The Queen’s speech – what charities need to know

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.

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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.

Charity funding

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.


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Chris Walker Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

7 Responses to The Queen’s speech – what charities need to know

  1. Being based in Wales it is about time that the Queens speech and others from Westminster make it clear what is actually UK wide and what is meant by National as this often only refers to England due to devolution. Often when these statements are filtered at the different levels to reach the Charity and community sector in Wales they often bear very little resemblance to the original.

  2. Chris Walker Chris Walker says:

    A very fair point, John. For avoidance of doubt, NCS proposals are for England, but the government are discussing with the devolved administrations about extending it, Gift Aid changes will apply to the whole of the UK, and business rate reforms are England only.

    The public service reform measures mentioned are a mixture of England and Wales – in some areas there does tend to be quite a bit of overlap.

  3. Omotolani Sulu says:

    These renewed commitment to the NCS programme is been long overdue and must be taken seriously by decisions and policy makers, supported technically & financially supported by government long-term on behalf of young people in acquiring 21st century skill, knowledge, discipline and experience for labour market skill needs requirement. While for adult to gain access to and experience modern labour market skill updates, an opportunity for boomer to update and modernise their CV’s and share transferable skill in the process encouraging inter-generational social connection. Will the Small Donation Scheme not be good enough for small micro grass root charities and not just for small and medium charities? As for academies, Why impose and no room for choice, being poor should not mean being handicapped everybody has poor people within their family no matter how rich

  4. Bill Gandey, chair of the Bevendean lat. says:

    There is very little in the speech for the most vulnerable in our societies. We hear much about prison reforms and how the government intended to invest to change a broken system, we hear about supporting the young and retraining those who have been unfortunate to loose their employment.but yet again i see nothing for those who from no fault of their own are unable to work, carers, disabled, chronic illness. Again we hear about how everyone will be better of in work, this is very little comfort to those who will never be in such a position. We hear how the safety net is there to support such people but in reality we have found the safety net was removed a long time ago. Maybe I missed something positive in the speech concerning these matters if so please let me know what it was.
    I can honestly say that in talking to our members of society who spend their days waiting in line at the food bank or are unable to leave the house because they are carers to the chronicly ill or those who have to make the decision on whether to feed themselves or their loved ones or those who are to scared to open the door because it my be the bailiffs ready to takeaway the last of their possessions before they are put out on the streets, from talking to such members i have oftern been told that the question of a in/out referendum is of absolutely no concern to them at all!

  5. Caroline Cook says:

    In relation to the expansion of the NCS and Chris’s point ‘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’ I would fully support this. The volunteer centre network in England, supported by NCVO, has been saying for a long time that they are able to really help local NCS schemes to deliver on their community related objectives and to encourage a long-term relationship to volunteering amongst young people, but that they need to receive some of the funding that the primes receive. They are often asked at the last minute to suggest volunteering opportunities or community projects that participants could engage with. This approach is ineffective in terms of embedding a life-long relationship to volunteering and brings little benefit to the local community. The government could suggest to NCS providers that a fair payment could be made to local volunteer centres who could enhance delivery and really bring multiple benefits to a range of stakeholders. Poorly thought through community activity is not satisfying for the young people and brings no added value. With this level of resourcing, this local investment should not be out of reach.

  6. With reference to the NCS, this is a hugely bureaucratic and expensive scheme that often delivers poorly thought out and rush tiny pieces of social action. Even if 10% of the money given to this scheme was diverted to supporting local youth provision, far more social action would be delivered and young people would be supported in the long term.
    At the moment the NCS trust is given the money to administer, will this legislation guarantee that they are always funded or will it be tendered, or brought back into a government department?

  7. Jean Stevens says:

    Cut some red tape for small groups caring in the community.
    They do a grand job with little thanks or help.
    It is a case of begging for funding.