A Labour government would reverse amendments made to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill and would revive ministerial commitment to the Compact, according to Lisa Nandy, the shadow minister for civil society.
Speaking to Third Sector before a meeting with members of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations today, Nandy said that her party would reverse the decision taken in the House of Commons last week that organisations should pay others parties’ costs if their intervention in judicial review cases is viewed as not having been of "significant assistance to the court" or when a large part of those representations are deemed unnecessary.
"We’re going to restore the ability of charities to challenge judicial review and make sure the changes that were made last week are overturned so they’re not deterred from intervening in cases because of excessive costs," said Nandy, citing the Howard League for Penal Reform’s success in overturning the ban on sending books to prisoners as an example of how charities use judicial review to get "poor decisions overturned".
Nandy, who will share Labour’s manifesto pledges for the charity sector at the NCVO event, said the party would also commit to reviving at a national level the Compact, the voluntary agreement that outlines how the public and voluntary sectors should behave towards each other, which was introduced under the last Labour government.
She said Labour had explored giving the Compact more statutory force during its consultation with the sector over the summer, but this was considered less important than having senior government ministers with a strong commitment to charities.
"I’m acutely aware from having watched successive ministers trying to get a louder voice for charities that much of what affects charities doesn’t sit within the Cabinet Office," she said. "We need to formalise that relationship between the government and the sector within different government departments. The Compact is our way of doing that."
Nandy said Labour would, if elected, overturn what she called unnecessary gagging clauses in public contracts. "A lot of whistleblowers have had really negative experiences," she said. "We found with our consultation that gagging clauses constitute a particularly local issue, not just a national one."
At the NCVO event, Nandy will say that her party will do more to encourage volunteering, including introducing a kite mark for businesses that give their employees the right to request time off for volunteering.
It will also work to encourage secondments between the civil service and the voluntary sector because both sides, she will say, would benefit from the measure.
She told Third Sector that she would talk to NCVO members about what a Labour alternative to the "pernicious, confusing and unnecessary" lobbying act – Labour is already committed to repealing the legislation – would look like for charities.
Earlier this year, the party commissioned the Labour peer Baroness Sherlock, former chief executive of the Refugee Council, to lead a review of the act.
Nandy, whose first child is due in April, will also speak at the meeting about a new plan to devolve much more power to city and county regions so that the Jobcentre Plus Work Programme can be commissioned at a local level.
She told Third Sector this would help move away from the current situation in which at least half of public contracts go to big private providers, which subcontract to charities or social enterprises. "In some areas of the country, including my constituency of Wigan, the Work Programme was literally less effective than doing nothing," she said.