The inside track: July 2020

Our latest update on what’s going on in Westminster that might impact charities, including the start of work on covid-19 recovery, a proposal to move the House of Lords, and thoughts on how charities should approach recess and party conferences.

Parliament

Danny Kruger review

Devizes MP, and former charity founder and government adviser on civil society, Danny Kruger has been asked by the prime minister to make recommendations on the role of civil society in the recovery from covid-19. He’s encouraged charities to put forward their reflections on the issues highlighted in the letter to danny.kruger.mp@parliament.uk, but you’ll need to get something in quickly as he’s due to report to government by Friday 24 July.

House of Lords covid-19 committee

The new covid-19 committee in the House of Lords, chaired by Baroness Lane-Fox has also formally opened its inquiry into life beyond coronavirus, which again is something that we know many charities will want to contribute to. The deadline for written evidence is 31 August, and it’s worth saying to those who wouldn’t normally contribute to a committee inquiry that the call for evidence is deliberately open and flexible about what people submit as they are keen to hear a range of views. And if you do want any additional guidance on submissions, feel free to drop me a line at chris.walker@ncvo.org.uk.

Moving the House of Lords

It was reported this week that there are plans to move the House of Lords to York, as part of a wider attempt to move institutions away from London. It has since emerged that the whole parliament might do so temporarily while the restoration and renewal process is under way. Because of the ways in which the House of Lords interacts with the House of Commons there are some significant practical challenges (paid subscription needed) of a longer term move, one of which may be the opposition of peers, but it does appear to be a proposal that the government are determined to take forward, and so is definitely one to watch for charity campaigners.

People news

It was announced this month that Sir Mark Sedwill will stand down as cabinet secretary later this year, as the government announced their intentions to reform how the civil service works. I wrote about what those changes might mean for charity influencing.

Civil service changes

Sir Mark Sedwill’s departure is not the only change at the top of the civil service, with Foreign and Commonwealth Office permanent secretary Sir Simon McDonald leaving government as the FCO merges with the Department for International Development. This follows the departure several months ago of Sir Philip Rutnam from the Home Office, as he announced his intention to take home secretary Priti Patel to an employment tribunal. Most recently, Sir Richard Heaton announced he was stepping down as permanent secretary to the Ministry of Justice.

This means that not only are we looking at a civil service that is expected to change it’s approach, but also one in which there will be major changes of personnel at the top.

Intelligence and security committee

Julian Lewis has been appointed as chair of the intelligence and security committee. Unlike other parliamentary committees, who are now elected by the House of Commons, the chair is elected by the members of the committee. This meant that opposition MPs on the committee were able to vote with Mr Lewis to outvote government MPs, who were, with a range of formality depending on who you listen to, backing former cabinet minister Chris Grayling. The Conservatives have chosen to withdraw the whip from Mr Lewis as a result.

Party conferences

It’s now been confirmed that party conferences will be going virtual this year. For charities, there will be a question of how best to engage, and at the moment there are quite limited details about the format. Aside from this most charities will be in a period of caution over spending, so will be wary of committing large sums of money to an unproven concept, but it’s worth keeping an eye out to see if there are any value for money opportunities. But as ever, remember to ask whether you could run the event as or more effectively yourself, particularly as you won’t then be limited to those who have signed up to the whole conference.

What should you be doing in recess?

Recess is normally a good time to take stock, make long-term plans, and prepare for party conferences, but this year might be a bit different.

On the face of it, MPs may well be more available for summer meetings than they would normally, so it’s likely to be worth at least trying to engage, even if many will be particularly keen to be visible to their constituents if they haven’t had the usual round of local events.

With a budget and the spending review coming in the autumn, it’s going to be a crucial time for charities to be looking to influence government, so I’m focused more on making sure we are able to hit the ground running after recess, by identifying key supporters, and if possible briefing them before parliament returns. And crucially if you want something in the budget, when it comes to talking to officials, the earlier the better, so make sure that’s in your summer plans as well.

 

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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.

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