After a weekend of campaigning the big set-piece events returned to the election campaign, with Nicola Sturgeon launching the SNP’s manifesto in Edinburgh. Her party already form the Government in Scotland, but present polls put the SNP on course to significantly increase their number of representatives in Westminster. As a result political types across the UK tuned in to see what she had to say, and we too were eager to find out the SNP’s plans…
Whilst not matching Labour’s and the Green’s commitment to repealing the Lobbying Act, the SNP do pledge to exempt charities from their status as ‘non-party campaigners,’ which would have the same practical outcome, freeing charities to campaign on the issues affecting their beneficiaries. The SNP also join the other major parties (with the exception of UKIP) in calling for the UK to retain the commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid, but argue that aid funding should not be used in a way that undermines public services in developing countries.
Turning back to the UK, there is a commitment to supporting social enterprises through the expansion of the Social Entrepreneurs Funds, and a promise to see through the introduction of the Community Empowerment Bill, which is currently progressing through the Scottish Parliament. This seeks to increase community engagement, with a particular focus on transferring assets into the hands of communities and believes that giving communities greater control over their local environment can act as a positive way of increasing volunteering and social engagement.
However the SNP manifesto lacks the positive emphasis that other parties have placed on using charities to provide public services, perhaps partly because of the party’s political and philosophical outlook. Although the SNP does commit to using public contracts to “deliver clear community benefits,” and support for community initiatives, there is little practical information about what this might mean in practice. In addition, references to the charity sector in areas such as education and climate change focus more on practical support to help charities grow and develop rather than a cohesive role for voluntary organisations in delivering public services.
Commenting on the SNP’s plans, CAF’s Chief Executive John Low said:
“The SNP’s manifesto seeks to bring progressive change across the UK, but it fails to offer a clear and coherent vision for the role of charities in society.
The commitment to exempt charities from the Lobbying Act is welcome, and proposals to encourage the growth of social enterprise will also be warmly received.
However it is dissapointing that such little attention is given to the role of charities in delivering high-quality public services, and a failure to promote the importance of volunteering is also notable.
We need to see parties finding common ground in their commitment to a strong civil society to ensure that charities are at the heart of any future government.”
We’ve now had manifestos from all of the major parties. The reality is that the election remains on a knife-edge with no party on course for a majority, so all of the ideas we’ve heard so far will be up for discussion as parties begin to imagine what coalition or other agreements might look like. In the next few days we’ll be looking at the biggest ideas to emerge from the manifestos, and trying to get a sense about the ideas that have been the most popular within the charity sector. We’ll keep you updated with our results.