Charities react to Queen’s Speech

21 Jun 2017 News

This morning the Queen set out the government’s agenda for the next Parliament and some charity leaders said the sector can still play an important role in shaping legislation, while others said that today's speech was a "wasted opportunity". 

Most of the legislation announced in the speech concerns the withdrawal of the European Union. 

But there were some non-legislative measures that will be of interest to parts of the sector, such as the recommitment to international aid spending, measures to address domestic violence, counterterrorism, prioritising mental health and a consultation on the future of social care. 

Briefing notes published with the speech shows the government intends to work with charities to develop the digital charter. It also plans to consult charities on the armed forces covenant. 

As part of the aim to tackle the gender pay gap and end discrimination the briefing paper said: “We are promoting the use of social enterprises which support disabled people, both through increasing the use of the Social Value Act 2012 in central government procurement, and through the development of the wider Industrial Strategy.” 

The Queen’s Speech was put forward by the Conservative Party, which does not have an overall majority in the House of Commons and is still in talks with the Democratic Unionist Party over a "confidence and supply" arrangement. 

The House of Commons will meet at 2.30pm to start debating the contents of the Speech, the debates will continue for six sitting days, finishing on Thursday 29 June. Proposed amendments to the Speech will be considered on Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29 June.

The government has extended the length of the Parliament from one year to two years to deal with Brexit. 

NCVO: 'Could help charities influence Brexit'

In a blog on NCVO's website, Chris Walker, senior public affairs consultant, wrote: "It’s clear that the failure of the Conservatives to secure a majority in the election is going to make this a tough parliamentary session for the government, where they will have to fight tooth and nail to get their agenda through. This means that there are big opportunities for charities to influence both the terms of debate and the legislation that is passed."

Acevo: ‘We will make sure issues are not ignored’ 

An Acevo spokesman said: “The Queen's Speech was more notable for what was not said and what was not addressed. It is clear the government is focused on Brexit. It is important, however, that other issues at home and abroad do not go ignored. We will look to work with government to ensure that this is the case.” 

Charity Finance Group: Be aware of legislation that can impact you

Andrew O’Brien, head of policy and engagement at CFG, said: “As expected, this Queen’s Speech is very tightly focused, given the uncertainty around Brexit and the minority government. However, charities need to be aware that although the government may be weakened, it will still have passing legislation that will have an impact on their operations. 

“Charities should particularly pay attention to the Immigration Bill, the International Sanctions Bill and the proposed Countering Extremism Commission. 

“On the Immigration Bill, around 5 per cent of our workforce comes from the EU and it is important that the new immigration system does not prevent charities from accessing top talent or tie up organisations in red tape or increase costs for hiring staff. 

“On sanctions, UK charities have been at the forefront of efforts to help people in Syria, Sudan and Somalia and the sanctions regime has made this challenging. CFG is working with charities to improve this framework and this Bill is a chance to reform the rules so that charities are able to respond quickly and effectively to humanitarian situations. Charities must seize this opportunity.

“Finally on countering extremism, the Home Office had already proposed to carry out a review into ‘entryism’ of public bodies, businesses and charities by extremists, and this is likely to be a focus of the new Commission. There is a risk that efforts to combat extremism will increase regulation for charities and charities need to be watch developments carefully. Given the latest Charities Act already has increased the Charity Commission’s power substantially, including on terrorism, we would caution against any further powers or regulations on the sector while these reforms bed in.”

Navca: 'Wasted opportunity to address the real issues'

Neil Cleeveley, chief executive of Navca, said: “Many in the local voluntary sector will be concerned about what is missing from the Queen’s Speech rather than what’s in it. As a society we have major issues to address around inequality and community cohesion. We also face an unprecedented squeeze on the services that local communities rely on such as health and education.

"Many of our public services are at breaking point and it is local charities that are rooted in local communities to which people turn. There is nothing in this Queen’s Speech for them. It is a wasted the opportunity to confront the real issues facing communities across the country.”

“Many warned that Brexit would all-consuming for the government, and so it is proving. It appears the interests local charities and the people and local communities they serve are being pushed into the background.”

Social Enterprise UK: 'Should have strengthened the Social Value Act'

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK said: “The Conservative Government missed an opportunity in a Brexit focused Queen’s Speech by not announcing a stronger Social Value Act. With us leaving the EU there is an opportunity for the Act to be used more widely, helping drive local economic growth and build a fairer economy.

"A commitment to strengthen the Act was also in the Lib Dem manifesto and would have probably received their support.  Nevertheless, we think there is an opportunity for the government to hold an independent review of the Act which draws on experience from the private, public and social enterprise sectors.”

Small Charities Coalition: 'We need a commitment to listen to small charities' 

John Barrett, chief executive of Small Charities Coalition, said: "The Queen's Speech today showed that the next two years will be dominated by Brexit, and it is vital that small charities' voices are heard in the debate. Whether this surrounds concerns about funding or freedom of movement, or more broadly around their work bringing communities together.

"We are concerned that without a commitment to hearing small charities, their voices could easily be lost in these important decisions. We encourage the government to create a specific engagement strategy with small, community organisations."

CAF: 'Disappointing that there was no acknowledgement of the role of charities'

Steve Clapperton, campaigns manager at the Charities Aid Foundation said:“That Brexit continues to dominate the political landscape is no surprise. However, whilst citing the need for government to work with devolved administrations and businesses, it is disappointing that there was no explicit acknowledgement of the role that charities can – and should – be given in ensuring that their beneficiaries are given a voice during the Brexit process.

“Domestically, the Queen’s Speech sets out an agenda for the government that can only succeed with the close involvement of Britain’s charities. Plans to end discrimination, reform mental health provision and tackle domestic violence must be developed in partnership with the charities that do so much to address these social challenges on a daily basis.

“However, the reality is that today’s Queen’s Speech only goes some way to lifting the shroud of uncertainty cast over British politics by recent events and government alone can only do so much. We know that the country remains divided; government must put charities at the heart of their agenda and use the unique experience and expertise that charities have to strengthen our society at home and our international relationships overseas.” 

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