The five-minute policy manager – January 2015

The New Year has kicked off with a flurry of consultations and announcements, and things are going to get busier and we approach May. So, just in the nick of time for the end of January, here’s our latest monthly policy blog post to help you stay up to date with NCVO’s work and the latest voluntary sector policy news.

Appointment of Lord Hodgson as reviewer of the Lobbying Act

The government has appointed Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts to conduct the review into how the non-party campaigning rules in the Lobbying Act are being put into practice. Some of the key issues that will be addressed by the review are the appropriateness of the Electoral Commission’s guidance and whether charities and other third parties who undertake campaigning activities have fully understood and complied with regulatory rules.

We hope that the review will also unpick some of the more difficult questions, in particular whether the current definition of ‘controlled expenditure’ (which basically determines whether the rules come into play) can be improved, in a way that provides clearer lines for charity campaigning.

More details about the review are available on the Parliament’s website.

NAO follow up review of the Charity Commission

The National Audit Office has published its follow up a review into the Charity Commission’s performance as a regulator, highlighting the progress that has been made in a number of areas.

A useful article by Sarah Atkinson, Director of Policy and Communications at the Charity Commission, explains how the Commission has addressed the concerns raised in the initial report, and the work it intends to carry out moving forward.

For a summary of the report, see my blog post.

Charity Commission hearing with the Public Accounts Committee

Paula Sussex, CEO of the Charity Commission, appeared in front of the Public Accounts Committee yesterday. Questions ranged from the Commission’s current compliance cases, registrations, its overall relationship with the sector (including how this has been affected by the reduction of advice services), its future plans on introducing charging, membership and role of the board, just to name a few.

Appearing in front of such a scrutinising Committee is never an easy ride, but Paula Sussex held her ground and kept her cool. Margaret Hodge ended by recognising the progress that the Commission has made on the NAO recommendations, and that is probably as positive ending as feasible with such a Committee.

Consultation on CC3 – Essential Trustee Guidance

The Charity Commission is holding a consultation on a new version of its ‘Essential Trustee’ guidance.

The most significant change is a new meaning of what trustees ‘should’ do. Commission guidance currently distinguishes between legal requirements (what trustees ‘must’ do) and good practice (what trustees ‘should’ do). The suggested new guidance wants ‘should’ to indicate a minimum good practice requirement that, if not complied with, could constitute a breach of duty.

We will be responding to this consultation, so please if you have any views share them in the comment boxes below.

Changes to VISA costs might affect charities taking card donations

VISA have changed the way they charge and this could affect charities receiving donations made via a VISA Debit Card. The changes are due to be rolled out by banks and processing companies in March.

The General Election is even closer than you think

US election maestro Jim Messina is reported to have told Conservative MPs in November that they had 104 minutes to win the general election. I am not going to try to work out how many minutes are left now…

But fortunately we launched NCVO’s Voluntary Sector Manifesto with a year to go before the election, so hopefully we have had a good opportunity to influence the policies that any next incoming government will take. But now time really is getting tight and we will be stepping up our work – so watch this space.

NAVCA report on the Future of Local Infrastructure

The Independent Commission on the Future of Local Infrastructure, set up by Navca to examine existing voluntary and community infrastructure and devise ways to deliver support for local organisations in England, has published its final report ‘Change for Good’.

The report finds, amongst other things, that many infrastructure bodies were responding in new and innovative ways to the changing environment. But it also highlights that the sector “is so busy coping with the problems of today that it often lacks the foresight to adapt to change effectively”.

Our Head of Policy Ruth’s blog explores the perils of ignoring infrastructure.

Consultation on raising the thresholds for independent examination and audit

NCVO and CFG have jointly responded to the consultation on increasing the financial thresholds above which charities must have their accounts audited rather than independently examined.

Our submission agreed that the income threshold for charities to have their accounts audited should be increased from £500,000 to £1m. However, we also highlighted that the audit process is important in ensuring public confidence in the sector and that the option to voluntarily submit to an audit should be properly communicated to charities.

VCSE Social Investment Toolkit

As part of our work with the Children’s Partnership, NCVO has produced a useful Guide on Social Investment for Voluntary Organisations.

Social Investment Awareness Raising

NCVO is organising a series of events across the country between February and March, aimed at providing information and generally raising awareness about the types of social investment available, as well as the opportunities and barriers relating to each.

The events will be hosted in Manchester, Ipswich, Leicester, Exeter, and London. If you are interested in attending please get in touch with Victoria.Malmlof@ncvo.org.uk.

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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.

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