Government and the Voluntary Sector, Strategy and planning, Policy

Queen’s speech contains important news for charities

Jay Kennedy summarises what we need to look out for from the Queen's Speech.

The Queen gave her speech on the Government’s next legislative programme on Tuesday 11 May. The Government is advancing with an ambitious list of around 30 Bills and other policy initiatives – a handful may ultimately affect all or many charities, whilst others will affect many charities working in certain policy areas or types of beneficiaries.

Some bills will likely be very welcome to certain sections of the charity sector, such as the Armed Forces Bill and three bills on animal welfare. Others may be quite unwelcome, such as the Judicial Review Bill, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, or a ‘new plan for immigration legislation’. There are likely to be some big fights ahead over legislation that could negatively affect many charity beneficiaries. It is likely to continue to prove difficult for charities to achieve substantial legislative change in Westminster, especially when they are opposed to things the Government wants to do.

Many questions remain about the legislative details, but also how the overall programme will progress. How many of these bills will actually be passed? With such a large majority, in normal circumstances it would seem likely that most would pass, but we’re still contending with the pandemic and recovery that will continue to take up political oxygen and civil service capacity.

Notably, and to the disappointment of many, the Government has kicked the can yet again on social care reform, stating that ‘proposals will be brought forward’. Various promises to consult or legislate on this have been made on this since at least the 2015 General Election yet substantive progress has been negligible. Will 2021 finally be the year something real happens?

Also, what’s the order of legislative priority? And will we be able to return to some level of normal parliamentary scrutiny now, following 18 months of extraordinarily centralised executive power, when the behaviour of the Government and the emergency circumstances of the pandemic have ridden roughshod over the normal legislative and policy-making process?

Some of the things most charities will want to take note of include a Levelling Up White Paper, a Dormant Assets Bill and a Charities Bill.

The phrase ‘levelling up’ refers to the Government’s ambition to increase the social and economic standards in parts of the country that have historically been neglected or not prospered as much as other areas. It is often viewed as an electoral strategy to consolidate the so called ‘Red Wall’ seats the Conservatives won from Labour in the 2019 General Election. So far, it has remained mostly a vague and poorly understood campaign slogan, but the Queen’s Speech announced that a ‘Levelling Up White Paper will set out bold new policy interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunity in all parts of the UK as we recover from the pandemic, grasping the opportunities of 12 Brexit.’ Charities will need to make the case that ‘levelling up’ includes social infrastructure not just jobs and roads. NCVO and others are already working with MPs to make this case.

Another long campaigned for the initiative which is finally breaking into the legislative limelight involves so-called dormant assets, which are financial assets where the owner is not known or traceable (often deceased). The original scheme to reclaim funds from dormant bank accounts to redistribute for social purposes was set up over 10 years ago. The Government is now moving forward with legislation for a next phase that will recoup other types of financial assets such as stocks or bonds.

This phase may be more complex to design, and it looks like the Government wants to make some changes about how the existing scheme functions. The Government says ‘The Dormant Assets Bill will unlock around an additional £880 million for social and environmental initiatives across the UK.’ Charities and other civil society groups have been campaigning for a Community Wealth Fund to be the recipient of these funds, but Ministers may have other ideas.

One final thing to note for charities is the Charities Bill, which will legislate for many of the recommendations of the Law Commission review of technical issues in charity law, which has been taking place for some years. This will according to the Government ‘address a range of issues in charity law which hamper charities’ day to day activities’. The Bill should be uncontroversial, but we will need to keep a close eye out for any unanticipated amendments.

As we proceed through the rest of 2021 and beyond, DSC and other partners from representative bodies in the charity sector will continue to engage with government on many of these issues so stay tuned – you may need to mobilise your campaigning voices!