Recent political discussion has been so dominated by the EU referendum that it’s long been suspected this year’s Queen’s Speech would be quieter than has been seen in recent years. But despite a lack of obvious headline grabbing new measures, there’s still plenty to digest for charities and possibly some opportunities to shape the agenda.
Legislation to expand the National Citizen Service
A new statutory framework will be set up to deliver the National Citizen Service, which will receive a £1.2 billion investment. Plus, a new duty will be placed on schools and local authorities to promote the scheme to all young people and their families.
Voluntary action is one element of the whole NCS programme, but it has real potential as a staging post on a journey of social action and volunteering. For this to be possible, participants will need to be supported into other opportunities, including local volunteering opportunities.
For NCS to really succeed, we believe that it will need to be more embedded within the local volunteering ecosystem, working with local volunteer infrastructure. We hope that with this renewed commitment to NCS, focus will be given to how well the scheme works in delivering a quality experience, as well as the number of young people taking part.
A small charitable donations bill was announced, which will implement reforms to Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme that the government is currently consulting on. For the unfamiliar, the Small Donations Scheme allows charities to claim Gift Aid on small cash donations without the need for a declaration from the donor.
It’s a great idea that’s been sadly hampered by restrictive requirements. We want to see the scheme made far more accessible to small and medium sized charities looking to diversify into cash fundraising, by reducing the registration requirements and removing the ‘matching rule’ that means charities have to raise normal gift-aided donations to claim on cash donations.
The bill also represents an opportunity to modernise the scheme to take into account the increasing use of small donations collections via contactless payments rather than small change.
The local jobs and growth bill will bring forward the government’s reforms to the business rates regime, by allowing local authorities to retain 100% of their rates by 2020. Charitable business rates reliefs are being protected, but the changes do reflect fundamental change in the way local authorities are funded, with likely consequences for how services are commissioned and delivered at a local level.
What’s the message for charities?
There have been plenty of challenging issues for charities to deal with in the last year, but the focus on life chances that is now a key part of the Prime Minister’s agenda may well offer opportunities for charities. They will also want to scrutinise closely new life chances metrics which will likely inform the design of future government policies and programmes.
As always, charities will contribute to the public policy debate through their advocacy work, but also increasingly by shaping the way public services are delivered.
Measures on prison reform, adoption, social care, and local transport all offer positive opportunities for charities to change policy for the better if departments are open to voluntary sector input. However, charities will be keenly aware that with much of the agenda for reform taking place against a backdrop of cuts, long-term reform could be challenging.
What will be controversial?
The Institute for Government this week cautioned the government against introducing further controversial measures given the number of fronts they are currently fighting on. While the speech champions many areas likely to find broad cross-party support, there are a couple of areas which could lead to future conflict in the Commons and Lords.
While a growing Tory rebellion has seen off plans to make all schools academies, a bill will still be introduced to accelerate academisation. Given the concerns already expressed on both sides, and with a Labour leadership less convinced on the merits of academies, expect this to form the basis of both opposition attacks, and government backbench disquiet.
The long-awaited British bill of rights could also see high profile parliamentary battles, assuming it makes it to the floor of the House this year, particularly if it doesn’t sway long-term Conservative critics of the approach, such as former attorney general Dominic Grieve.
Given the pressures of the referendum, the agenda announced today is not as obviously contentious as some previous programmes, but there are some major challenges to tackle, and it is quite likely that divides in the Commons and particularly the Lords will soon open up again.
For charities there are major opportunities to help shape public service reform, and it’s easy to see how they could contribute to a more pronounced life chances agenda, but most of the underlying challenges for charities to take forward their agendas remain.