Charity Finance Group warning over counter-extremism measures in Queen's Speech

The umbrella body says efforts to combat extremism risk placing heavier burdens on charities

The Queen in parliament today
The Queen in parliament today

Government efforts to counter extremism could result in increased regulation for charities, the Charity Finance Group has warned.

In the Queen’s Speech this morning, the government set out the bills it plans to bring before parliament over the course of the next parliamentary session, which will last two years.

The speech included a pledge to combat extremism and establish a Commission for Countering Extremism, which will "support the government in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms".

The government said in a statement that the new commission would "support the public sector and civil society in promoting and defending pluralistic values across all our communities".

In a section about foreign affairs, the government said: "Collective international action and strong partnerships with civil society and industry will be necessary to tackle effectively the growing global threat from extremism."

Andrew O’Brien, head of policy and engagement at the Charity Finance Group, said the speech was tightly focused on Brexit and the minority government.

But he said that although the government might be weakened, it would still be passing legislation that would affect charities’ activities.

"There is a risk that efforts to combat extremism will increase regulation for charities, so charities need to be watch developments carefully," he said.

"Given the latest Charities Act has already increased the Charity Commission’s power substantially, including on terrorism, we would caution against any further powers or regulations on the sector while these reforms bed in."

O’Brien said charities should also pay particular heed to the Immigration Bill, the International Sanctions Bill and the proposed Countering Extremism Commission.

He said that it was important that the new immigration system did not prevent charities from accessing top-tier employees or increase red tape in this area because about 5 per cent of the sector’s workforce came from the EU.

On sanctions, O’Brien noted that UK charities had been at the forefront of efforts to help people in Syria, Sudan and Somalia, and the sanctions regime had made this challenging.

A spokesman for the charity leaders body Acevo said the speech was "more notable for what was not said and what was not addressed".

He said: "It is clear the government is focused on Brexit. It is important, however, that other issues at home and abroad do not go ignored. We will look to work with government to ensure that this is the case."

The government said it would work with charities and other organisations as it developed a new digital charter to ensure that the UK was the safest place to be online.

"We will work with technology companies, charities, communities and international partners to develop the charter; and we will make sure it is underpinned by an effective regulatory framework," the government said.

Neil Cleeveley, chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca, said the speech showed that Brexit was pushing into the background the interests of local charities and the communities they served.

"Many in the local voluntary sector will be concerned about what is missing from the Queen’s Speech rather than what’s in it," he said.

"As a society we have major issues to address around inequality and community cohesion. We also face an unprecedented squeeze on the services that local communities rely on, such as health and education. Many of our public services are at breaking point and it is local charities that are rooted in local communities to which people turn.

"There is nothing in this Queen’s Speech for them. It is a wasted opportunity to confront the real issues facing communities across the country."

Chris Walker, senior public affairs consultant at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the lack of an outright majority would make it harder for the government to push its agenda through.

"This means that there are big opportunities for charities to influence both the terms of debate and the legislation that is passed," he said.

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, said the government missed an opportunity by not announcing a stronger social value act.

"With us leaving the EU, there is an opportunity for the act to be used more widely, helping to drive local economic growth and build a fairer economy," he said.

"A commitment to strengthen the act was also in the Liberal Democrat manifesto and would probably have received their support. Nevertheless, we think there is an opportunity for the government to hold an independent review of the act, drawing on experience from the private, public and social enterprise sectors."

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