By Nicole Sykes, Director of External Affairs at Pro Bono Economics

After a long weekend of counting, the results are now (almost!) in. Each of the 13 Mayors, 5,000 Councillors, 39 Police and Crime Commissioners, 60 Senedd members, 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament and 1 MP elected over the last few days have the power to help or hinder the social sector in their area. It’s important, therefore that we understand what’s been promised.

As the results have dripped out, the PBE team have been tracking the pledges made by the winning candidates and parties on our Social Sector Pledges map. You can look at any local area and see the pledges made there.

It should be noted that the information we’re drawing on for this analysis is – to be generous – imperfect. Promises made on websites or leaflets may never be delivered, and will not capture the full extent of local politicians’ intentions. They do, however, give us a sense of priorities.

So what trends have we seen in this election overall?

1. Almost across the board, the parties in the devolved nations have made the most ambitious pledges for the social sector. These governments of course have more power than your local district council, but regardless of that they tend to demonstrate more desire to consult with the sector on a wide range of issues and to want to support the sector’s functioning.

In Scotland, the SNP have promised to work with the social sector on a range of issues including on cancer treatment with Macmillan, on music education with Sistema Scotland, and on the sector as a whole on setting up a Publicly Owned Energy Company. They’ve also pledged £13.5million to help the social sector recover, to introduce more multi-year funding, and to encourage formal volunteering through their Young Person’s guarantee.

In Wales, Labour’s manifesto featured pledges to work with the sector on a HIV action plan, a National Social Care Framework, on mental wellbeing, on creating more community green spaces, and their Credit Union Network.

Both approaches demonstrate commitment to treat the social sector as a vital partner in achieving their goals, both at the start of policymaking and through delivery.

2. There is no coherent approach from parties towards the social sector, where there is in other areas.
The Police and Crime Commissioners provide a perfect example of this. Through every Conservative PCC’s manifesto were the same pledges: more police, crack down on Business Crime, stop dognappers. But a look at their promises to work with the social sector showed a much more varied picture.

Many see the value in involving volunteers in the work of the police and justice system. But most only focus on how the community can help through Watch schemes and as Special Constables, with the Wiltshire PCC candidate even pledging to tie new Police Officer numbers to Special Constable recruitment. Leicestershire PCC Rupert Matthews, however, is very keen on a new Mounted Volunteers Scheme. Hertfordshire PCC candidate David Lloyd has by far the most comprehensive list, wanting more volunteers involved in Special Constables, Police Cadets, Drivesafe and Neighbourhood Watch schemes, as well as custody visitors, members of the stop and search scrutiny panel and as police dog visitors.

As for consulting with the sector, there’s a patchwork of promises. Some highlight the sector as key to supporting on modern slavery, or on anti-social behaviour or on domestic violence. Few seem to be taking up all the opportunities available to them to gain from the social sector’s expertise, or seeing the sector as a key part in their solution.

3. The co-operative movement is still strong within parts of the Labour and Green Party.
Where there’s a problem, the Greens and Labour want cooperatives and mutuals to be part of the solution. This is particularly true when it comes to housing and to energy, but proposals exist for co-operatives in social care and agriculture too.

But this isn’t necessarily just a scheme-by-scheme proposal. Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham wants to create a specialist hub within Manchester’s existing Growth Hub to support co-operatives, mutuals and social and community enterprises to thrive, treating them on a par with businesses. The new Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin proposes something similar: a co-operative Development and Community Wealth Building Unit to support the growth of co-operatives and social enterprises, with the possibility of a third-sector task group included. Preston Labour want a Cooperative Education Centre while new Mayor of the West of England wants a Cooperative Support Agency. All promise to treat the sector as infrastructure, worthy of investment and development to better achieve its goals.

4. Alternative economic approaches are now gaining greater traction.
When the politician with the biggest mandate in the UK pledges to establish a new measure of Wellbeing in London as the core indicator of the city’s success, you know something’s shifting.

Once again, there are a variety of approaches being taken. The SNP too are bringing forward a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development (Scotland) Bill to make it a statutory requirement for all public bodies and local authorities to consider the long-term consequences of their policy decisions on sustainable development and the wellbeing of the people they serve. Several council groups have pledged to review their procurement processes to put more emphasis on social value. Trafford Labour is advocating adopting the Socio-Economic Duty while in Liverpool, Steve Rotherham wants the Combined Authority to report back on social value in its annual reports.

5. More established groups appear to have the most ambitious goals for the social sector.
Now this may be our most speculative observation of the lot, and it’s certainly not the case that the longer a group is in power the more they value the social sector. But there does appear to be a pattern where local parties and candidates that are challengers have more vague ideas about how they will support the work of charities involved on a few certain issues or will consult with community groups. The sector itself tends to be incidental to their objectives. Those who are looking for re-election are more likely to have a greater appreciation of the sector as a form of infrastructure and want to invest in their capacity.

Great examples of potential include Marvin Rees in Bristol advocating a Digital Forum to support technological innovation in tandem with the voluntary sector’s recovery work, and Wokingham where Conservatives want to embed their ‘One Front Door’ approach Citizens Advice has been administering for them over the crisis, where there’s a coordinated approach to services with an integrated social sector. In Hartlepool, the Labour Council group – which only lost power in 2019 -  want to appoint a Community Champion to directly support the charitable sector and to allow free use of council buildings, printing, digital capacity and training for residents group. Some of these pledges have substantial financial backing: Norfolk Conservatives, for example, are pledging £5million for a new Community Youth Investment Fund of which increasing young people’s involvement in volunteering is a key priority.


Across the country there are lots of great examples of the way in which the social sector is viewed as a partner to government, helping to deliver better communities and happier citizens. But stepping back from the individual case studies, it’s hard to escape the sense that the sector too often remains overlooked in political discourse – or at least not routinely foregrounded in the way that business is. Our map may be indicative rather than definitive, but it presents a picture that is patchy, in England in particular. That is a challenge, but the situation in Scotland and Wales shows there’s certainly a good opportunity to follow examples of best practice and see how we can spread them so that elections in future have an even greater focus on the sector.

10 May 2021