Sketch: Notes from the coalface

Indira Das-Gupta watches Edna Speed steal the show at the Tory conference

Indira Das-Gupta
Indira Das-Gupta

If Gordon Brown calls a General Election in the next few weeks, as many commentators are predicting he will, his wannabe nemesis, David Cameron, could do a lot worse than listen to the advice of the three voluntary sector figures who stole the show at his party's conference on Monday. 

Edna Speed, from Save the Family, a Chester-based Christian organisation that works with homeless families, Patrick Regan, founder of XLP, a charity that helps disadvantaged young people in London, and Debbie Scott, chief executive of employment charity Tomorrow's People, eschewed political pontificating in favour of plain speaking in Blackpool.

Speed, who was the first to answer questions thrown up by Chris Grayling, shadow work and pensions secretary, in a debate on social exclusion, couldn't have put it more bluntly.

"I have been working at the coalface of the sector for 30 years, and you do not have your policies right," she told Grayling. "You do not know the soil where the roots of these social problems lie."

Incredibly, the audience didn't jeer. In fact, Speed's views on the subject of social breakdown earned her a hearty round of applause.

Scott warned that getting the long-term unemployed back into work would take investment and could not and should not be done on the cheap.

Regan's parting shot was simple: "There are a lot of grass-roots organisations slogging their guts out, week after week - you need to listen to them. It's got to come from the grass roots up - not from the top down."

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