Five minutes in parliament – March 2014

Here’s my five-minute update on key developments from Westminster affecting the voluntary sector.

The Budget

The Budget is one of Parliament’s big set piece events. If you want to know what it might hold for the voluntary sector we have a number of things on offer for you:

Charity Commission debate

Baroness Barker led a debate in the Lords on the effectiveness of the Charity Commission. Acknowledging that the effectiveness of the Commission has been debated throughout its existence, she argued that confidence in the regulator is essential to maintaining public trust. Many of the peers who spoke in the debate also questioned whether the Commission has sufficient resources to regulate effectively.

You can read more about NCVO’s view on the need for an effective regulator in order to ensure a strong civil society.

Local government procurement

A report published by the Communities and Local Government Committee looks at the £45 billion local government spend on procuring goods and services. The report calls for local government to invest in procurement skills in order to get better value for money. NCVO’s Oliver Henman gave evidence during the committee’s inquiry and is quoted in the report discussing how commissioners can work better with community and voluntary organisations.

European elections

The European parliamentary elections do not take place until Thursday 22 May, but the campaign has begun in earnest. The story has become mainly one of Liberal Democrats versus UKIP, with Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage going head to head in a TV debate on 2 April. The Liberal Democrats risk losing all twelve of their European Parliament seats, and a strong showing for UKIP could cause a Conservative backbench revolt.

Read about NCVO’s vision for the reform of the European Union in our manifesto, Towards a More Open Europe.

Fixed-term parliaments

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (PCRC) has conducted an interesting inquiry on the impact of fixed-term parliaments. Former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell, HM Treasury’s Director of Public Spending Julian Kelly and the Institute for Government all gave evidence. Having a fixed election date so far in advance has meant that the election campaign has begun extremely early, but it also allows the Civil Service more time to plan and gather the evidence they might need for potential new policies.

Coalition is always on the verge of splitting

Or so the media would have you think. A new story on the ‘rising tensions’ between the two parties is published at least monthly, and we’re reading a lot about the Liberal Democrats’ quest for ‘differentiation’ at the moment. It is worth remembering that this has been the case almost since the Coalition was formed. Looking back, the earliest story I could find was published less than six weeks after the Coalition Agreement was signed. It is almost always over-stated and almost always there to fill space.

Recommended reading

  1. Doncaster Council has published an infographic on their spending by type of council services and it’s a great public education exercise. What the council receives in council tax payments does not even cover just the adult social care budget. Not surprising to those who work in or with local government, but it will shock many others. 
  2. This BBC short feature looks at the well-trod career route from special adviser (spad) into Parliament. This is well known, but their new finding is that MPs who were spads are much more likely to reach Cabinet level. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls all came through this training ground. A number of current or past spads are looking for parliamentary seats in 2015. Laura Trott, Cameron’s adviser on women and families, is among them.
  3. In an article on Conservative Party division, editor of the Spectator Fraser Nelson summarises a commonly held view at the moment: the Conservative Party, in the jostling for position as Cameron’s successor, is admitting defeat for 2015 rather than fighting the election.

And finally…

Watch MPs, peers and journalists fight it out in the parliamentary pancake race, which happens every year to raise money for Rehab. It is part of the parliamentary calendar of established charity events. Other highlights include the Dog Trust’s Westminster Dog of the Year (current winner is Alan Duncan’s dog Noodle) and the Starlight children’s Christmas party at No 11.

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Charlotte was our senior external relations officer and public affairs consultant. She has left NCVO

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