andy Frain 120

Andy Frain

Campaigns and Public Affairs Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

The Queen’s Speech Contains Some Green Shoots for Charities, But Civil Society Needs to be Engaged in the Recovery

12 May 2021

The pandemic might have blighted some of the summer’s grandest events, but there was no cancelling the political Glastonbury that is the Queen’s Speech.

Coming so soon after a swathe of elections across Britain, there was potential for the announcement of this year’s legislative agenda to contain some surprises but, in truth, there was little to raise eyebrows. In a short speech, the Queen largely listed a series of long-mooted draft Bills, with planned reforms to voter identification garnering the most headlines.

The speech’s predictability does not mean that it was light on content, however, and observers in the charity sector will have found a number of points of interest.

The most notable point of the speech for the sector was the explicit mention of the Charities Bill, which Government had already committed to introducing when Parliamentary time allowed.

The Charities Bill

"Legislation will support the voluntary sector by reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and releasing additional funds for good causes.”

It has been a long time coming – it was September 2017 when the Law Commission published a report on technical issues in charity law, making several recommendations, including a draft charities bill.

In March last year, the Government accepted the majority of the recommendations, and the Bill reflects this, containing commitments on:

  • Changing the law to help charities amend their governing documents more easily with Charity Commission oversight where appropriate.
  • Giving charities more flexibility to obtain tailored advice when they sell land, and removing unnecessary administrative burdens.
  • Increasing flexibility for charities to use their permanent endowment (assets or investments where the capital value must be preserved), with checks in place to ensure its protection in the long term.
  • Removing legal barriers to charities merging, when a merger is in their best interests.
  • Giving trustees advance assurance that litigation costs in the Charity Tribunal can be paid from the charity’s funds.

These are all welcome changes and it has been true for some time that charities in England & Wales have faced excessive administrative hurdles in their day-to-day work, costing both time and money.

Charities benefit from having trustees from a diverse range of backgrounds and, as a result, they are not all familiar with legal language and frameworks. The Bill’s commitment to making regulation documents “easier to navigate” for untrained trustees is therefore to be applauded and we await details on how this will be done.

It is important that charities and their trustees are regulated to ensure compliance with the rules, but the current system limits flexibility and places barriers on bold decision-making. Whilst the Bill’s origins were established long before the pandemic, it is ideally-timed for the sector as it recovers from the effects of Covid-19. Charities have been forced to make radical changes to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and trustees should feel empowered to take informed decisions on those actions without undue fear of recrimination. As a result, we hope to see the Bill before the House in the very near future.

International Aid

"My government will continue to provide aid where it has the greatest impact on reducing poverty and alleviating human suffering. My government will uphold human rights and democracy across the world. It will take forward a global effort to get 40 million girls across the world into school."

The Queen’s speech contained warm words for the international development sector, but unfortunately the positive rhetoric has not been reflected by action.

The Government confirmed back in November 2020 that the UK’s widely-applauded and legally binding commitment to dedicate 0.7% of GDP to international assistance was to be reduced to 0.5%, citing the financial pressures of the pandemic.

In recent weeks we’ve seen the very real effects of these cuts, with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) telling charities that the remaining rounds of the Small Charities Challenge Fund (SCCF) would not go ahead as a direct result.

international aid queens speech 2021
In the aftermath of this decision, CAF Chief Executive Neil Heslop was critical, saying: “Small UK charities stepped up brilliantly to support British values at home and abroad in the face of the pandemic.

Aid cuts at this level risk permanent damage to dozens of international development charities and their delivery of life-saving programmes for the poorest … Without support, vital services will go and lives will be lost.”

We welcome the Government’s positivity about upholding human rights around the world and would hope they reconsider their position on international development accordingly.

Levelling Up

"The Government will publish a landmark Levelling Up White Paper later this year, setting out bold new policy interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunity in all parts of the UK. It will grasp the opportunities of Brexit and set out the next steps in our plan to enable more people to get on in life, without feeling they have to leave their local area."

CAF welcomes any efforts to redistribute economic activity, cultural institutions and life outcomes around the UK and would be keen to engage with Government to do so.

Charities and the voluntary sector already play a vital role in addressing structural inequalities all over the UK, which is why it is concerning that neither the speech nor its associated documents specifically mention of the role of civil society in the “levelling-up” agenda.

Civil society is ideally placed to help in the areas that are now to be the focus of additional investment and support, having on-the-ground experience of providing localised solutions and a track record of working community-wide to benefit marginalised groups. CAF has spoken before about the value of Place Based Giving and we repeat the calls for charities to be involved by central Government, local councils and Metro Mayors in their plans for localised investment.

Any discussions around levelling up should take into account the differential outcomes for communities around the UK. A recent report by the Funders for Race Equality Alliance identified regional inequalities in funding, most notably in the Midlands and South East. These regions received a disproportionately small amount of funding when compared to their Black and Minority Ethnic population size. It called for community foundations and infrastructure organisations to play an increased role in supporting local Black and Minority Ethnic organisations and movements in under-funded regions.

The UK Government has a real opportunity reshape the existing narratives around the role charities and philanthropy can play in civic identity in the UK and we are hopeful they will take advantage of this in order to follow through on their ambitions to improve livelihoods across the country. 

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