There are a lot of big policy issues around at the moment. We probably shouldn’t be surprised as we are seven months on from the General Election and have a new Government keen to implement their manifesto promises.
Below is a quick round up of some of the bigger issues. Please use the comments section if you think something is missing, something is wrong or you have any thoughts to add.
The Government is keen to press on with its plans for Devolution - deals have been agreed for Liverpool City Region, West Midlands Greater Manchester, Sheffield City Region, the North-East, Tees Valley and Cornwall.
This should be good news for everyone involved in supporting local social action and yet the two do not seem to be weaving together. Our biggest concerns are
- Devolution is led by the Treasury and therefore being seen as purely about economic growth and GVA rather than well-being or improving the places where we live. We need to make the case for ‘good’ growth: Building strong communities, prioritising social inclusion and creating an economy that works for the people in it. And this is not just a nice thing to do but essential for growth. Inequality, poor health, low educational attainment, and low skill levels undermine economic growth, and in countries where income inequality is decreasing, growth is higher.
- Devolution deals are being made between local and national politicians and not involving the people it is supposed to be giving power to. We want charities and community groups to have a greater involvement so they can help people and communities have a say.
Following the recent charity fundraising scandals the Etherington review has proposed greater regulation of fundraising including introducing a Fundraising preference Service to prevent unwanted calls.
We are worried that the plans have been produced by big charities, for big charities. Smaller charities have not had a say. The charities minister Rob Wilson has said that small charities should be excluded from FPS – something we agree with but we need to see the details. We still think that small charities and infrastructure have been ignored and their views should be heard before implementing the recommendations.
Business Rates and charities 80% mandatory relief
This is an issue that has been bubbling under for a while. The outcome of the business rates review was widely expected to be announced as part (or alongside) the spending review but it has been delayed until next year.
The Government has confirmed that local councils would receive 100% of local business rates by 2020 with the Government support grant being phased out. It is obviously easier for central government to keep the 80% rate of relief rather than local government - who if they are receiving all rates may feel they are subsidising it.
This is of huge importance to the voluntary sector. CFG estimate the mandatory element alone was worth £1.5bn in 2013/14 in the UK.
Skills sharing or employee supported volunteering
The Conservative manifesto promised that the would allow all employees in the public sector and in businesses with more than 250 employees the right have 3 days a year paid volunteering (I realise that is a oxymoron). Plans to introduce legislation to make this happen are yet to be agreed but we know that legislation will be led by BIS.
In most parts of England a NAVCA member is working to connect local businesses with local charities so they can be vital in making this work. We need to ensure that decision makers understand the work NAVCA members are already doing and not be tempted to create duplicate structures.
NAVCA members are leading work in many parts of England on social prescribing. The work is taking many different forms and models but what is consistent is the finding that it is helping people get better services and because much of the work is preventative it is also saving the NHS money.
There is a growing interest in this work from national politicians and civil servants. We are also seeing consultants and private businesses trying to get involved. NAVCA members are leading much of this work as it is a natural role for local infrastructure. To help, we need members to continue to pass on information about their social prescribing work and the success it is having.
And everything is happening in the worst funding environment in living memory. The spending review was portrayed by some as an end to austerity but nothing could be further from the truth for local charities and community groups. The LGA said that local authorities face a 6.7 per cent real terms reduction up to 2020.