Policy, Government and the Voluntary Sector, General Election 2024 Resources Hub

Labour’s cabinet has substantial civil society experience

The Prime Minister's new Cabinet has experience in the charity sector.

Many of Sir Keir Starmer’s early Cabinet appointments have experience of working in civil society or as previous Ministers or Shadow Ministers for the civil society brief in government.

After the Labour party won a decisive majority in the 4 July General Election, Sir Keir Starmer became Prime Minister and over the weekend he began appointing the Cabinet. The process is still ongoing but there are some notable appointments from the point of view of charities and civil society so far.

Former charity workers become Secretaries of State

After the previous Shadow Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport Thangam Debonnaire lost her seat in Bristol central to the Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer, the Prime Minister appointed Lisa Nandy to the post of Secretary of State. At the time of writing, we still don’t know where the civil society brief will sit, or if there will be a Minister for Civil Society and who it might be. The former Shadow Minister for Civil Society, Lilian Greenwood, was re-elected but has been appointed as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Transport.

Nevertheless, having Lisa Nandy as the Culture Secretary leading DCMS is a very positive move in terms of knowledge about civil society and experience of the charity sector. She served as Shadow Minister for Civil Society between 2012 and 2015, and before becoming an MP she worked for the charities Centrepoint and the Children’s Society.

Peter Kyle has also become Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology. Prior to becoming an MP in 2015, Kyle was Policy Director and Deputy CEO at the Association of Chief Executives of Charities and Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) between 2007 and 2013, and CEO of the charity WORKing for YOUth.

Outside experience brought in on prisons

In a really interesting move, Starmer appointed James Timpson, CEO of Timpson’s Group to be Minister of State (Minister for Prisons, Parole and Probation) in the Ministry of Justice. Because he is not an MP, Timpson has been made a peer. The Timpson company has a strong record of employing people who have been in prison in its chain of shops providing key cutting, shoe repairs and other services, and also raises money for its foundation, which supports prison leavers. Until his appointment, James Timpson was Chair of the Prison Reform Trust, but he has stepped down from this role now that he has entered government.

Former civil society ministers in the Cabinet

A number of other early appointments to the Cabinet either have charity sector experience or have either held or shadowed the civil society brief in Westminster – some of them prior to the end of the last Labour government in 2010.

Ed Miliband, former Labour Party leader and also a former Minister for the Third Sector between 2006 and 2007, has been appointed Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero.

Steve Reed was formerly Shadow Minister for Civil Society between 2016 and 2019, and now takes up his role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The Rt Hon Baroness Smith of Basildon (Angela Smith) was Minister for the Third Sector between 2009 and 2010. She has been appointed Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords. She will be responsible for organising government business in the House of Lords.

More to come, but a promising start

The appointments process is ongoing and there will likely be other examples of ministers at various levels who have good experience of charities or civil society organisations. Prior to the General Election, the Labour party promised that there would be civil society representation across all government departments – we’re yet to see what form that may take and it’s really important that it’s robust.

There will be many more appointments to the more junior ministerial positions in the coming days. There could also be substantial machinery of government changes on the way which could further affect the picture. But, on the evidence so far, it’s a promising start.