Slim pickings for third sector in party manifestos

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​TFN analyses the parties' general election manifestos

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30th May 2017 by Graham Martin 2 Comments

Scotland’s major parties have published their manifestos for the 2017 general election – and a TFN analysis has revealed slim pickings for the country’s third sector.

In a snap poll framed by Brexit and the possibility of Indyref2, much of the public discourse has been dominated by those twin poles.

But even at the level of detail provided by the parties’ policy pledges, the third sector – a significant employer, which has a net worth of around £5billion and is increasingly important in the delivery and maintenance of vital public services – barely merits a mention.

Scotland’s five main parties have published their manifestos – the SNP, Labour, the Scottish Conservatives, the Scottish Green Party and the Scotish Liberal Democrats.

Searching the documents using the terms “charities” and “third sector” proved illuminating – or not, as the case might be.

Perhaps surprisingly, it was the Tories who mentioned Scotland’s voluntary sector most – with charities appearing just once in the SNP’s pledges and not at all in Labour’s or that of the Greens, who published a relatively brief portfolio of asks, reflecting their limited involvement in GE17, where they are only standing in three targeted seats.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats, who launched their manifest of on Wednesday, gives the third sector the briefest mention – saying they would ensure “charities and social enterprises can access the support and finance they need to strengthen their governance and deliver innovative, sustainable solutions to challenges in their communities”.

Ominously, they also pledge to  “strengthen and expand the lobbying register”.

The attention received from the Scots Tories – maybe not traditional friends of the third sector – is relatively flattering.

Its manifesto says the “third sector should be at the heart of inclusive economic growth” and the party, always business-friendly, goes on to praise the role of social enterprises in tackling health inequalities.

It states: “Charities and other voluntary sector bodies often understand local communities better and [this is] why their input into policymaking is so essential.”

Specifically, the Conservative Party says it will “establish schemes" (no details though) to help charities and faith groups provide “housing and other assistance” for refugees.

Equally lacking in detail is the promise to involve the third sector in a “truly national infrastructure project” which will deliver energy efficiency measures and “create thousands of jobs”. Charities are also to be involved in the creation of a new digital charter aimed at both making it easier for businesses to get online and to make the internet safer. 

Most intriguingly, there's a section on reoffending which aims to put light blue water between old and new Conservative policies: long gone is the short, sharp shock, instead we have the realisation that “rehabilitation must begin before release and prisons therefore cannot simply house prisoners.”

The manifesto states: “Private and voluntary organisations should be invited to develop workshops, provide skills development and employment opportunities in addition to broader education programmes within prison walls, which can then be transferrable to better opportunities after release.”

Now comes the tricky part – the adoption of a payment by results ethos, with the voluntary sector receiving payment linked to how its programmes manage to reduce offending.

Whatever is to be made of these pledges, they are in abundance compared to the rest of the parties.

The SNP’s main third sector sell is its commitment to push for the abolition of parts of the Lobbying Act that effectively gag charities and campaign groups.

And that’s it – though in at least recognising the existence of the third sector, it goes one better than the Scottish Labour Party.

It will be argued, with justification, that this paucity is down to the fact that the third sector in Scotland mostly operates on devolved terrain. This is a Westminster election, so campaigning priorities are different.

This is true – and to its credit, the Labour Party nationally has said it will abolish the Lobbying Act in its entirety, something it will, unlike the SNP, be able to do if it wins power.

And there are undoubtedly SNP and Labour policies which will sit well with Scotland’s third sector.

The Nationalists’ pledge to combat austerity by investing £118 billion in UK public services, and pledges to increase the minimum wage to £10 an hour, for example.

Then there’s the commitment in Labour’s economy-heavy manifesto to increase the tax commitments of the rich and big business.

But there’s a feeling that the third sector is largely invisible to Scottish Labour and the SNP and that at least the Conservatives have made a bit of effort.

And in a weird election, we’re truly through the looking glass when we’re compelled to demand of social democratic parties: if the Tories can do it, why can’t you?

Read the SNP manifesto here, the Scottish Labour Party manifesto here, Scottish Conservative Party manifesto here and the Scottish Green Party manifesto here and the Scottish Liberal Democrat manifesto here.

31st May 2017 by RealFreedom

Grudging piece by SCVO, maybe not traditional friends of the third sector.

2nd June 2017 by Jack

I get the impression Graham doesn't fully understand where the third sector evolved from.