As the voice of charity retail, the Charity Retail Association takes every opportunity to promote our messages to influential policy makers. This is why, in June, we wrote the first ever Manifesto for Charity Shops, and in September we sent a budget submission to HM Treasury.
This is also why both I and our Head of Public Affairs and Research, Matt Kelcher, attended and participated in both Labour and Conservative Party Conferences this year. We believed that it was particularly important to be at the conferences this year as developments in UK politics are moving so fast; another general election could come upon us at any time.
Over the two conferences we held a variety of formal meetings with politicians. This included a very fruitful discussion about the future of business rates relief to local councils with a shadow minister in the DCLG team.
But we are also aware that it is not just MPs which have an influential voice in the policy making process. With a hung parliament the influence of the Lords is clearly increasing, and so we made a particular effort to network with Lords including members of that chamber’s Select Committee on Charities.
Just as importantly, the London Assembly has a growing role in setting environmental and economic policy for the capital city, which is home to thousands of charity shops. So, we also took the time to meet with various elected members of the London Assembly, including the Chair of the Environment Committee, and Deputy Chair of the Regeneration Committee.
In all of our meetings our message was a positive one. We focussed on the key social benefits that charity shops bring to communities, society and the environment using the recent Shopping for Good report written by Demos. To help get our message across we also distributed copies of our new animation, which summarises the report and the social value of charity retail.
All of the relationships we built in the last couple of weeks will stand us in good stead if we have to react quickly to any potential threats to the sector in future.
In addition to formal meetings we attended a wide variety of fringe meetings and discussions and took the opportunity to intervene and make the case for charity retail wherever possible. One particular example was at a fringe discussing youth volunteering where our new findings about the positive experience of charity shop volunteering were recognised and discussed by the panel.
More than ever, the Charity Retail Association is recognised as the respected and influential voice of charity retail.