By Nicole Sykes, Director of Policy and Communications and Jack Larkham, Senior Research and Policy Analyst 

This morning, Sir Keir Starmer’s new Cabinet members will take their seats around the famous green table in Number 10. Five out of six of them will be doing so for the first time in their lives. 

So if not time at the very top of government, what experience does the new Cabinet bring with them? And what clues might that give to how they might govern?

New Pro Bono Economics (PBE) analysis of the Cabinet’s pre-parliamentary CVs shows that the Prime Minister has assembled a group of Ministers who have a broad and balanced mix of backgrounds. Members have had jobs across all sectors of the economy, and that experience is distributed relatively evenly. With eleven members having worked within it, experience in the private sector is the strongest, while union experience is the lowest at three. But the public, local government and charity sectors all have seven or eight Cabinet members who have been employed within them. As Figure 1 shows, this relatively even distribution stands in stark contrast to the previous Cabinet, where the number of Cabinet members with private sector experience was more than twice that of the next sector.

Experience in the charity sector has accelerated the most dramatically of all with this new Cabinet. Starmer has appointed eight Cabinet members who have previously worked within the charity sector. That is a quadrupling of charity experience at the top of government.

As Figure 2 shows, the last and only time that many Cabinet members had charity sector experience was during Gordon Brown’s premiership. Nevertheless, this new Cabinet has a greater depth and breadth of charity experience than Brown’s did. From Liz Kendall’s years at the Maternity Alliance, a charity with £500,000 income in its final year, to Lisa Nandy’s time at the multi-million pound Centrepoint and the Children’s Society, Cabinet members have worked in charities large and small. Like Nandy, others have spent significant amounts of their earlier careers working in multiple charities, such as Wes Streeting who was employed by the Helena Kennedy Foundation and Stonewall. Particularly notable for advocates of a stronger sector overall is the new Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Peter Kyle, who spent five years as the deputy chief executive of the sector membership body ACEVO.

That level of substantive employment was not present among Brown’s appointees. Further bolstered by having four former civil society Ministers or Shadows among its ranks (Baroness Smith, Ed Miliband, Lisa Nandy and Steve Reed), it makes Starmer’s new Cabinet one with the strongest charity sector background in modern history.

Will that impact how the new government regards the charity sector? As the closest comparator, Brown’s government might hold some clues as to whether and how Cabinet Members translated their pre-parliamentary lives into action as Ministers. Harriet Harman, who worked for Liberty for four years prior to her election, certainly felt that it made a difference; she spoke passionately to PBE about the importance of the sector to all that the governments she served in did. There were a number of charity-friendly steps that were implemented and set into motion during Brown’s time in Number 10, ranging from the Grassroots Grants initiative for Community Foundations to the founding of the National Citizens Service.

But the brutal grip that the financial crisis exerted on Brown’s government meant that many areas of sector policy fell by the wayside, and indeed 2008 heralded the start of enormous cuts to government grants to charities. A Cabinet with significant experience in the charity sector oversaw cuts of £1 billion – as much as 22% - in grant funding to charities between 2007/08 and 2009/10.

The number of crises on Starmer’s desk highlights the importance of the charity sector working together to prevent something similar happening this time, and ensuring that the charity sector and government work together to make a difference. Having eight members of the Cabinet with first-hand knowledge of the challenges of charity commissioning, the burden of grant applications, the uncertainty of charity staffing, and the imperfect landscape of charity governance creates a convenient shortcut to delivering that change. These Ministers don’t need briefing on these issues: they’ve lived them. So organisations trying to influence can jump straight to the change that’s needed – an efficiency that’s likely to be welcome at this time of immense pressure.

Having a Cabinet with the strongest charity sector background in modern history is not a magical solution to the sector’s woes, but it could be an opportunity to grasp.