By Jenny Scott, Trustee at PBE

If there was one watchword from PBE’s hugely energising Labour and Civil Society Summit yesterday, it was ‘partnership’.

Because for deeply pragmatic reasons, civil society needs friends in high places to have maximum impact and policymakers need trusted practitioners in local communities to deliver the insights and services they can’t.

That was a realpolitik recognised by both the 150 or so charities attending the summit and the 17 shadow ministers – including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson and Shadow Minister for Arts, Heritage and Civil Society, Lilian Greenwood.

The genesis of the summit was PBE’s call to enable civil society to share their ideas and insights with policymakers of every party at the highest level.

So why the enthusiasm at the summit to collaborate to solve some of the country’s most intractable issues? 

Partly out of necessity – there isn’t enough money for government to serve all parts of society that need it. But casting charities’ role as picking up the pieces taxpayers can’t afford would be reductionist, cynical and misleading.

The civil society professionals in the room yesterday were expert, driven, ambitious, had first hand insight into what’s going on in communities and, perhaps most importantly, are trusted.

PBE analysis of YouGov polling last month shows that charities are five times more likely than government to be cited as best understanding the issues affecting people in the UK (and 10 times more likely than businesses).

That trust is hard won from decades of trying to do what’s right, not what’s expedient. Charites don’t face the short-term pressures of shareholders or opinion polls, so they can focus on long-term structural change. And they lean into complexity; violence against women and girls, low wellbeing and knife crime were all discussed today – none of which give a hoot about the boundaries of government departments.

We’ve been here before, of course. David Cameron’s 'Big Society' came up in a number of the panel discussions. And indeed it’s easy to parody collaboration between civil society and policymakers; what sounds hopeful in the room can sound like politicking or wishful thinking when it’s prised apart into media soundbites and headlines.

But suspend your cynicism. Don’t succumb to pessimism. The message from the summit yesterday was: partnerships can work. The best ones criticise each other when they need to, hold each other to account and empower each other. But most importantly, they get stuff done.