Labour would increase grant funding to charities, allow trustees to take time off work and give local communities greater control over decisions, according to the party’s long-awaited civil society strategy.
The strategy document was first mooted six years ago under former shadow charities minister Gareth Thomas, but never materialised.
However, in the document From Paternalism to Participation, published today, Labour says its vision for civil society sits alongside its plans to decentralise public ownership and investment and democratise the economy.
"We want to deepen democracy and transfer real power to the people of this country so they can take control of the decisions that affect them," says the document.
It pledges to shake-up the way that public services are contracted, arguing that many smaller charities are "squeezed out" under the existing arrangements.
It adds that Labour would "increase grant funding for smaller projects to ensure smaller charities can benefit" and take a new approach to collaborative decision-making in public procurement.
A number of sector bodies, led by the Directory of Social Change, have lobbied for more statutory services to return to offering grants. Data from DSC’s Grants for Good campaign shows that grants from the public sector declined by more than 60 per cent between 2004 and 2015 and were expected to fall further in subsequent years.
In the strategy document, Labour pledges to reverse the decline in the number of community spaces. The document says the Conservative government has closed down 400 day centres, 500 public libraries, 600 youth centres and 1,000 children’s centres since it took power in 2010.
But Labour pledges to create a new "right to space" that would "make sure communities have places to meet" and create a Community Innovation Fund that would use funds from dormant assets and philanthropic giving to provide money for communities to run activities and projects.
Charity trustees would also receive equal status in law to that of school governors and councillors, allowing them to take time off to carry out their duties, the document says. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has been calling for reforms to employment law to allow trustees to take unpaid time off to carry out their roles.
The document reiterates Labour’s commitment to repeal the controversial lobbying act, which the sector has argued stifles its ability to campaign freely.
It says instead that the act would be replaced with a Community Empowerment Charter that encourages civil society organisations to campaign.
"It will recognise the important role charities and campaign organisations have to play in public decision-making and will ban anti-advocacy ‘gagging clauses’ in government contracts and grants," the document says.
It adds that Labour would review the roles of ministers across government because "the interests of civil society are often absent when decisions are taken".
A Charities Leadership Programme would also be created under Labour to support future leaders from more diverse backgrounds and tackle race and gender pay gaps.
Other measures contained in the document include using digital platforms to allow the public to participate in the decision-making process and conducting a review of social investment and the role of Big Society Capital to ensure money is reaching the poorest communities.
Steve Reed MP, the shadow minister for civil society, said in a statement: "The Conservatives have undermined and underfunded Britain’s civil society for the past nine years. But Labour believes charities and community organisations have a critical role to play in bringing our country back together again.
"Labour will remove the gag that stops charities from speaking out. We will shift more power into communities by strengthening community organisations and creating a new right to space for community activities. And we will encourage more use of digital platforms to allow people to take part in decisions that affect them."