The inside track: June 2021

Our latest update on what’s going on in Westminster that might impact charities, including legislation on dormant assets and charity law, news on levelling up, and several by-elections.

Parliament

Dormant assets bill

The Dormant assets bill has passed its second reading in the House of Lords. The bill will expand the existing dormant assets scheme to include additional assets such as insurance and pensions. The bill will provide for an estimated £880m to be distributed through the dormant assets scheme.

However, despite pledges for a full consultation when they are used, some concerns have been raised about the extent of new powers to set out what the money can be spent on in secondary legislation. That issue will be discussed during committee stage from next week, as will a bid to establish a Community Wealth Fund, a proposal led by Local Trust, and supported by over 400 organisations, including NCVO.

Charities bill

After a few years of struggling to find parliamentary time, the recommendations of the Law Commission in its review of technical issues in charity law, are to be brought forward through the charities bill. Most of the recommendations have been accepted, but the government did reject some of the suggestions, including the proposal that there should be an alternative route to seeking to bring a case to the Charity Tribunal, where the Charity Commission has a conflict of interest.

The bill itself will introduce a number of changes designed to reduce the legal and regulatory burden faced by charities and trustees. Measures include:

  • making it easier for charities to amend their governing documents
  • providing more flexibility where fundraising appeals have failed
  • simplifying requirements around disposals of land.

The bill has been warmly welcomed by the sector, including NCVO, and it is expected it will begin its passage through the Lords before summer recess.

Levelling up work in the charity sector

With Conservative MP Neil O’Brien set to feed into a government white paper on levelling up, he asked NCVO to convene charity sector partners to put forward recommendations on what levelling up should mean. NCVO’s head of networks and influencing, Alex Farrow, has tweeted a bit more about the process of putting forward recommendations from charities on levelling up.

Coronavirus support for charities

The Public Accounts Committee has published its report into the coronavirus support package for the charity sector provided by the government. The report highlights several areas of concern around funding, including the use of consultants where experienced funders were making decisions. NCVO’s policy and influencing lead Rebecca Young has summarised the report.

Who’s watching parliament: Help with a survey of CSOs using parliament data

A new project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, looks at how new data is being used to monitor parliament. They want to know more about:

  • who is using the data
  • what they are using it for
  • how this could impact on their thinking about Parliament and democracy in the UK.

CSOs appear to be one significant group of users, and so the project aims to find out more about how and why you use the data.

If you have used parliament data, please help by filling in this short survey – it should take 5-10 minutes

The project is being overseen by Dr. Ben Worthy, an academic at Birkbeck College. Please ask any questions by emailing b.worthy@bbk.ac.uk.

People news

Labour’s by-election loss in Hartlepool is now followed by a further challenging by-election in Batley and Spen, after Tracy Brabin stood down on winning the West Yorkshire mayoral election. We are also set to see a new MP in Chesham and Amersham following the death of Dame Cheryl Gillan. The seat has typically been a safe Conservative one, with the closest challengers expected to be the Liberal Democrats.

As well as Jill Mortimer, who took Hartlepool for the Conservatives, the House of Commons welcomed another new MP, Anum Qaisar-Javed, who retained Airdrie and Shotts for the SNP with a reduced majority, after previous MP Neil Gray stood down to stand in the Scottish parliamentary elections.

Other appointments

  • Sir Keir Starmer shuffled his frontbench after the party’s Hartlepool by-election defeat, replacing Anneliese Dodds as Shadow Chancellor with Rachel Reeves. Ms Dodds now becomes party chair after deputy leader Angela Rayner lost that position, but gained additional frontbench responsibilities.
  • Conservative MPs Lee Anderson and Philip Davies have replaced colleagues Ben Bradley and Peter Gibson on the Women and Equalities Committee. Mr Davies served previously as an often controversial member of the committee from 2016 to 2019.
  • Delyn MP Rob Roberts has lost the Conservative whip, after a report by the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) recommended he be suspended for six weeks because of sexual misconduct. There have been calls for him to stand down as an MP, as the usual recall process can’t currently be triggered by an IEP recommendation, as the legislation predates its establishment.
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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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