a ready willingness to work with charities, and through his time as leader of Lambeth Council he showed he clearly understands the contribution that charities can make to building stronger communities," Low says.

Asheem Singh, interim chief executive of Acevo, says Reed's credentials for the role are encouraging and he has shown in his Lambeth role an understanding of the evolving third sector landscape.

"Steve has always been a strong advocate of community-led public services and his appointment can help Labour's policy-makers work with civil society leaders to maximise social impact," says Singh.

For his part, Reed says he is looking forward to getting on with the job.

"I am excited about this role," he says. "I want to be available to the sector and be its champion and advocate.

"I'm looking forward to working with civil society to challenge a government that doesn't really trust, understand or value the community and voluntary sector."

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