Charities should embrace the positives of Brexit and use it as an opportunity to focus on some of the sector’s biggest objectives, according to Matthew Patten, chief executive of the Mayor’s Fund for London.
Speaking as part of a panel session yesterday at the chief executives body Acevo’s annual conference about the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, Patten said Brexit offered an opportunity to reconsider the role of civil society, its work with both central and local government and how to address some of society’s biggest issues, such as social cohesion.
"Brexit actually offers us as a sector an extraordinary amount of opportunity," Patten said.
"I think the result of Brexit – and I’d say the result of Trump as well, although in slightly different ways – has absolutely shone a spotlight on a whole range of issues we as a sector have been jumping up and down about for years.
"People have not been listening, but now they definitely are. It has taken those issues and has put them right at the top of the political agenda."
He said: "I am definitely an optimist rather than a pessimist. I think we need to try to focus on the positive side of things and lead out of that."
Patten also said the sector had to promote itself more effectively, including by highlighting the important role it plays in society.
"What would happen if we withdrew our labour?" he said. "Now we would never do that, because the people who would be impacted on are the people we really care about. But nevertheless I think we do need to think about some kind of positive action as a sector that really highlights what we can do in a joined up way."
Also on the panel, Vicky McDermott, chief executive of the disability charity the Papworth Trust, criticised the Charity Commission for its stance on charities’ campaigning prior to the EU referendum.
While she warned that charities needed to avoid being seen as party political, charities needed to be able present the views of their beneficiaries to the government.
"We absolutely shouldn’t be party political, and there is a significant issue I think about the impression of the political leaning of this sector," McDermott said.
"But those of us that work in the sector work in supporting people around their health, their employment and their environment. There can be nothing more political than these issues, so let’s not kid ourselves and let’s not allow ourselves to be kidded by the Charity Commission that we can work in an apolitical way.
"We can absolutely work in a way that is not about party politics, but these issues are front of mind for the people we support."