The inside track: November 2020

Our latest update on what’s going on in Westminster that might impact charities, including a promise of new funding for charities from the prime minister, and thoughts on what the exit of Dominic Cummings might mean for charities.

Parliament

More support for charities?

Under questioning from shadow charities minister Rachael Maskell, the prime minister said that the government ‘will be doing much more over the winter to support the voluntary sector’, though it remains to be seen what this will amount to.

DCMS questions saw an update on financial support for charities, with minister Matt Warman saying that 13,000 charities, social enterprises and community organisations have so far been funded by the government.

We may find out more about what the government is planning at next week’s Spending Review, though specific funding to deal with issues arising as a result of coronavirus is likely to continue to be announced periodically over the winter where it is being provided. We are supporting the Never More Needed campaign’s five point plan.

We are though expecting to hear more about the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – the fund designed to replace various strands of EU funding the UK was in receipt of, including the European Social Fund. The scheme was first announced in 2017, and is currently due to start in less than six months (though there is some government backing for ongoing programmes). We’ve set out principles for how the new fund can improve upon the EU funding it is replacing.

People news

This month has seen a highly publicised shake-up of the government’s comms operation, with Dominic Cummings following fellow former Vote Leave official (and ex-Mirror chicken) Lee Cain out of Downing Street. Different versions of the inside story appeared across the weekend’s newspapers, but what doesn’t seem to be disputed is that the trigger was the hiring of Allegra Stratton as the PM’s press secretary – a new role which will see Ms Stratton fronting US-style televised press briefings on behalf of Boris Johnson. Former Daily Mail journalist James Slack will become the new director of communications, while hiring for a permanent chief of staff continues.

Labour NEC

Labour has held the first elections to its ruling body, the National Executive Committee, since Sir Keir Starmer became the party’s leader. While the elections appear to have tilted the committee further in the new leader’s favour, Grassroots Voice, the Momentum-backed slate, won a number of seats under a new preferential system, suggesting that the party still remains balanced between its various factions.

What does the departure of Dominic Cummings mean for charities?

On the face of it you might think the answer to this question is not very much, and we definitely shouldn’t overinterpret the impact of one adviser.

However, the briefing around his departure does suggest the government may want to move away from the confrontational approach that has worked well in campaigns, but has caused disquiet when transferred to governing. Most charities would welcome the move away from fighting culture wars and adopting the more conciliatory approach suggested by the Times (£), but that doesn’t mean we should be anticipating a much rosier picture in our relations with government.

There still appears to be a general ambivalence about the role of charities in dealing with the pandemic, despite strong collaboration with some parts of the sector, such as homelessness and domestic abuse charities. A change in tone is welcome, but unlikely to lead to many substantive policy changes.

But for those organisations who have felt shut out, or even antagonised, by government, any excuse for a new start is a good one, and this could be an opportunity to reset relationships frayed by the difficulties of the last year.

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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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