Summer is officially over and MPs and peers are back in Westminster after their summer break today, so what can charities expect from the policy environment in the coming weeks.
Last year’s snap election put many issues on hold, so even though much of the government agenda will be focused on Brexit there is still quite a lot on the ‘to do’ list that affects charities.
We can also expect to start to see more from the new charities minister, Tracey Crouch. She was appointed shortly before the summer recess and before there was really any opportunity to get much done.
The next three months will give us a clearer idea of where she stands on the key issues, and whether she is able to balance the competing demands of the sport and civil society briefs.
Here’s what the charity sector should be looking out for in the coming months:
A government response to the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities. The committee published its report in March, which included a number of recommendations for government, particularly around commissioning and grant reform. A government response was expected in early summer but was delayed by the election.
Recommendations on full-time youth social action. A review of measures to encourage young people to volunteer full-time was launched last December. Steve Holliday, former chief executive of the National Grid, was appointed to chair the project in the spring and tasked with reporting back to the minister by October.
Draft Charities Bill from the Law Commission. The Law Commission has been consulting on charity issues since 2015 and took extra views last year relating to changing a charity’s purpose and trust corporation status. It is currently formulating its final recommendations and expects to publish a draft bill this month. Secondary legislation is also needed to enable charities to convert to become CIOs. This has been delayed several times and the government has not responded to a consultation that was published in 2016.
New Crown Representative for the Voluntary Sector. The minister for civil society announced in December 2016 that it would recruit a new crown representative for the voluntary sector. The role is intended to ensure there is someone to act as a focal point within groups of providers of government services. The charity sector has been without a crown representative since 2014, when Michael O’Toole stood down. The deadline for applications closed over six months ago and an announcement is expected shortly.
Lobbying Act reform. In the wake of the election result the charity sector has stepped up its insistence that the Lobbying Act needs to be reformed. Charities have written to both Damian Green, minister for the Cabinet Office and to Crouch outlining their concerns and calling for recommendations made by Lord Hodgson in his review of the Act to be implemented as soon as possible. This may not happen in the next three months, but we should hopefully get some indication of whether there is any government appetite to act.
New director for the Office for Civil Society. Mark Fisher moved to a new role at the Cabinet Office earlier this year and the government began the recruitment process for a new director in August. Interviews are expected to be held at the end of September and the new post-holder will be charged with developing a “new direction of work on civil society”.
Charity Commission board appointments. The Department for Culture Media and Sport advertised for a new chair and a new legal board member for the Charity Commission to take over from William Shawcross and Orlando Fraser respectively. Fraser’s term finishes in December and Shawcross’ term comes to a close in early 2018.
Local Charities Day? The first Local Charities Day was organised by the Office for Civil Society last year to celebrate that part of the sector. It took place on 16 December and included a range of training opportunities and match-funding for Localgiving’s Grow Your Tenner campaign. Before the election it was hinted that the event would return for a second year – if anything is likely to take place we should expect the announcement soon.
Reforms to public services. In December 2016 Rob Wilson, the former minister for civil society, announced that the government would look at setting up a kitemark to highlight best practice in public sector commissioning and that it would also develop a public service incubator to help small charities get commissioned. A sector-led group has made recommendations to Crouch, which she is currently considering.
Dormant assets consultation. A commission into dormant assets, carried out by Nick O’Donohoe, now chief executive of development body CDC and formerly chief executive of Big Society Capital, found that at least £2bn is being held in dormant assets, which the government has said it will unlock for good causes. Wilson said there would be a wider consultation about the best way to do this.
House of Lords Select Committee on Civic Engagement. A new House of Lords committee looking at civic engagement is likely to be of interest to many charities. It will hold its first oral evidence session tomorrow morning. The deadline to submit written evidence is the end of this week.
Autumn Budget. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, will hold his first Autumn Budget at some point before Christmas. The date has not been confirmed yet but the deadline to make submissions is 22 of this month.
Government response to the NAO report on NCS. Earlier this year the National Audit Office published a critical report into National Citizen Service and the government is expected to respond in October.
This seems like a lot to get done, and this is just the stuff we know about - it’s not unknown for the government to throw a curve ball the charity sector’s way. So brace yourselves for a busy few months.