The five-minute policy manager – January 2014

'I bought an egg timer' by Ian Barbour on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/barbourians/

Happy new year to you all. We’ve had a good start to 2014 – here is a quick run-down of the latest policy developments affecting the voluntary sector and what we’ve been up to.

Considerable progress on the lobbying bill – more to do

While in the Lords, a series of amendments have been made to improve the lobbying bill. In particular, a government amendment to raise registration thresholds will take many smaller charities out of scope of the legislation. We were also pleased that peers supported Lord Harries’ amendment on staff costs. Constituency limits and accounting for campaigning in coalitions remain problematic – we’d like to see further movement on these as the bill is read for the third time this week.

Does the Charity Commission need new powers?

The Office for Civil Society has launched a consultation on strengthening the powers of the Charity Commission. The consultation will run until 12 February and we will be responding, so if you want to input in our submission or share your own position, please email Elizabeth.Chamberlain@ncvo.org.uk

Major new research project on welfare reforms

Anjelica Finnegan started at NCVO this week and will be leading a new JRF-funded research project to find out about the experiences of voluntary organisations dealing with welfare reforms. Have your beneficiaries been affected? How have their circumstances changed? What does this mean for your services and other local services?

We will shortly launch a call for evidence. In the meantime, do email Anjelica.Finnegan@ncvo.org.uk with any existing reports or to register your interest.

Our welfare group is meeting the Economic Secretary

This week, NCVO’s welfare group of leading charities will meet the Economic Secretary to discuss the new welfare cap. This cap is set to take effect after Budget 2014. We’ve produced a briefing paper setting out concerns about the design of this policy – see my welfare blog post for more information.

We are pressing the government to get their procurement reforms right

Following a short consultation last year, the Cabinet Office is planning to scrap Pre-Qualification Questionnaires for all public sector contracts below EU procurement thresholds. We’ve asked them to ensure that if this happens, they require public bodies to publish their minimum criteria upfront, so that charities can self-assess their chances and decide whether to proceed with a full tender. Charities also need time to form partnerships and develop their tender.

Cabinet Office is considering the implementation of new EU procurement guidelines in the UK

We would strongly support them mandating that no contract can be let on the basis of price alone, and that quality and social value must always be considered. We’ve argued that these policy options should be included when the government consults formally this spring.

We’ll be giving evidence to parliament on public service commissioning shortly

The Public Administration Select Committee is currently holding an inquiry on public services and the citizen. We will be talking about troubling commissioning trends reported by our members: larger contracts, focus on cheapest price over quality, and disproportionate financial requirements. Also of course about the fantastic work that our members are doing and why charities can help improve public services if given a fair chance. It’s always good to use current examples, so please do get in touch if you’ve got an example on any of these points – email charlotte.ravenscroft@ncvo.org.uk.

If you’re short on reading…

Rebalancing the Books

A new IPPR report looks at how to release the whole country’s economic potential, through the 2015 spending review. It argues that “a model of public spending which depends on revenues from one region [– London –] to mitigate the consequences of unfulfilled economic opportunities in others is unsustainable.” Among its proposals are for a five year spending review, with incentives for departments to pool budgets, and for substantially more economic investment to be managed at a local level.

Why Fight Poverty?

Julia Unwin’s new book, Why Fight Poverty, crisply reviews the main policy and economic issues, but goes further, delving into people’s lived experiences and emotional responses to poverty. Her conclusion demands a personal as well as a political response. The case for further and earlier intervention is compelling – as a country, we cannot afford this huge waste of people’s skills and potential.

Finally, the Big Lottery Fund is advertising for a Chief of Staff

Logo: Big Lottery Fund

I have often thought that my ultimate career aspiration – (many years down the line!) – would be to run the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the UK, overseeing the Big Lottery Fund’s funding is probably the nearest equivalent, with enormous potential to make a difference for communities across the UK and abroad. Here is the job advert – good luck to anyone who is applying. 

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Charlotte Ravenscroft was NCVO’s head of policy and public services. Charlotte’s wrote about funding, public service delivery, and strengthening the evidence base for voluntary action. She has also worked at the Big Lottery Fund and the Department for Education.

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