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We’re off to party conferences—here’s why

By Dan Corry 24 September 2015

You will find NPC with an official presence at the two main political party conferences for the first time this year.

Our aim is to help transform the charity and not-for-profit sector so that it delivers more impact. We do this in lots of ways, including working as a consultancy to many charities and charitable funders. But we know that alone is not enough for us to achieve our ambitious aims. So in recent years we’ve been proud to stake our claim as a think tank—the think tank for the charity sector—getting our word out in a variety of ways to policy-makers and officials in the areas where we’ve developed expertise and have something to say, such as commissioning, healthsocial investment and access to data. Conference season is a natural place for us to extend our influence further.

The political world is in a bit of a whirl. The election in May handed us a result that none of the pundits predicted, beside a few rare sages: a Conservative majority, with a mandate to govern on their own for the first time in nearly two decades. Then earlier this month Labour elected a new leader, with members plumping for a contender whose odds to win had started out at 200-1.

At the sector level, we’ve got both the old and the new: Rob Wilson retained his place as Minister for Civil Society at the Cabinet Office, with Anna Turley as the new Labour shadow (unveiled this week after a spot of confusion). It’s a crucial moment to be thinking about charities and civil society. There are major policy decisions on the horizon.

Are charities expected to step in and fill the spaces where the state retreats—and if that’s through contracting, then how can we make sure those contracts are designed so that charities have a chance to compete? It’s certainly been a tough environment for the voluntary sector so far, even if bigger charities seem to be getting better at bidding for and delivering these sorts of services.

How do philanthropists feel about all this? Their largesse is impressive, but it would be daft to assume that donors big and small aren’t sometimes wary of bankrolling work which has traditionally fallen to the state.

One big question faces the substantial numbers of charities who work on health. The Coalition government made some big noises about bringing more health charities into the mix for local services, with all their expertise and dedication. But did this ever happen? From our analysis, using data supplied by the BMJ, the reality has so far fallen short of the promise.

And—the sort of point you’d expect NPC to make at every opportunity, including at party conferences—will charities deliver impact where it matters? The good intentions and passion that characterise most of the sector tells some, but not all, of the story. If the future includes closer relationships between the government and charities, it’s right to know that those organisations are doing a great job for the people who need them.

So no surprise that it all comes back to impact in the end. That’s how it should be, and is what I’ll be talking about this conference season.

Dan Corry is speaking at two free fringe events hosted by our partners ACEVO: