The Road Ahead 2019 – what can charities expect from the year ahead?

Every January here at NCVO we come back to work with mixed feelings: a sense of gloom because of the end of the holidays, and a sense of purpose and positivity because of a whole year ahead filled with potential opportunities. New resolutions are made, diets are started, some may choose to do a dry January, others will jump on the Veganuary trend. The point is that most of us want to do something to make ourselves feel better and prepared for whatever the next 12 months have in store.

I suspect that is the same in every office, but NCVO has even more reason to be excited: now is the time we get to publish our annual report The Road Ahead.

As in previous years, the report has been developed using a PEST analysis to highlight the key drivers shaping the sector in four areas: political, economic, social and technological.

Each year experts across NCVO identify and analyse the emerging trends that we face, and what they mean for charities. As the pace of change accelerates, and as uncertainties deepen, this year’s report highlights the growing importance of planning ahead and being prepared for any scenario, even those that may at first seem the most unlikely.

Here are some of the key issues we have identified.

Brexit ‘attention deficit’

We still don’t know what the final arrangements of our exit from the European Union will be, but Brexit has already had a massive political impact and will continue to do so for some time.

Parliament and government’s time and attention have been largely focused on Brexit since the referendum, and this will remain largely the case, no matter what is agreed.

As we get closer to Brexit day and beyond however, it will be more important for charities to set out their vision for what post-Brexit Britain should look like. At the moment everyone, from politicians to the media, are finding it difficult to think beyond the practicalities of Brexit, so the challenge – and opportunity – for our sector will be to present a compelling vision for the future of the country.

A challenging economic outlook

A weak pound, high inflation, and lower business investment caused by Brexit are likely to weigh on the economy for the foreseeable future. Charities should therefore prepare for continued dependence on the support they provide as some beneficiaries struggle to make ends meet in a challenging economic environment.

But there are also some very positive and encouraging messages coming from government, presenting some important opportunities:

  • The collapse of Carillion has spurred a number of public service reforms that will begin to take effect in 2019. These include better contracting and grants data transparency, a recommitment to the appropriate use of grants (‘Grants 2.0’), and a renewed focus on social value approaches in central government procurement.
  • Government has committed to creating a UK shared prosperity fund (UKSPF) to replace the money local areas currently receive from the European Union. The precise parameters for the fund are yet to be determined and we are still waiting for a consultation, but when it comes it will be important for charities that work in supporting disadvantaged communities.

The importance of social connections

There is a growing belief among decision makers and policy makers that many of the problems currently faced by our society are caused by the absence of meaningful connections between individuals, and between individuals and communities.

Social isolation and loneliness are receiving increased attention due to growing evidence of their negative impacts on people’s health and wellbeing. This provides opportunities for charities and voluntary organisations to be more vocal about their role in building social connections. Our sector is about people coming together on the basis of a mutual interest, a common goal or a shared space, and about the networks of relationships that emerge through this process.

This also reinforces our sector’s role in providing a voice, acting as a channel for people to speak up and have a say in the decisions that affect them. Our sector has a long and respected history of shaping public debate, and this will be more important than ever in the years to come.

Now is the time for civil society to shape our future

As our chief executive’s new year message to the sector said, 2019 will be the time for charities, campaigners and funders to refocus their energies on the bigger picture, demonstrating the role that our organisations have in society and the economy, and how much more we can do in building the future of our country.

I hope that The Road Ahead will help you in doing this, by identifying the challenges and opportunities along the way.

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Elizabeth was head of policy and public services at NCVO until 2020.

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