Charity policy round-up: April 2019

Lessons from the Garden Bridge Trust

The Charity Commission has published its concluding report on the Garden Bridge Trust, suggesting lessons for charities, policy makers, and the regulator itself.

The Commission’s press release chose to focus on the alleged ‘failure for charity’ caused by the fact that over £50m of public funds were spent without producing demonstrable public benefit, and the risk that this will undermine wider public trust in charity.

But there are other important lessons worth highlighting from the Commission’s report, such as:

  • Policy makers should ‘think very carefully’ before setting up an entirely new charity to deliver a singular public project or purpose.
  • If doing so, trustees must understand the consequences and responsibilities that follow, including the need to meet the public’s expectations around transparency and financial stewardship.
  • Trustees of charities that receive public funds to deliver public services or projects should demonstrate scrupulous accountability and a spirit of transparency and openness to the public.
  • The report makes clear that ‘the legal minimum set out in the accounting framework should be viewed as just that: a minimum, not an aspiration.’ In particular, mere compliance with the SORP is not a sufficient level of transparency and accountability in the circumstances, given the nature and profile of the charity’s work.

Local government finance inquiry

The housing, communities and local government committee is carrying out an inquiry into local government finance.

Ahead of the 2019 spending review expected this autumn, the inquiry will consider how effective the existing funding set-up for local government is in providing resources to meet need and demand for local services both now and in the future.

NCVO submitted written evidence to the committee in partnership with the Charity Finance Group, the Lloyd’s Bank Foundation and NAVCA. Our joint submission highlighted the impact that recent changes to local government finance have had on voluntary organisations and on their capacity to support local communities.

Government publishes ‘blueprint’ to unlock more funds from dormant assets

The government has published ‘The Dormant Assets Scheme: A blueprint for expansion’.

This independent report was commissioned from finance industry champions and sets out how to expand the dormant assets scheme and release more funds for ‘good causes’.

It also calls for more transparency about how dormant account money is used and says that the Reclaim Fund’s annual report should be ‘made more prominent and readily accessible’. The report also highlights that primary legislation will be needed to expand the scheme to other areas.

NCVO is part of an alliance of charity bodies that has long been calling on the government to use the funding released from dormant assets for the creation of a community wealth fund.

EU elections – what do charities need to think about?

The European elections have now, barring some very unlikely political developments, been confirmed to go ahead in the UK.

This means that there will be a retrospective regulated period in relation to any spending by individuals and organisations which could reasonably be regarded as intended to influence voters in relation to the election.

It is unlikely that work undertaken by organisations may now become retrospectively regulated, but it’s worth familiarising yourself with the rules and considering whether they are relevant to your campaigning activity.

My colleague Douglas explains the rules of electoral law and what they mean for charities in the run up to the EU elections in his blog post.

And here is a useful explanation on what the prospect of European elections means for campaigners by Simon Steeden at Bates Wells Braithwaite.

Charities and DCMS to create youth charter

It has been announced that youth charities and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are to jointly create a youth charter.

This new charter will coordinate government youth policy, and centralise different youth services such as education, criminal justice, health care and housing, providing young people with the opportunity to voice their concerns on a range of societal issues.

New British Red Cross report

Drawing on a survey of 5,000 UK adults, and insights from those with direct experience of major incidents and emergencies, the British Red Cross has published Ready for anything: Putting people at the heart of emergency response.

This latest report looks in depth at what people expect and need before, during and after a crisis hits. The report explores what works well and where people’s needs are not being met at the moment.

By sharing these insights, and thanks to the policy and practice recommendations based on the findings set out in this report, the aim is to ensure that communities across the country are more resilient, better prepared and able to support each other when a major incident happens.

New FOI guidance for public authorities

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published updated guidance on Freedom of Information (FOI) and Environmental Information Regulations (EIR).
This replaces existing exemption guidance where data protection and the transparency of freedom of information overlap and interact.

Charity Landscape 2019 report by the Charities Aid Foundation

The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) has published its yearly survey of charity leaders, to understand the challenges they face, and to assess the impact these challenges have on the sector’s ability to meet the needs of its beneficiaries.

  • This year’s findings focus largely on Brexit, highlighting that:
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of UK charities believe that Brexit will have a negative impact on their work.
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of charity leaders said that the EU withdrawal process has already had an impact, with 33% of those reporting issues with recruitment and retention of staff and 19% a loss of EU funding or projects.
  • Some 37% believe there will be a decrease in donations as a result of EU withdrawal.

Read the full Charity Landscape 2019 report (PDF, 670KB).

 

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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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