The Conservative Party has pledged to continue building a big society by guaranteeing all teenagers places on the National Citizen Service, scaling up the use of social impact bonds and payment by results, and giving employees three days a year volunteering leave.
These measures are all included in the party’s 83-page manifesto, launched this morning with seven sections, including "an economic plan to help you and your family", "jobs for all", "keeping our country secure" and "the best schools and hospitals for you and your family". This last part contains five sub-sections, one of which is "helping you build the big society".
This sub-section gives three headline commitments to continuing the party’s vision for a big society, which Prime Minister David Cameron first announced as opposition leader in 2009. They are: guaranteeing every teenager a place on the National Citizen Service, the coalition-created volunteering programme for 15 to 17-year-olds, "so it becomes a rite of passage for young people"; promoting "equal treatment and equal opportunity for all in a society proud of its tolerance and diversity"; and its plan, announced last week, to give all those who work for large companies and the public sector a new workplace entitlement to volunteering leave for three days a year, on full pay.
"The big society is a vision of a more engaged nation, one in which we take more responsibility for ourselves and our neighbours; communities working together, not depending on remote and impersonal bureaucracies," the manifesto says.
It says the current government has overseen increased levels of volunteering and charitable donations, allowed parents’ groups and charities to run free schools and enabled social enterprises to help people into jobs through the Work Programme.
"We have also pioneered the use of social impact bonds and payment by results, and we will look to scale these up in the future, focusing on youth unemployment, mental health and homelessness," the manifesto says.
A Conservative government would also encourage volunteering and "give more people the power and support to run a school, start their own social enterprise and take over their own local parks, landmarks and pubs". The section on the big society concludes by saying the government would continue to support vulnerable people through measures such as capping payday lending and tougher regulation of gambling, and that it would pardon people with historical criminal convictions for homosexuality.
It makes no other direct mention of the role of charities in delivering contracts for public services, but promises to improve contracting, to increase the proportion of government contracts held by small and medium-sized enterprises to a third and to "promote localism by allowing councils to keep a higher proportion of the business rates revenue that is generated in their area".
Other commitments in the manifesto involving charities and the voluntary sector include: working with charities to deliver a new strategy recommended by NHS England’s cancer taskforce, doubling the Aid Match scheme, which matches donations to charity from the aid budget, continuing support for roof repairs at churches and other places of worship, investment in grass-roots sport and the implementation of Lord Ashcroft’s 2014 review of services for armed service leavers, which called for greater cooperation, collaboration and consolidation in the armed forces charity sector.
The manifesto’s single reference to the lobbying act says: "We addressed public concern about the influence of money on politics, with a law that strengthened rules governing non-party campaigning and established a register of consultant lobbyists."