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An unexpected election: What does it mean for foundations?

When Theresa May announced her desire to call a snap election, I imagine that many members of her own party were as surprised as any commentator. She made it clear that Brexit is her reason for going to the country, and that her aim is to gain a strong and unequivocal electoral mandate to undergird her administration’s negotiating position as the UK exits the EU.

What it means immediately in policy terms is that we will have to wait until after the election for some announcements we had been anticipating. This is because rules prevent Government from announcing any new policy or spending decisions until after the election, unless they announce them in the next few days - things like the Charity Commission for England and Wales’ consultation on charging for regulation, the Government’s response to the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities, and even the Law Commission publishing its recommendations following its extensive review of charity law.

We don’t know yet what the Party manifestos will say, but they will be hastily constructed and the consensus just now is that – on most issues such as health, education, social care, economic objectives and fiscal stance – they are likely to reiterate or develop  current positions. That means that, at this stage, the chances of radical new policy directions opening up that impact directly on the charity sector or the beneficiary groups they serve are slim. That doesn’t mean this won’t be one of the most influential elections in the history of the UK. It means that how we approach Brexit is likely to be bigger even than these issues which usually dominate the agenda.

All the same ACF will be keeping an eye wide open for any proposals that affect the operating environment for foundations, be it to do with tax, regulation or funding practice. We’ll be staying on high alert and keeping close contact with other umbrella bodies during the course of the campaigns to keep members informed and coordinate action where necessary.

Members will also want to stay tuned in to issues that affect their particular mission or beneficiary group. Campaigning activity by charities and other third parties is of course regulated in the pre-election period and you can find the Charity Commission guidance here which explains how charities can act during this time.

Where charities are spending a significant amount (over £20,000 in England) campaigning around the election, they should also look into the registration requirements of the Lobbying Act.

The Lobbying Act has been controversial and the Government had not yet acted on recommendations to revise it. Nonetheless we should read all these regulations as enshrining, not extinguishing, charities’ ability as part of wider civil society to take part in debates about the issues that affect their beneficiaries.

I’ll be moving on from ACF at the end of April, but the team are keyed up, eager to be part of the conversation and delighted to be joined by Charlotte Ravenscroft as interim Head of Policy. You can read her really helpful blog here for more information on how charities can campaign effectively in the run up to elections.

Join the debates and let us know what your views are on Twitter @ACFoundations using the hashtag #GE17charities

 

Richard Jenkins
Head of Policy

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