April 2016: The inside track

Cuts, the EU referendum, social investment and more in this quarter's update.

Government

Cuts announced

The budget announced further departmental cuts of £3.5bn amid a challenging environment for charities, but the Treasury has confirmed that no changes will be made to the current mandatory level of charitable business rate relief as part of the government's wider review of business rates.

Personal independence payment

The government backtracked on a proposal to cut the personal independence payment (PIP) after work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith resigned.

New clauses in grant agreements

The government has announced that from 1 May, new grant agreements will contain a clause preventing those funds from being spent on influencing and lobbying. Significant concern has been raised about the impact this proposal will have on charities within the sector, and in parliament, while the scientific community has highlighted how it could affect research grants.

EU referendum – more guidance from the Charity Commission

The Charity Commission clarified its guidance on campaigning on the EU referendum, after sector representatives criticised the initial document.

The Fundraising Preference Service working group has published a paper outlining initial proposals, including the type of communications and channels that should be covered, and will now assess feedback.

New social investment strategies

New domestic and international social investment strategies have been published, with the aim of making the UK a ‘global hub for social investment'.

Consultation – how to use data to improve public services

The Cabinet Office is consulting on how better use of data can support improved public services and research.

Parliament

PACAC inquiries on fundraising and Kids Company

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee focused heavily on charity issues at the start of the year, releasing new reports on fundraising and the closure of Kids Company.

The common thread between the two reports were the concerns committee members expressed over governance, with the Kids Company report proposing significant recommendations for government, charities, the Charity Commission, and others.

Queen's Speech

With the EU referendum occupying most of the political agenda, little attention seems to have been paid to what might be in the Government's legislative programme for the next year. After much speculation that the traditional parliamentary curtain-raiser, the Queen's Speech, would be delayed until after the referendum, it was recently announced that it would take place on 18 May. Possible areas set for legislation include prisons reform, health devolution and protections against discrimination.

Lords committee on strengthening the charity sector

The House of Lords has voted to accept the recommendation of the Lords Liaison Committee to appoint an ad hoc committee on strengthening the voluntary sector. The committee was proposed by Conservative peer Lord Shinkwin, who before being appointed to the Lords last year, worked in a number of charities. The committee is expected to sit after the new parliamentary session starts in May, and could last for up to a year.

People news

Iain Duncan Smith's resignation from the cabinet over cuts to disability benefits led to the appointment of Stephen Crabb as the new work and pensions secretary.

Stephen Crabb – secretary of state for work and pensions

  • An MP since 2005, prior to his appointment he had been secretary of state for Wales since July 2014. He is seen as a rising star of the Conservative party, and a potential future leadership contender.
  • Before becoming an MP his background was largely in business, though he also worked for the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services.
  • He has said that his view of welfare reform is shaped by his own background, and seeing his mother gradually return to full economic independence having been dependent on benefits.
  • Mr Crabb's special adviser at the Wales Office, Anita Boateng, has reportedly moved with him to the DWP.

Home Office minister Lord Bates has also left government to undertake a solo walk across South America for charity. Current advocate general for Scotland, Lord Keen of Elie, will now speak for the government in the Lords on home affairs.

By-elections

Parliamentary by-elections will be held on 5 May in Ogmore and Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, following the resignation of Huw Irranca-Davies and death of Harry Harpham, respectively. Both are traditionally safe Labour seats.

Select committees

  • Mary Creagh has been elected as Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee.
  • Chris White has been elected as Chair of the Committees on Arms Export Controls.
  • Catherine McKinnell has joined the Commons Petitions Committee, replacing fellow Labour MP Kate Osamor.
  • Valerie Vaz has joined the Environment, food and rural affairs committee.
  • Jim McMahon has replaced Jo Cox on the communities and local government committee.
  • William Wragg has replaced Caroline Nokes on the education committee.

Charities and Volunteering APPG

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Civil Society and Volunteering has changed its name to the APPG for Charities and Volunteering.

Conservative MP Chris White is the new co-chair of the group, replacing Nick Hurd. Lord Shinkwin is the new treasurer.

Other appointments

  • Tom Scholar has been appointed as the new permanent secretary to the Treasury, replacing Sir Nicholas Macpherson.
  • Chris Wormald is the new permanent secretary at the Department of Health, taking over from Dame Una O'Brien.
  • Peter Riddell has been selected as the government's preferred candidate to become the new Commissioner for Public Appointments.
  • Elizabeth Denham has been confirmed as the government's preferred candidate to become the UK's next Information Commissioner, and is expected to take over the role later in 2016. She is currently the Information and Privacy Commissioner in British Columbia, Canada.
  • Ros Kerslake OBE has been appointed as Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, joining in summer 2016.

And a farewell

Former education secretary, and one of the ‘Gang of Four' who left the Labour party in 1981 to form the SDP, Baroness Williams of Crosby, retired from the House of Lords in February, ending a 50 year parliamentary career. She gave NCVO's Hinton Lecture in 2011.

Dates for your diary

18 April NCVO Annual Conference
5 May UK elections (Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, London Assembly, mayoral elections, English local authorities, police and crime commissioners)
18 May Queen's Speech
1-12 June Volunteers' Week (‘But that's not a week' – why the week is being extended this year)
23 June EU referendum

A fresh start on welfare?

Iain Duncan Smith's resignation has given the government an opportunity to revisit some of cuts they have made to welfare. Stephen Crabb quickly announced that planned cuts to the personal independence payment (PIP) would be scrapped, and has said that further cuts to the welfare budget will not be sought.

There could now be renewed opportunities for charities working in this area to engage with the government on how to make the welfare system work better, and discuss the impact of previous measures. Relationships between charities and the DWP have been strained by cuts, and this is the ideal window for charities who want to seek a more positive relationship. However, the fundamental difficulties facing the department in terms of the need to reduce the welfare bill remain the same, so don't expect major, costly reversals of existing policy.

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