Daniel Ferrell-Schweppenstedde

Former Policy and Public Affairs Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

A new government in place, what would charities like to see?

18 December 2019

The 12 December election brought in a newly invigorated Conservative government and has returned Boris Johnson to Downing Street. In the coming weeks, the government is expected to see through its cornerstone promise to leave the European Union by the end of January, after which a new cabinet is expected to be named and policy priorities identified.

Here is a look at the Conservatives’ stated position on all things civil society and policy areas that CAF will be watching as the new government takes shape.

downing street whitehall

Conservatives recognise the value of the sector

The Conservative manifesto contained warm words for charities and made a commitment to listen to communities that felt “left behind by the last few decades” and which are seeking more control. These sentiments present opportunity for organisations working with society’s  most marginalised. Current Civil Society Minister Baroness Barran, who took part in CAF’s charity hustings during the campaign, described charities as “the glue that holds our communities together” but warned of the strain due to the sense of disconnection and loss of agency that some in society feel.

From CAF’s perspective, civil society is best-placed to bring the country back together after a tumultuous time. The recognition by the Conservative government of this power - and the value of supporting communities in applying it - is welcome and we look forward to continuing to work with the Civil Society Minister in the new Government.

Making a success of implementing the Civil Society Strategy

The Conservative’s Civil Society Strategy was released more than a year ago. The document was set to shape Government policy towards the sector for the next 10+ years. Given the Government’s strengthened mandate, it is likely to  remain the main guiding policy.

Baroness Barran


Baroness Barran recently took stock on the progress of implementing the strategy, publishing her reflections. She highlighted achievements and outlined how DCMS championed this agenda across government.  She wants the strategy to focus on building connections between people in communities, young people and an improved commissioning and funding environment for the social sector.

A new Government provides a strong opportunity to revitalise the strategy through well-funded working streams.One of the ambitions included in the document was making Britain a global centre for philanthropy.

Realising this goal and the wider ambition of the strategy will require DCMS to amplify its work across all government departments to place charities at the forefront of their thinking.

Charity unites us: the role of civil society in the Brexit process

Brexit has revealed social chasms across the UK that need bridging. This was recognised in the Conservative’s party manifesto and formed a core message of their campaign. Charities need to be seen as key stakeholders in post-Brexit Britain, as they are crucial  to helping to address social challenges and uniting communities. This requires a cross-governmental vision that has charities and community groups at its heart. DCMS can play a leading role here.

The Conservative manifesto also provided some clarity around the UK Shared Prosperity Fund which is set to replace EU funding schemes -  a big concern for the sector post-Brexit. The party committed to match the size of EU Structural Funds in each nation of the UK with £500m committed to upskilling disadvantaged people. But timings around this funding commitment are unclear, as ESF funding alone is  £500m a year. Charities will be a vital voice in ensuring this money is allocated effectively.

Local philanthropy as part of reviving communities

The Civil Society Strategy provided funding for the development of six place-based giving schemes. CAF has been a proud partner in this project and has worked with the six schemes over the past year. One of them is an East Manchester place based giving scheme called ‘Step Up’. It supports bright ideas from communities with lower capacity at a grass roots level and high indices of multiple deprivation, connecting them with potential funders and local giving.

CAF has been campaigning on the topic of philanthropy and the role it can play in driving local investment into local communities, calling for a new age of civic philanthropy. Place-based giving is a vital element and developing place-based giving will encourage partnerships that will make local philanthropy more strategic and help build civic pride.

Charities being on top of technological change

The Strategy included positive messages on support for digital skills, tech for good and the wider use of technology by charities to achieve their missions. Charities face big challenges in embracing technology, such as lack of skills and off-the-shelf tech solutions or data protection issues. But there are also many successful examples of (larger) charities tackling the impact that technology has on their cause areas, such as Amnesty’s work on surveillance technology, and the NSPCC’s work on online safety for children.

DCMS has called on charities to be involved in the £1m Digital Skills Innovation Fund which is aimed at improving the digital skills of under-represented so that they can full participate fully in the digital economy. The Catalyst collaborative, a partnership with CAST and various other funders, received £1.6m funding to improve digital skills among charities. These are welcomed efforts as DCMS holds both the digital/technology and charity portfolios.

DCMS could play more of a convenor role between the worlds of technology and charity, which could help charities to deal with their digital transformation but also get more access to actors in the tech sphere. Their input is needed, for example, in discussions around ethics and the impact of technology on beneficiaries and consumers.

Securing the UK’s global role in promoting civic space

CAF advocates for a positive operating environment for civil society internationally and promotes a global culture of giving that we believe could unlock huge potential for sustainable development. We have recently seen the closing of civic space in a variety of countries, including Western democracies.

CAF also supports the 0.7% GNI contribution to international development, but we think the Government can do more to align our aid contribution to supporting civil society globally and invest in local programmes that supports charities and on which giving to good causes can thrive. From this perspective, it’s important that any (rumoured) merger between FCO and DFID enhances Britain’s leading role in promoting civic space globally.