David Ainsworth: The general election - implications for charity

18 Apr 2017 Voices

Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election has put the cat among the pigeons. David Ainsworth looks at the first implications for charities.

So another year, another election. For those charities trying to influence political change, the continual turmoil in Whitehall is unlikely to be good news. In the wake of Theresa May's decision, here are a few initial thoughts on what the general election means for the sector.

What you can say is now restricted

Remember the Lobbying Act? This particularly burdensome and tedious piece of legislation applies to your charity from today (it actually covers the year before an election) but the really stringent restrictions kick in six weeks before the election. That’s probably in nine days’ time.

Charities will need to register with the Electoral Commission if they plan to spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland between now and polling day where the expenditure can reasonably be regarded as intended to influence the electoral prospects of parties or candidates.

It’s a chance to influence charity policy

Is your agenda going down the pan, or is this a new chance to influence policy?

It could be either, realistically. Any charities using an inside track approach to win a change in government policy at present are likely to have to park that work, because there will likely be a completely fresh approach to a lot of issues when the government is returned even if, as expected, the Conservatives are returned by the country with a larger majority.

On the other hand, the political parties will all produce manifestos and policies. There will be a renewed policy debate. It is a new chance for the sector to advocate on a wider level. Charities will have the opportunity to produce manifestos, and to influence what goes into the manifestos of other political parties.

It will be interesting to see what will happen to the government’s one unfulfilled manifesto pledge on charities – to introduce three days a year of volunteering for employees at large companies and government bodies.

It will also be interesting to see what commitments are made on issues such as government commissioning, which is perhaps the biggest problem facing the sector as a whole at the moment.

Time for a new minister?

Another possible change is that the sector may get a new minister. Rob Wilson has been reappointed following both the last election and the May reshuffle. But perhaps the time has come for him to move to another role?

This is potentially significant. Those in the sector infrastructure have generally reported that the Office for Civil Society under Wilson has not met the sector's needs. And certainly the OCS budget has suffered under the current administration. Is this an opportunity to change?

If I were to gamble, I would say no. However every poll is an opportunity to grow the sector's influence in government. And the power of the OCS can wane little further, so this has potential upside.

Existing issues are likely to be delayed

A number of charity policy issues are halfway through consideration, or are still on the stocks. These are likely to be either truncated, scrapped or delayed. Charging for the Charity Commission will be delayed. Any government response to the House of Lords committee report on charities is likely to be brief and tentative. The various consultations on GDPR will be either brought to a premature close or parked for months.

And spare a thought for any of the charities awaiting DfID funding. They have already been without money for three months after the previous funding came to an end in December. It now seems unlikely that any of them will get any more money until July.

Subscribers to Charity Finance magazine can read our full guide to the Lobbying Act, and its implications for charities. To do so, click here.

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