Labour consultation might include 'reasonable time off work' for trustees and volunteers

Gareth Thomas, shadow charities minister, says the party is exploring whether trustees should have a right to time off, like school governors and magistrates

Gareth Thomas MP
Gareth Thomas MP

The Labour Party will publish a consultation in the autumn on its policies for the third sector, which could include a right for volunteers and trustees to take "reasonable time off work" to fulfil their duties, according to Gareth Thomas, the shadow charities minister.

Thomas was speaking yesterday at a fringe event organised by the Charities Aid Foundation at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. He said the party was exploring the idea that trustees could get a right similar to those already available to school governors and magistrates, who are entitled to take reasonable time off under the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Thomas promised a community reinvestment act, which would include measures to make banks lend through third sector intermediaries in poor communities.

He also said the party wanted a combined strategy for the Charity Commission, Big Society Capital and the Big Lottery Fund to promote the sector.

"One criticism we would make is that there's no clear overarching strategy direction from the pivotal players in the third sector," said Thomas. "We want to see more done to encourage innovation and social resilience."

He promised more support for the sector's right to campaign.

"We've started to see government figures attacking charities in a clear and consistent way, whether that's over lobbying or chief executives' pay," he said. "It seems to be a different political environment from the one the Prime Minister, David Cameron, wanted."

Asked whether there was a misunderstanding of the role of charities in society, Thomas said the Charity Commission had made "a series of cack-handed interventions" that damaged trust in the sector.  

"I don't understand the strategy of the new chair and board," he said. "They've made a series of cack-handed interventions that I'm very disappointed in. I think government should provide some clarity of mission for the commission."

John Low, chief executive of CAF, told delegates at the same event that the commission had made "bizarre" statements on the subject of chief executives' pay, which had undermined the charity sector.

"We need to understand the objectives of the commission," he said.

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