October 2016: The inside track
What you need to know about the latest on Brexit, two important bills for the voluntary sector, significant changes to select committees as a result of Theresa May's reshuffle, and more in this quarter’s update.
Preparations for the UK to leave the EU have continued with the Prime Minister announcing that Article 50 would be triggered by March 2017, and that a bill will be taken forward to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and enshrine EU law into UK law to allow the government to amend laws later on.
NCVO has produced an updated briefing on Brexit and its potential impact on the voluntary sector.
New Number 10 Unit
A new unit within Number 10 has been created to improve relations with charities, faith organisations and businesses. Charlotte Lawson, formerly of the Centre for Social Justice, has been appointed as a special adviser to lead on relationships with the voluntary sector.
Donor consent recommendations
The working group tasked with developing good practice on how charities should communicate with their donors for fundraising purposes has published its report. The recommendations will now be considered by the Fundraising Regulator.
Big Lottery Fund policy directions
The government has consulted on new policy directions for the Big Lottery Fund. NCVO has responded, expressing concern that the proposed directions would lead to funding being too closely aligned to government priorities and constrict the BLF from providing funding that is additional to and distinct from government priorities.
New Charity Commission powers
The Charity Commission has consulted on new powers it has been given through the Charities Act.
The first new power will allow the regulator to issue official warnings to trustees or charities. NCVO’s and ACF’s response argued that the draft guidance does not provide sufficient detail and raises a number of concerns about: the lack of safeguards, the default position of publishing official warnings, the degree of discretion for the commission in when and how it could issue a warning, and the consequences of an official warning.
The Charity Commission has also consulted on the new power of discretionary disqualification of trustees. NCVO’s response raises a number of concerns about the breadth and vagueness of the guidance. In our view, the new power continues to be too widely drawn and leaves too much room for subjective decision-making, based for example on views of an individual’s ‘unsuitability’ or what the public might think.
National Citizen Service bill
A bill, announced in the Queens speech, has been introduced to place the National Citizen Service on a statutory footing. It recently received its second reading in the House of Lords , where there was cross-party support for the bill, though some concerns were raised about the proposed model of governance. An earlier proposal to place duties on schools and local authorities to promote the scheme has been omitted from the bill.
Small charitable donations bill
Another bill from the Queen’s speech, which will implement changes to the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme following a government consultation. Changes include dropping the requirement that charities have to be registered for two tax years before claiming, and no longer requiring that charities have to make a claim for the main Gift Aid scheme in two of the previous four years.
NCVO has argued alongside other sector bodies that the bill needs to go further, addressing the biggest barrier for small charities, the matching requirement. The bill has gone through its second reading and committee stages, with a number of MPs raising the need for the matching requirement to be altered or reconsidered.
Lords committee on charities
Oral sessions are likely to continue until the end of the year. The committee must report by March 2017, but ad hoc committees often report in January or February.
A number of committees had vacancies for chairs who have now been elected. The key appointments for charities include:
Damian Collins, Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Previously acting chair of the committee, and most well-known for his work on governance in football, Damian Collins has been elected as permanent chair. Following the transfer of the Office for Civil Society to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport this committee will now be responsible for scrutiny of charities policy.
Hilary Benn, Chair of the Exiting the EU Committee
The pro-Remain MP and most recently shadow foreign secretary was elected against prominent Labour Leave campaigner Kate Hoey, suggesting parliament may favour preventing the so-called hard Brexit option. The new committee will shadow the work of the new department for Exiting the EU and has been expanded to 21 members to allow representation of smaller parties and greater scrutiny.
Yvette Cooper, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee
Yvette Cooper has been elected as the new chair of the committee following Keith Vaz’s resignation. As well as previously holding a number of ministerial roles she is a former shadow home secretary, most recently
Jeremy Corbyn re-election and shadow ministerial appointments
Jeremy Corbyn has been re-elected as leader of the Labour party after a challenge this summer by Owen Smith. He has now made a number of new appointments to his frontbench team, including Steve Reed as the new shadow minister for civil society.
A former leader of Lambeth Council, Reed was first elected as MP for Croydon North in 2012 and was previously shadow minister for local government. While at Lambeth
He has stated that it was correct for the governance of charities and other issues to be subject to publicly scrutinised, but suggested some recent criticism of charities had been politically motivated, in particular to cover up cuts in funding.
New UKIP leader Diane James stood down after just 18 days in post, so another leadership election will now be held, with a new leader to be announced on 28 November.
Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley have been elected as co-leaders of the Green Party as a job share arrangement.
- Elizabeth Denham has formally taken over as the new Information Commissioner.
- Alex Chisholm has been appointed as the Permanent Secretary to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He previously served jointly with Martin Donnelly after the Department for Energy and Climate Change was merged with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Martin Donnelly will now help set up the new Department for International Trade as Acting Permanent Secretary, before a permanent appointment is made.
Dates for your diary
Parliament rises for Christmas recess
Parliament returns after Christmas recess
A new start for charities and the Conservative party?
The new government is now starting to develop its approach in a number of policy areas, and has been positive about wanting to engage with charities in developing an agenda of social reform. In particular, the decision to appoint a special adviser to engage with the voluntary sector is welcome, after relations between the sector and government became frayed at the tail-end of David Cameron’s government.
This isn’t to say that charities will welcome all of the policy announcements currently being made by Theresa May, but there are signs that a new government could at the very least mean a fresh start in terms of relationships between the government and the voluntary sector. This was borne out by some positive experiences at Conservative conference . At some point charities are likely to clash with government over policy, but those that engage positively at this stage may find they are able to build up good will if things do become more difficult later on.
NCVO can help you to navigate Westminster and Whitehall
Our upcoming courses include training on: