The five-minute policy manager – March 2014

In the month that brought us #nomakeup selfies, Sports Relief and the Budget, here’s a quick digest from NCVO’s policy team.

Putting the fun back into fundraising

It’s been a great week for giving. Arriving at the launch of a wellbeing report on Friday (more on which below), the receptionist greeted me dressed head-to-toe as a golf course – raising money for Sports Relief and smiles all round. Meanwhile, a male friend made me laugh by posting his own #fullmakeup selfie on facebook to help raise money for prostate cancer. From the big, organised events to a spontaneous idea that went viral, it was a timely reminder that great fundraising can inspire millions of people to support great causes. Check out CAFOD’s updated A to Z of fundraising ideas if your charity is looking for inspiration.

Macmillan CX Ciaran Devane also does his bit with a #makeup selfie!
Macmillan CX Ciaran Devane also does his bit with a #makeup selfie!

Naturally, the fundraising policy environment matters and it was great that the Budget promised more outreach to small charities and to make it easier to add Gift Aid to online donations. But this is one area where policy should really be kept simple – not overcomplicated like we’ve seen, for example, with the Small Donations Scheme. We’ll be continuing to make that case with the Treasury & HMRC as they move to implement these changes later this year.

The Budget and spending cuts

George Osbourne - budget 2014Andrew in our team has written up the key points from the Budget for voluntary organisations. Most significantly, the government is only halfway through its planned spending cuts. While nothing can be taken for granted at this point in the election cycle, charities would do well to plan ahead and anticipate further squeezes on grants and contracts from government. In April, NCVO will publish new forecasts for the sector as a whole.

The government has capped overall welfare spending

The new cap will apply to most benefits, with the notable exception of pensions and also jobseekers allowance. Interestingly, the cap has been set at the level of current forecasts – perhaps because the Lib Dems would not agree to further benefit cuts that the Chancellor and Conservative colleagues are pushing for. Nonetheless, charities have highlighted the risk that if welfare spending does rise above forecasts (for example, if housing benefit claims rise), then the cap mechanism could lead to short-term decision-making about benefit levels and uprating, that could cause further hardship for many people. It will depend on how the government of the day reacts.

See my article in Public Finance for more on the cap and what it means.

Tell us how welfare policies are affecting your beneficiaries

In related news, NCVO’s research team is still calling for feedback on the impacts of welfare changes on charities’ beneficiaries. Some initial responses include concerns about sanctions, local variability of support, and cumulative effect of service cuts. It would be great to know your experiences so that we can present a well-rounded picture in our final report – please submit a response here (we can still accept these after the deadline).

Why public service commissioning isn’t working

This month, two influential reports were published on the future of public services. The DCLG Select Committee published its final report on local procurement and Locality released its report on diseconomies of scale. Both recognised our concerns that charities are being priced out of the market, contract sizes are increasing, and public services will not improve without more radical thinking about how to deliver high quality, accessible services. One recommendation from the Select Committee is for the Social Value Act to be fully embraced – something we think could make a real difference.

This month, I met with the director of the new Crown Commercial Service. We discussed the need for vigorous implementation of forthcoming procurement reforms (see Paul’s blogs for more info), the Commissioning Academy, and addressing the wider training needs of procurement professionals across the public sector. These will be important incremental changes, but with thoughts turning to 2015, we will also be thinking about more significant proposals to put to the main parties.

On which note…

Could wellbeing measures transform public policy?

A star-studded list of economists have been involved in developing the Legatum Institute’s new report Wellbeing and Policy. In focussing on traditional economic measures such as GDP growth, the report authors argue that government misses many opportunities to make people’s lives better. Instead, a government that set wellbeing as its primary objective would take better and more cost-effective decisions. For example, tackling isolation – which research has shown is as bad for your physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and associated with a range of problems from heart disease to dementia.

It is a serious report with compelling proposals to incorporate subjective wellbeing into policy impact assessments as well as national measures of the country’s progress. It also looks at the benefits of volunteering – something NCVO’s director Justin Davis Smith has blogged about recently. We will certainly be looking at this work more closely as we develop NCVO’s manifesto for the general election.

Image: HR Treasury (Flickr)

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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 National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Education.

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