The inside track: February 2020

Our latest update on what’s going on in Westminster that might impact charities, including select committee elections, leadership elections and news on the reshuffle.

Election of select committee chairs

The allocation of select committee chairs between parties has been agreed and chairs elected, with the Conservatives gaining three committees: transport and environmental audit from Labour, and science and technology from the Liberal Democrats.

Julian Knight beat incumbent Damian Collins to chair the digital, culture, media and sport committee, which includes charities policy. View the full list of new committee chairs.

Cabinet reshuffle

Boris Johnson has completed his first major reshuffle. In many ways it was not an extensive reshuffle at senior level, with most cabinet ministers staying in their existing posts. But there was a major change as Sajid Javid resigned after being told that all of his special advisers would be sacked and replaced by a common team of special advisers across Number 10 and the Treasury.

Some key appointments for charities include:

  • Rishi Sunak: Already expected to get a big promotion, the Richmond MP found himself as chancellor after replacing Sajid Javid. A supporter of Leave in the referendum, he is considered, like his predecessor, to be on the economic right of the party. The prime minister may however think he is more likely to follow the guidance of Number 10, especially after the staffing changes that have been made.
  • Oliver Dowden: A former special adviser, the new secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport was promoted from the Cabinet Office. He has previously worked on issues such as the inclusive economy and social value in procurement, which may come up again with his department containing the Office for Civil Society.
  • Anne-Marie Trevelyan: A strong supporter of Brexit, the new international development secretary moves from the Ministry of Defence. There had been reports that her new department would be merged with the Foreign Office, but with junior ministers reporting in to both departments. Development charities may be concerned that this merger, which many organisations vocally opposed, has been delayed rather than shelved completely.
  • Suella Braverman: A former Department for Exiting the European Union minister who resigned from Theresa May’s government over Brexit, Suella Braverman replaces Geoffrey Cox as attorney general – with speculation over the implications the constitution, democracy and rights commission will have for the future of judicial review. She recently set out her views on the role of the courts, which will not be encouraging for those who want to protect routes that ensure the government is acting within the law.
  • Alok Sharma: The previous international development secretary has moved to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy. He has also been given responsibility for the COP26 climate conference, so will play a crucial role in the government’s attempts to tackle the climate emergency.
  • Simon Clarke: The former exchequer secretary has taken over from Jake Berry as the devolution minister. He will take on responsibility for the levelling up agenda, a key part of the government’s offer to former Labour seats, particularly those won in 2019. We will be urging the new minister to put the UK shared prosperity fund at the top of his priorities, and provide clarity in a number of areas set out in a recent joint budget submission from a number of charity sector bodies, including NCVO.
  • Kemi Badenoch: First elected in 2017, Kemi Badenoch is the new exchequer secretary, and will have responsibility for charity tax. She is the patron of several local charities including CVS Uttleford.

What does the reshuffle mean for charities?

The biggest news from the reshuffle was clearly Sajid Javid’s unexpected departure, and alongside some other moves, suggested that the prime minister and his team are taking closer control of the Treasury in particular. It’s been suggested that this will make it easier to carry out the higher spending sought by the prime minister.

Levelling up is very much the phrase of the moment, and even has a ministerial role named for it, so charities should be thinking about how they may be able to contribute to this agenda. The importance of place has been a focus of much reflection by charities in the last few years, so there could now be an opportunity to make a positive difference for the communities we represent.

The merger of the Foreign Office and Department for International Development did not take place this time, but giving all of the ministers in the department briefs across both departments suggests it is not far away. This is something that will inevitably shape the priorities of aid more closely towards diplomatic objectives.

Another issue that charities might be concerned about is the implications for retaining existing judicial review powers, given vocal opponent of ‘judicial activism’ Suella Braverman’s appointment as attorney general. However, the appointment of the chair of the constitution, democracy and rights commission will be crucial.

One notable feature of the reshuffle is that despite the relative lack of movement in cabinet, there has been a significant clear out of the junior ministerial ranks. There’s every chance that this is setting the stage for those ministers to be elevated to the cabinet in the next few years, meaning the relationships you build now could have additional importance in the future.

Labour leadership and deputy leadership contests

After Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to stand down after the election, three MPs are vying to become the new Labour leader. The front-runners look set to be Sir Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey, but the length of the contest, the result of which will not be announced until 4 April, means that Lisa Nandy will get a chance to make her case. Emily Thornberry failed to make the ballot after just falling short of securing the required number of nominations from constituency Labour parties.

Angela Rayner is the clear favourite to win the deputy leadership race, ahead of fellow contenders Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler, Rosena Allin-Khan and Ian Murray. The position became vacant after Tom Watson decided to stand down from parliament ahead of the election.

Lib Dem leadership election

Sir Ed Davey MP and new party president Mark Pack will remain as interim leaders of the Liberal Democrats until the summer, with nominations opening after the local elections in May. The delayed contest, necessary after former leader Jo Swinson lost her seat at the election, will also allow for a review of the party’s election campaign to be carried out ahead of the vote.

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 training website now has all of our courses in one place.

Brexit updates

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

If you want to keep in touch with the latest Brexit news, it’s also worth following these:

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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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