Political news: NCVO Political Conference - Blairite MP signalsmore conservative approach

The argument that more service delivery by charities amounts to the voluntary sector equivalent of privatisation was rejected by a senior Labour MP at the NCVO political conference last week.

Tom Levitt, chairman of the all-party Parliamentary group on charities and the voluntary sector, said Labour wanted to see non-profit groups "adding to but not replacing the statutory sector". Levitt, who is also Parliamentary private secretary to International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, was speaking in a personal capacity. But the comments from a Blairite backbencher could signal a more conservative approach from Labour than implied by Alan Milburn's recent feting of the sector.

Milburn told an Acevo conference in May that the voluntary sector should be as integral to carrying out public services as the state sector in Labour's third term. The chief executives' body has itself suggested that charities could "replace the state".

But Levitt cautioned: "We are not talking about the replacement of public services but enhancing services." He also admitted that "despite six years of the Compact, voluntary organisations and councils still view each other with suspicion".

Conservative spokeswoman on civil society Jacqui Lait told delegates she feared the voluntary and community sector could be used to deliver government policies. "The state provides 37 per cent of the sector's income," she said. "The key is to expand giving so that the percentage government gives is reduced."

Neal Lawson, a former adviser to Chancellor Gordon Brown, said Labour was "confused about citizenship" and that confusion would continue as long as Tony Blair was leader.

He said the party had inverted traditional social democracy by accepting the demands of the global economy rather than seeking to make people the masters of market forces. As a result Labour was confused in its attitude to voluntary organisations.

"They have a problem with organisations based on membership, participation and seeking consensus," he said. "Labour fears the space in which people discuss their own futures."

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