Swindon was the venue for the launch of the Conservative Party’s manifesto this morning. After the audience heard from a number of members of his Cabinet, David Cameron took to the stage to set out his vision for the future of the country, including the rekindling of the Big Society agenda.
The Big Society was of course the foundation of the Conservative Party’s manifesto at the last election, and a number of the policies announced by Cameron today build upon those ideas. That includes a commitment to widening access to the National Citizens Service, which is an important step in ensuring that future generations grow up with a better understanding of society and a commitment to good causes. This is aided by a commitment to supporting the Step Up To Serve campaign, matching Labour’s commitment yesterday, and suggesting that there is a developing consensus on the need to engage young people in social action.
In addition, the manifesto unsurprisingly includes plans announced last week to make volunteering for three days a year a workplace entitlement for people working in large companies and the public sector. We welcomed this proposal last week, and believe that it serves to unlock the dedication of thousands of volunteers across the UK. Cameron also commits his party to taking new steps to encourage volunteering, although it is as of yet unclear what the detail of that policy is.
The Conservatives manifesto is positive about the role of charities in delivering with public services, seeing a visible contribution for the sector in areas including health and cyber-crime, as well as building on the use of the voluntary sector in providing schemes such as the Work Programme. Whether charities would view their involvement in the Work Programme as positively as Cameron does is a question for another day, but the Conservatives do seem to be comfortable with the idea of charities as public service providers, also stressing a future role for social impact bonds and payment-by-results models.
Other commitments include keeping the pledge to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid, in addition to the doubling of the Aid Match scheme which matches donations to charities from the aid budget. Plans also would see the trebling of the International Citizen Service to get more young Brits volunteering abroad.
Speaking after seeing the Conservative manifesto John Low, Chief Executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said:
“I’m delighted that the Conservatives have not dropped their commitment to helping create a Big Society. What we now need is a coherent set of policies that will ensure that individuals and voluntary organisations are able to take up this challenge.
“Paid time off for volunteering and expanded support for all young people to get involved with good causes are positive and could be very effective if implemented fully.
“Charities should not simply be a replacement for essential services in times of austerity. It is right that we look for better and more effective ways of opening public services to delivery by charities, which are familiar with the needs of the people they serve. The Work Programme signalled the enthusiasm of the Government to involve charities, but we can’t hold it up as an exemplar and must learn from the many problems faced by charities that work in this area.”
We’ve now reviewed the manifestos for the two (probable) biggest parties. Later today we’ll bring you some of the highlights from the Green Party’s launch, with the Lib Dems and UKIP set to follow later in the week.