The inside track: February 2019

Our latest update on what’s going on in Westminster that might impact charities includes:

  • Parliament debating the importance of charities and volunteers.
  • Restrictions on booking rooms in parliament.
  • Whether charities should be preparing for an election.


Debate on connecting communities by supporting charities and volunteers

Yesterday, MPs debated how charities and volunteers can be supported to connect communities. Civil society minister Mims Davies, set out the government’s civil society strategy, and the progress they are making on implementing it.

Shadow civil society minister Steve Reed suggested there was a gap between the government’s rhetoric and the reality of what was being delivered. Along with the SNP’s Martin Docherty-Hughes, he also raised delays to the government’s consultation on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, the UK’s replacement for a range of EU funding.

Campaigning and particular the Lobbying Act was raised by a number of MPs, including chair of the APPG on Charities and Volunteering, Susan Elan Jones. In response, the minister said that the prime minister had made clear that charities were able to advocate on behalf of their communities.

MPs also took the opportunity to talk about the work done by charities, both national and local, in their constituencies, and to praise local volunteers.

No news either, on the long-awaited Shared Prosperity Fund consultation …

Read the full debate.

Committee rooms

After a trial, the House of Commons has introduced a new policy whereby committee rooms can only be booked for select committee business on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. So, those of you running APPGs and other parliamentary events may need to think about holding them outside busy parliamentary times.

Brexit and the meaningful vote

Brexit still, of course, dominates the political landscape, and while there has been much talk this week of various strategies and approaches for passing a deal, we’re not really any further on from the last set of parliamentary votes. It seems more and more likely that a final vote will be taken to the wire, with some talking about a vote after 21 March, just a week before we are due to leave the EU.

One thing that has emerged this week is that if a deal is agreed shortly before the deadline, the government are planning to treat the withdrawal agreement bill – required to give legal effect to the withdrawal agreement, as emergency legislation, allowing for swift passage through parliament. They have also indicated they may seek to disapply the ratification procedure set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRAG), which requires treaties to be laid before parliament for 21 days before the government may ratify them.

Given the scrutiny already applied to the withdrawal agreement by parliament, the disapplication of the relevant CRAG procedures may not prove to be that controversial. However, MPs and peers may be more concerned about a lack of time to scrutinise the legislation. The Institute for Government has called for the draft bill to be published to allow for greater scrutiny.

Statutory instruments

Two statutory instruments with relevance to the charity sector have been passed in the last week. As announced in the budget, the maximum donation a charity can claim under the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme will increase from £20 to £30 from 6 April 2019.

MPs have also passed a more controversial change to probate fees. Legacy experts the Institute for Legacy Management have warned that replacing the current flat fee of £215 with bands could have an impact on legacy income.

People news

Select committees

  • Recently resigned higher education minister Sam Gyimah has joined the Science and Technology Committee in place of fellow Conservative MP Neil O’Brien.
  • Anna Soubry has replaced fellow Conservative MP Alex Burghart on the Work and Pensions Committee.
  • Conservative MP Robert Courts has left the Justice Committee, and been replaced by MP Alex Chalk.

Other appointments

  • Journalist Lynn Davidson has been appointed as special adviser to international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt. Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami has been appointed as Ms Mordaunt’s parliamentary private secretary (PPS).
  • The 15th Lord Reay has taken his seat in the House of Lords, after winning a hereditary peer by-election.
  • Dr John Benger has been appointed as the new Clerk of the House of Commons, replacing Sir David Natzler, who is retiring.

Should charities be preparing for an election?

With limited progress being made on getting a Brexit deal through parliament, speculation is growing about a possible election, with the Mail on Sunday reporting a proposed date of 6 June.

So should we be writing manifestos and planning hustings? I’d take anyone claiming an election will definitely happen on a specific date with a pinch of salt, but parliamentary gridlock and improved poll lead for the Conservatives mean that it could be seen as a way out, though a result which provides a clear majority for a specific Brexit deal is far from guaranteed.

Charities should then be starting to think about what they want from an election, and what would be achievable in these circumstances. As we learned in 2017, a snap election means limited opportunities for party manifesto teams to engage, so focusing on a few key asks seems sensible.

Tom Baker, head of mobilisation at Save the Children, recently published some good advice on things to start thinking about, so that you’re ready in the event that it does happen.

NCVO can help you to navigate Westminster and Whitehall

Make sure your voice is heard by those making the decisions. We can provide a range of advice, support and training, contact for details.

If you’re looking for campaigning training, our new training website now has all of our courses in one place.

Our next Influencing Parliament course will be on 8 March. As Brexit continues to limit parliamentary and government time for other matters, it’s even more important that you make effective use of the tactics available to influence through parliament.

We also have a new course, Introduction to Public Affairs, on 8 April. It’s designed to give an overview of public affairs in charities for people who are new to the job, expanding their role into public affairs activities, or would like a refresher of the key principles.

We’ll also be running our Influencing Select Committees course on 26 April. This will help charities make the most of their engagement with committees, and ensure they are well-placed to write compelling submissions and prepare senior staff to give evidence.

Brexit updates

NCVO is a member of the Brexit Civil Society Alliance, a UK-wide alliance of charities, voluntary and campaigning organisations, all working together to ensure that the voices of civil society are heard in the Brexit process. As Brexit continues to dominate the political and parliamentary process it’s worth signing up to the Alliance’s weekly newsletter to keep on top of the latest goings-on. You can sign up on their website.

For some of the longer terms trends on what Brexit might mean for UK politics (as well as other key economic, social and technological trends) NCVO members can access our 2019 Road Ahead report.

If you really want to keep on top of the latest Brexit news. Other useful regular updates worth subscribing to include the House of Commons Library Brexit Digest and UK in a Changing Europe’s weekly newsletter.

We’ve also produced a factsheet for charities to help them prepare for the impact of Brexit.


Please do get in touch with me at if there’s anything you’d like to see included, or if you have any other comments.

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Avatar photo 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.

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