Members of the Lords debated the role of the voluntary sector and social enterprise yesterday (Thursday 21 June)
Baroness Scott of Needham Market (Liberal Democrat), a former president of the Liberal Democrats, tabled the debate. Declaring a non-pecuniary interest as chair of the England Volunteering Development Council, she explained: 'We have come to use the expression "third sector" to embrace a whole gamut of activities from the voluntary sector: social enterprise, mutuals, co-operatives, community interest companies and a host of arrangements which no longer fall into the neat, old fashioned public/private split.'
Lord Prescott (Labour), former deputy prime minister, voiced concerns about the voluntary sector. He said: 'I wish to draw attention to the dangers that are beginning to develop as voluntary labour is brought into the commercial sector and is governed by contract, not community feeling, and profit.'
Baroness Barker (Liberal Democrat), declared an interest as owner of a third sector business consultancy and as an unpaid worker for the Giving Lab. She agreed with Lord Prescott and said: 'there needs to be a great deal of clarity about terminology as fuzziness leaves room for individuals to be exploited'. She also argued for the digitisation of gift aid and said it was 'an extremely important step forward for social enterprises and particularly for charities in the future'.
Lord Rana (Crossbench) spoke of the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland. He said: 'The voluntary sector makes a proportionately greater contribution in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK.' He gave possible reasons for this including poverty and a weak private sector. He argued: 'With less government funding available, only those voluntary and community organisations that can exploit opportunities to generate revenue and operate in an increasingly businesslike and innovative manner will survive.'
Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat) responded on behalf of the government. He explained that the government will undertake a social economy review looking at how social enterprises operate and will carry out a review of the Charities Act later this year. He concluded: 'We have learned that top-down government is not good for civil society. We have also learned that increasing government expenditure on welfare runs up against strong resistance to paying high levels of taxation.'
Members interested in and supportive of the voluntary sector and social enterprises, spoke in the debate. Other speakers included:
- Baroness Benjamin (Liberal Democrat), vice president of children's charity Barnardos
- Lord Shipley (Liberal Democrat), North-East chairman for youth charity the Prince's Trust
- Lord Stone of Blackheath (Labour), trustee for Prism a charity that encourages tax effective charitable giving
- Baroness Thornton (Labour/Co-operative), adviser to social enterprise sports and leisure services trade organisation Sporta and senior associate of Social Business International which promotes social enterprises in the UK and Europe.