The Queen’s Speech – key points for the sector

Today the Queen unveiled the coalition government’s legislative programme for the last session of parliament before next year’s general election.

The annual Westminster event was carried out amid the usual pomp and pageantry, with the new addition of a three-tonne Diamond Jubilee State Coach.

Many commentators who were expecting the final legislative programme to be lacking in content can now spend countless hours discussing the bodywork of the coach, which apparently incorporates more than a hundred fragments from historic British buildings, including wood from the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship, and a piece of a doorway from 10 Downing Street that dates back to 1760.

Despite accusations of a ‘zombie parliament’ over its sparse legislative agenda, there are some points of interest for the sector.

Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill

This is intended to provide additional protection against negligence claims for volunteers and people who offer help in emergencies. The bill is expected to guide judges to take into account whether people were acting in good faith and in order to help communities. In practice, claims against volunteers or volunteer-involving organisations are rare, but concern about liability is widespread. We welcomed this, as anything that can be done to assuage this and ensure people are not discouraged from volunteering their time is good news. We’re in touch with the Ministry of Justice about the details of the legislation and we’re keen to hear your experiences. My colleague Nick Ockenden from NCVO’s Institute for Volunteering Research has written more about whether perceptions of risk deter would-be volunteers.

Draft Protection of Charities Bill

This will give the Charity Commission stronger powers to tackle abuse more effectively, particularly by people who present a known risk. It follows a consultation carried out by Cabinet Office earlier this year. (More on our response to that here.) We’re expecting to see the bill in the autumn, and the good news is that the government plan to carry out proper pre-legislative scrutiny to make sure we get this right. Of course, with all the powers in the world, the Charity Commission still needs the capacity in order to be able to regulate properly, and we know it has been squeezed hard recently.

Serious Crime Bill

This will introduce stronger protections for children who are victims of psychological neglect. It represents a clear victory for Action for Children, who have been lobbying on new legislation to address child maltreatment.

Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill

This is intended to support small businesses and ensure they have fairer access to the £230 billion spent each year in public contracts. Among its provisions, the bill will provide fairer access to public procurement contracts. This follows Lord Young’s proposals to increase small businesses access to public procurement, including abolishing PQQs for lower value contracts and standardising them for contracts above a certain amount. We understand the finer details will be contained within new draft public contracts regulations due for consultation around July. These will also include new EU procurement rules, which among other provisions, will encourage public bodies to split large contracts into smaller lots and increase the threshold below which contracts are free from EU regulation.

The bill will also tackle National Minimum Wage and zero-hours contract abuse. We don’t know the details of the government’s plans on zero-hours contracts yet but any charities employing people on zero-hours contracts will want to be ready to make sure they are compliant when the proposals emerge.

The Campaign for Real Ale also consolidated their reputation as highly effective campaigners as the small business bill includes plans to improve the lot of landlords in pubs tied to breweries.

These are just some of the highlights, and information about other bills announced (including on modern slavery, recall of MPs, and pensions) is available on the Cabinet Office’s website.

Over the next couple of days we will be analysing in more detail what these announcements will mean for NCVO and its members. In the meantime, do let us know what you think.

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Elizabeth Chamberlain Elizabeth is head of policy and public services at NCVO. She has been part of the policy team since 2008, as the expert on charity law and regulation. Her policy interests also include charity campaigning, the sector’s independence, transparency, and accountability.

11 Responses to The Queen’s Speech – key points for the sector

  1. Welcome the improved access to small contracts. Going through PQQs for small pots is madly inefficient.

    • Paul Winyard Paul Winyard says:

      Splitting large contracts into smaller lots is definitely a measure strongly welcomed by NCVO, although what constitutes ‘large’ is yet to be determined. We’re hoping more detail will surface when the Government consults on the draft regulations next month. Keep an eye on my blog.

      The benefits of dispensing with PQQs for low value contracts is less clear cut, though. While we recognise PQQs can often represent unnecessary bureaucracy for many – especially smaller – orgs, they can also help an organisation determine whether they are capable or suitable to deliver a contract before they spend time completing a far more onerous ITT. Abolishing PQQs could therefore have the opposite effect of what the Government is trying to achieve by either putting of charities from applying altogether or by wasting time on bids they’re unlikely to win. Commissioning and procurement professionals that use proportionate procurement processes is what’s really needed here (rather than a 50 page PQQ for a low value contract!).

      • Paul Winyard Paul Winyard says:

        Also, what constitutes ‘lower value contracts’ is yet to be determined. We understand this will be below EU procurement thresholds, but it is unclear whether this means the current 200k euros threshold or the new, yet to be transposed, 750k euro mark.

  2. Leonie McCarthy says:

    Excellent brief thanks!

  3. john wilkinson says:

    I have today read quite a few charity news letters on the Queen’s Speech most of which are too wordy and want to prove that their desire to be negative and anti-govermet overides any positive proposals which may be included. A most helpful summary.

  4. Fay Maxted says:

    Encouraging public bodies to split large contracts instead of trying to pressure small charities into consortia (minus any legal or financial support to do this) will be a breath of fresh air

  5. Hamid Azad says:

    Thanks for this useful update. Wish for the best.

  6. David Rolph says:

    I have not heard much, but i have heard that we are to received the 0.05 from the charge of plastic carrier Bags. However if you could put all the details in a bulleted format.

    • Elizabeth Chamberlain Elizabeth Chamberlain says:

      Dear David,

      Retailers will be expected (but not required) to donate the proceeds of the charge to good causes and government is currently looking into developing a voluntary agreement with retailers to cover this. Organisations will be required to publish data to show customers what the proceeds are being used for.

      Nick Clegg previously said he hoped the money would go to environmental charities, though that hasn’t been specified.

      It is also unclear how much money charities get from the scheme, considering that
      a) the scheme applies only to larger retailers, and
      b) is voluntary;
      c) if the scheme is successful in diminishing plastic bag use, then over time fewer and fewer people will be using them and paying the 5p.

      I hope that helps.

  7. I have not read all the documents yet but I am glad for these notes but picked on a few areas and I can’t help wanting more, perhaps next time. For now –

    • I welcome the serious crime (SC) bill which is much needed to protect victims of psychological neglect. The SC bill could also reinforce existing safeguarding and protection practice for children and young people in general. SC bill supports the ‘invincible people’ including those MyHealthnet service users. This bill could refocus future services deliverable to young people. So, I applaud ‘Action for Children’, for their hard work lobbing for this new legislation to address child maltreatment.

    • Long-term economic plan, charities lacking the much needed recognition and resources have had to compete against each other for meagre funding and in some cases the many feels burnt-out by the constant funding application rejection. Now, charities must consider becoming business oriented, learn to bid against businesses for lowest value contracts to raise funds! How? Without free quality professional support?

    • Protection of charities the Queen’s Speech on protecting charities did not specify in particular “small charities” can be “protected”. Shielded small charities from the expense of tendering and procurement and running a business or distracting from objectives. How are specialist healthcare charities really protected? We require professional level support which can be accessed within established systems at no extra cost to the organisations involved.

    • The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill (SARH) will go a long way to help resolve issues for judges and claimants. The SARH Bill could also drive charity volunteer retention and recruitment efforts thus promoting quality of service deliverable.

    However, I hope SARH bill will not ease the assumption that charity negligence claims are set to rise with an anticipatory hike in insurance premiums to further cripple charities.

    • The modern slavery bills is also very much welcome by all at MyHealthnet; and like many charities with an interest in ending people trafficking, we need to know exactly how we fit into the application of bill just as it will be outlined for the police. Charities will continue to support the ‘modern day slavery bill’. A focused workshop for interpreting the bill in practice is required for all charities especially those expressing interest.

    Note:

    Healthcare volunteering must be delivered at high-quality and by professionals regardless of charity size, target group or structure. Healthcare volunteering also comes with non-negotiable service overheads that include varied high level volunteer support and education to be sustainable. The value of such free healthcare service to end users and communities is undeniable.

    Small charities facing hardship would like real help that is not scrambled for and protected by the Queen.

    ‘Real Help’ in reducing financial levied by regulations.

    Support from local council and commissioners with service commissioning and partnership working.

    Perhaps future bills will consider helping charities reduce financial burden in key areas such as:

    Housing, Specialist service, Insurance Premium and other obligatory volunteer expense.

    Insurance premium must reflect the risk posed by charity activities and size and claim history.

    A review of insurance terms and agreement may ensure flexibility and suitably tailored premium for generalist and specialist healthcare charities without unduly increasing rates.

    With regards to the Small Business Enterprise bill, I like to think many charities would welcome help raising funds through charity small business enterprise too.

    To become sustainable, fledgling charities need real support to be able to compete in the real world for much needed funds.

    Small charities’ deserves a special mention on these and other salient points in the next Queens’ Speech.