Tonight is the “manVcam” rally in on Albert Square in Manchester. Some local voluntary and community groups have been wondering about whether it’s appropriate to go along, so here's my take on it.
The rally’s aim is to challenge the Government’s reduction of the amount of money which is given to Manchester City Council to provide public services. It’s been heavily trailed in the press with a list of celebrity speakers lined up to take part: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/shaun-ryder-manvcam-protest-cuts-8548982
Unsurprisingly, in the long-run up to the General Election, this issue is now highly Political (note the capital “P”) and so charities have to be careful not to get drawn into the party politics of this. There are laws against that – and I’m not just talking about the Lobbying and Transparency Act. Charities are not allowed, by law, to get involved in party politics. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t campaign. Along with many others in the voluntary sector, I was particularly appalled by the remarks of the previous Minister for Civil Society that charities should “stick to their knitting” and “not get involved in politics”- it is the duty of voluntary and community groups to tell others what they see happening in communities as well as trying to do something to help.
This manVcam rally has, it seems, been organised by Manchester Councillors. That’s very welcome: at the Voluntary Sector Assembly event in December the voluntary sector said that they wanted to the Council to mount a more forceful challenge to the Government over the funding allocation for Manchester which has triggered the cuts which are being consulted on at the moment. However, as Manchester Councillors are entirely from one party (bar one independent), does that mean by definition manVcam is party political? To some extent of course it is - and it’s aimed squarely at the Prime Minister. But it’s a public rally – it’s open to anyone to come along and support the message, not necessarily the party in question. All the promotion so far has made it clear this is about Manchester first and foremost. And if you can’t challenge the Prime Minister without being accused of being party political, what does that say about our idea of democracy?
So, the question is should local voluntary groups get involved in this rally or not?
My view is yes, we should.
To explain why, I’ll repeat a few things I’ve said many times before in this blog and in meetings and conversations with charities, officers and elected members over the years:
- A rubbish policy is a rubbish policy. It doesn’t matter which party comes up with it (they all do at some point): we should always point out rubbish policy. To put it in charity terms, it doesn’t matter what organisation you represent, if I have a reasonable view that your policy or decisions are going to be to the detriment of the beneficiaries of the charity I work for, I have not just a duty but a responsibility to tell you about it (1). That applies whether you’re a politician, a private company or, come to that, another charity. If a policy is going to affect your charity’s mission, you are entitled and, I would say, expected to say so. (Of course, you need to consider carefully the most effective and appropriate way to do it.)
- Fundamentally, I simply cannot see how the cuts to the Central Government funding allocation for Manchester can possibly be described as “fair”. In the last few years, I’ve seen newspaper articles, interviews and even Q&A sessions at conferences where ministers have been challenged on the budget allocations to local Government. All the evidence seems to point to particularly deprived areas (especially cities in the North) facing huge reductions in their allocation. The answer to this is always that it is "fair" and something about “spending power” and the amount of public spending per head in Manchester being comparable to other areas. To me, and I suspect to many others, that answer doesn’t make much sense – we end up with all kinds of technobabble arguments over statistics and figures: the reality people see is a city like Manchester having to cut millions of pounds out of its Council budget while still faced with some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country any more affluent areas receiving less cuts or in some cases an increase in funding. Again, I just cannot see how it is “fair”.
So I believe I have a responsibility to stand up and say that I think the cuts to Manchester’s public sector budget are wrong, unfair and will hurt many people who are already struggling. I can prove that many other voluntary and community groups in Manchester hold the same view. We’ve had the arguments with Councillors about where the savings could and should be found but ultimately, you can’t take millions of pounds out of Manchester’s budget without it hitting services which people need.
See you on Albert Square. Bring your phone. Knowing Manchester, it’s probably also good idea to bring an umbrella.
(1) For the record, Macc’s main charitable object is “the promotion of any charitable purposes” with other more specific objects about increasing wellbeing and promoting equality – you can read our governing document here http://www.macc.org.uk/content/governance