January 2018: The Inside Track

What you need to know about the reshuffle, the civil society strategy, upcoming Brexit legislation and more.

Government and policy

A summary of the key policy announcements from the last quarter. For more regular policy updates, our head of policy and public services, Elizabeth Chamberlain, writes a monthly round-up blog.

Civil society strategy

Minister for civil society Tracey Crouch has announced that the government is to consult on a new civil society strategy. A consultation is expected to be launched in January.

The autumn budget

The chancellor presented his budget to the House of Commons in November. While there was limited reference to the voluntary sector specifically, there were a number of announcements which will be of interest to charities which we went through on the day.

Charity Tax Commission

The commissioners and the terms of reference for the charity tax commission have been confirmed. The commission will be chaired by Sir Nicholas Montagu, formerly chairman of the Inland Revenue, with NCVO providing the secretariat. A call to evidence will be issued in early 2018, and if you are interested in the work of the commission you can find out more and sign up for updates here.

Changes to the annual return

The Charity Commission has announced that it has made concessions on changes to the annual return after concerns were raised by a number of charities, including NCVO. The Commission have said that they will not ask if charities are claiming rate relief and Gift Aid in 2018, but we remain concerned about the precedent that proposals to ask charities for more detail about their overseas funding sources sets in other countries.

Full-time social action review

The review of full-time social action is now due to report by the end of January after the deadline was extended. NCVO argued in our submission to the review that there should be a focus on making sure full-time volunteering opportunities are high quality and accessible, but expressed reservations about calls for a legal status for full-time volunteers.

Parliament

EU (withdrawal) bill

The bill will shortly complete its Commons stages, before it moves to the Lords. The government has been forced to concede on several points, including the creation of a Commons committee to ‘sift’ delegated legislation under the bill, and make recommendations on what will need more extensive parliamentary scrutiny. The government will now also have to bring forward a bill to approve the final deal to leave the EU.

There are likely to be more challenges to the bill in the House of Lords, with some speculating that Theresa May will appoint more peers to ensure progress, though it’s unlikely there will be enough new Conservative peers to limit the opposition’s ability to win Lords votes.

However, while amendments to the bill will be made, the Lords will not want to be seen as blocking Brexit, so expect to see negotiations over concessions rather than full-scale attempts to wreck the bill.

NCVO is part of the Repeal Bill Alliance, which is looking to ensure the bill provides for open and accountable lawmaking and retain high standards.

Trade bill

The trade bill has received its second reading in the House of Commons. The bill will allow the government to make provision for implementing trade deals with third countries with whom the EU has trade deals. NCVO has raised concerns about the lack of scrutiny that will be applied both to future trade agreements under existing arrangements, and to substantive differences between current EU trade agreements and UK ones which replace them under the trade bill. We have argued that the bill should ensure democratic oversight and engagement with civil society during the negotiation of new deals.

People news

Reshuffle

The resignation of Damian Green after being found to have breached the ministerial code has precipitated a wider reshuffle. Education secretary Justine Greening has left the cabinet after refusing a move to the Department for Work and Pensions, and has been replaced by former employment minister Damian Hinds. Her role as minister for women and equalities has been given to the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd.

There is a new Cabinet minister with responsibility for charities, as Matt Hancock has been appointed secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport , following Karen Bradley’s move to the Northern Ireland Office. Tracey Crouch remains in her role as minister for sport and civil society.

As well as some new faces, the reshuffle has brought some new departmental names where the government is keen to suggest a new focus, with the Department for Communities and Local Government becoming the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the Department for Health becoming the Department for Health and Social Care.

We’ve taken a look at some of the other key appointments for the charity sector.

Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Former employment minister and minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, has returned to the department as secretary of state. She returned to the Commons in 2017 having lost her seat in the 2015 general election. During the coalition government she was responsible for a range of issues including disability and the benefits system.

David Gauke, Secretary of State for Justice

Moving from the Department for Work and Pensions is former chief secretary to the treasury, David Gauke. He is the first lawyer to hold the justice portfolio since Ken Clarke left the post in 2012. In his time at the Treasury he dealt with a number of issues relating to charities and the tax system.

Robert Jenrick, Exchequer Secretary

The Newark MP has taken over from Andrew Jones as exchequer secretary to the treasury, and is likely to take on the responsibility for charity tax. He was first elected in a by-election in 2014, and has spoken of the importance of governance in protecting public trust in charities.

Chloe Smith, Constitution Minister

Chloe Smith returns to the Cabinet Office as minister for the constitution, so will have responsibility for the Lobbying Act. She was one of the ministers who led on the Lobbying Act when it first went through parliament, so it would seem a u-turn on the government’s decision not to implement the Hodgson recommendations is unlikely.

Rishi Sunak, Local Government Minister

First elected in 2015 to William Hague’s former seat, Rishi Sunak is the new minister for local government. A former analyst at Goldman Sachs, he was also a partner at the Children’s Investment Fund.

Caroline Nokes, Immigration Minister

Romsey MP Caroline Nokes has replaced new housing minister Dominic Raab as immigration minister. She has spoken in the past of the importance of resettling Syrian refugees and has reiterated this on appointment.

Michael Ellis, Arts, Heritage and Tourism Minister

The former deputy leader of the House of Commons, Michael Ellis has become minister for arts, heritage and tourism in DCMS. Before his election in 2010, the Northampton North MP worked as a barrister.

Other appointments

Dates for your diary

5 Feb NCVO Charity Regulation Conference
13 Mar Spring Statement
16 Apr NCVO Annual Conference, including keynote speaker Camilla Cavendish

What can we expect from 2018?

2017 was heavily dominated by Brexit, and 2018 is likely to see more of the same. To allow for ratification, a final exit deal is targeted for completion in October. The government will also need to start amending the law through secondary legislation so that the law functions correctly when we formally leave the EU in 2019, using procedures set out in the EU (withdrawal) bill. A number of bills are also scheduled to make necessary changes to UK law in areas such as trade, customs and immigration.

It seems unlikely that there will be another general election this year, though the precarious nature of parliament and the Brexit deal mean it can’t be ruled out entirely. So will charities have the opportunity to have their voice heard on non-Brexit policy?

The space to do non-Brexit related things has been limited since the referendum, and if anything is likely to shrink further this year as preparations will need to be stepped up to avoid uncertainty in 2019 – even if ministers see a political opportunity, anything requiring significant civil service capacity to implement will be a challenge. However, it’s also clear that the government remains keen to put forward a separate domestic agenda, particularly in areas that have caused electoral problems, such as housing and animal welfare.

And while ministers have limited room for manoeuvre to take forward policy initiatives immediately, some within all parties are looking towards post-Brexit policy and the next election, so now could be time to start thinking about your longer term policy priorities, and who might be influential when future manifestos are drafted.

NCVO can help you to navigate Westminster and Whitehall

Make sure your voice is heard by those making the decisions. We can provide a range of advice, support and training, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details.

If you want to make sure you’re up to speed on how to use parliament to get your voice heard, our next Influencing Parliament course will take place on 12 March.

You can also register your interest for our next Certificate in Campaigning, starting in October, which has become the essential course for campaigners in the UK, helping individuals to deliver change and organisations to achieve their goals.

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