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Over the past three weeks, CDF has had a presence at the party conferences of the three main parties: Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Whilst it would be impossible to summarise everything that was talked about, here are the three key things that I wanted to share.

1. Alternatives to the banks are high on the agenda

If you’re not familiar with party conferences, there are the main conference sessions (with speeches from Ministers and party supporters) and there is also a packed “fringe” agenda – where companies, charities and think tanks run hour-long events on a variety of policy topics. And it was in these events where payday lenders were questioned, further support for credit unions was suggested, financial education was promoted and the debt problems in deprived communities were exposed.

We were pleased to see, too, that in the last couple of years the debate has matured. Banks are now no longer seen as the only answer, but part of a wider offer with greater recognition that we need more alternative providers of fair credit who can particularly help support cash-starved small and micro businesses that are critical to our economy.

We made sure we attended as many of these events as we could squeeze in to raise the profile of the Community Investment Coalition campaign (CIC), of which CDF is a key partner. CIC is the leading campaign group promoting practical and achievable reforms that will improve innovation, diversity, accessibility and affordability of financial services, resulting in a stronger financial services sector that serves all communities.

2. Community involvement in public services

One of the big policy topics was the future provision of health and social care to meet the unquestionable challenges of an ageing society. We were pleased to hear all parties agreeing that this needed to be a mixture of state care and community focussed approaches.

There was much talk about the need for skills and approaches within communities to help keep people out of hospital and how better prevention and community-based care can create significant savings by avoiding hospitalisation. This was music to my ears as the preventative, community-led approach to public service provision is something that CDF has long championed.

It was also great to hear talk of people-centred approaches, for example, the need to join up drugs, alcohol and mental health services as part of crime reduction. All of this chimed with me as we are about to launch research which shows the contribution that community groups make to these areas of society and the vital support they provide to statutory services.

3. Don’t forget the deficit

No doubt you have heard that in Ed Miliband’s conference speech he forgot to make reference to the deficit. He insisted it was due to the pressure of speaking without a script and in post-edits of his speech he is quoted as saying “Britain will be spending £75billion on the interest on our debt alone”. David Cameron gave the deficit a much more prominent position in his speech, stating that his party plans to find £25billion worth of savings in the first two years of the next Parliament”.

The message was clear – whoever wins next May, budgets are still going to be tight.

So we are working hard to make sure small grants schemes for community groups, like Community First, aren’t squeezed. Because these small grants are the catalyst to social action; they are what gets people active in their communities and gets people providing informal services to the public. Value for money, we also believe that they help make savings to the public purse by joining-up local activities and through their proactive, preventative approach to them. They are also flexible and trusted – premium qualities we all aspire to.

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