"David Cameron's pledges on the third sector show he's prepared to say anything to win support," said third sector minister Phil Hope. "Cameron's real agenda is about delivering services more cheaply by placing the burden on the voluntary sector."
Hope said the Tories had not committed to match government funding for the third sector. "Cameron's plan for £10bn of tax cuts would put at risk all Labour's extra support for charities," he said.
Stephen Bubb, head of chief executives' body Acevo, praised the Conservatives' proposal that charities should be able to make a profit from public service delivery contracts (Third Sector Online, 3 May). "We look forward to this policy being implemented by Tory local authorities," he said.
Megan Pacey, director of policy and campaigns at the Institute of Fundraising, said it was encouraged that the Conservatives had acknowledged the bureaucratic burden of administering Gift Aid. The institute would welcome an opportunity to discuss its proposal of a Gift Aid register with Tory policy-makers, she said.
The NCVO welcomed the green paper's commitments to multi-year strategic funding and contracts that focused on the desired outcome rather than the process.
But it was equivocal about plans to replace the Big Lottery Fund with a Voluntary Action Lottery Fund, entirely independent from government. "We welcome the way the Big Lottery Fund works in partnership with the sector in developing its programmes and priorities," it said. "We would want to look closely at any proposals for a new funder."
John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said he welcomed the widening political debate. "That the major parties increasingly see the voluntary sector as a political battleground shows that they are beginning to recognise the importance charities have to society throughout the UK," he said.
Other Conservative proposals included replacing the Office of the Third Sector with an 'Office for Civil Society', backed by a select committee of MPs on civil society; giving central government employees time off to volunteer; a "one-stop funding portal" for statutory grants, and an "improved version of the Compact".
Introducing the green paper, Tory leader David Cameron said he wanted a transformation in the role of community groups, social enterprises and the voluntary sector in helping to build a stronger society. "That is why one of the most important ambitions of the next Conservative government will be to expand the role and the influence of charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations in our society," he said. "They are the engines of future social progress."
Hope responded: "The Tories would prefer the third sector to stay small, silent and grateful while Labour is building it into a strong and powerful force for social change. The Tories say they'll get behind the voluntary sector. But that's only so they can slope off, leaving the sector without the funding and support it needs to thrive."