Headlines: November 23rd, 2004

A gathering of more than a hundred charity lobbyists and campaigners will be told today that the voluntary sector had a vital role to play in the run up to the next General Election. They will hear the message at the Political Conference of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which coincides with the Queen’s Speech.The same meeting will also hear a call to make the most of Britain’s Presidency of the European Union, which is due to begin next July, as an opportunity to get their issues onto the EU agenda.

The NCVO Chief Executive, Stuart Etherington says today’s conference is the last chance many voluntary organizations will get to respond to the consultation on the organisation’s draft Election Manifesto. It has been designed to gain support from parliamentary candidates and influence the policies of political parties and the next government. Mr. Etherington will use the event to repeat calls for the next government to have a much broader agenda for charities and voluntary bodies than just public service delivery. He wants politicians to recognise that many charities, particularly small local organisations, play an essential role in communities throughout the country.

He will tell delegates, “Just because charities cannot and should not be party political does not mean they do not play a vital role in General Elections. It is when policies are being formed and elections fought that voluntary sector campaigners can secure commitments from politicians that have the potential to really improve peoples lives.”

NCVO says that as the conference falls on the same day as the Queen’s Speech, it will give the voluntary sector the opportunity to respond to the anticipated inclusion of both the Charities Bill and the Lottery Bill.

Delegates will also have the chance to attend a seminar where they will be urged to take advantage of Britain’s forthcoming EU Presidency to promote their issues. Bodies campaigning in fields such as the environment, disability and poverty, human rights and humanitarian aid, are already active in Brussels but Victoria Phillips, EU Institutions Manager at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds will say that the Presidency is a chance for the UK voluntary sector in general to promote its vision for EU policies.