Hung parliament a challenge and an opportunity, sector concludes

Directory of Social Change, Acevo and Navca give their views on the uncertain political situation, but the NCVO declines to comment

A hung parliament offers the voluntary sector both challenges and opportunities, according to sector umbrella organisations.

Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, said a lack of clear leadership could be a recipe for gridlock and delay.

"It will make it difficult to re-evaluate or scrap policies that are failing," she said. "The lack of consensus means money will continue to go to things that are not needed and will not be redirected to things that really are."

Allcock Tyler warned that continuing gridlock might mean significant delays to funding agreements up for review or renewal in 2011. But there might, she said, be more opportunities to influence the legislative agenda.

"The hung parliament could give an airing to voices and ideas that have been excluded from political debate in the past - perhaps via smaller members of any coalition government," she said.

Ralph Michell, head of policy at Acevo, said the hung parliament would test the lobbying skills of charity chief executives to the limit.

"It makes for an incredibly complicated world they will have to influence," he said. "We have been used to a strong and constant executive and a weak parliament. Now we have a more volatile political environment and there are a whole group of stakeholders that matter a lot more than before. All political parties and all MPs will have the potential to hold the balance of power."

But he agreed that the hung parliament would also offer new opportunities for charities to influence policy.

Kevin Curley, chief executive of local umbrella body Navca, said the hung parliament would not make it more complicated to convince a new government of the need to protect local voluntary action because all three main parties were already convinced.

"Local groups that use lots of volunteers and community activists represent good value for money," he said. "We need to sustain funding for community groups during the coming cuts if we aren't to see the kind of breakdown in community cohesion that we have seen in Greece."

Curley said the challenge was for the cross-party consensus on the importance of community groups to be understood at local level. "We need strong leadership from central government to set the tone so councils and NHS trusts understand the price they will pay if they cut funding of voluntary action," he said.

Bill Garland, deputy chief executive of volunteering charity CSV, said charities with well-researched proposals could become very influential if coalition partners were struggling to agree on policy, because the politicians might find it easier to agree to a well-evidenced proposal from a charity.

The NCVO declined to comment until the political situation became clearer.

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