What does the Brexit deal mean for the voluntary sector?

Experts cast their eyes over the 1,200 page document and draw out the key issues UK charities will need to be aware of

(Photograph: Andy H/Pixabay)
(Photograph: Andy H/Pixabay)

Many people breathed a sigh of relief when the government announced it had reached a trade deal with the European Union on Christmas Eve.

But what will the 1,200-page document mean for the UK voluntary sector and what do charities need to know about it?

Chris Walker, policy and public affairs manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, says the deal provides some welcome certainty, but there are quite a lot of arrangements that still need to be agreed.

“There’s stuff that there’s going to be detailed discussions on later, such as financial services and data adequacy,” he says.

“In the short term, we’ve got quite a bit of certainty for charities in particular, because a lot of the immediate changes are going to disproportionately affect businesses, and the things we don’t know are in the slightly longer term.”

The end of freedom of movement will have implications for UK charities. “We have prioritised ending freedom of movement so that is going to likely mean, in the fullness of time, that it is more difficult to recruit,” Walker says.

“At the moment we’re in a position where there isn’t much movement between countries happening in terms of people taking up jobs, and the labour market is going to be easier to recruit than it might have been. But there is going to be a long-term impact when we’re in more normal times.”

Gareth Morgan, emeritus professor of charity studies at Sheffield Hallam University and a charity consultant at the Kubernesis Partnership, says the ending of freedom of movement will also have implications for service users.

“There’s been an awful lot of debate about how it’s been affecting charities, but I think a lot of charities haven’t really thought beyond the impact on them to look at how the service users are going to be affected,” he says.

The issue of people from EU countries who are living in the UK but who have not yet applied for settled status is one possible difficulty.

“We know that a lot of particularly older people who have come to the UK in recent years are not in work and not engaged in that process,” he says.

And estimated 30,000 Italians in the UK have not applied for settled status, Morgan says, with less than six months before the deadline.

“That’s going to be repeated for different nationalities and often it’s the people who are in disadvantaged situations, maybe not in work, who might be affected,” he says.

“We’ve got this transitional period only until 1 June, but it really is critical that charities look out for people in their communities who are unaware of the need to apply, or maybe have tried and found it too difficult.”

The new deal will also have an impact on charities that import or export items from or to the EU.

Walker says in the light of the stories about some EU-based companies saying that they will no longer export to the UK because of the additional red tape, it is important that charities think about their supply chains, particularly if
they need to import things at relatively short notice.

“It’s useful to have a sense of what would you do if the worst came to the worst,” he says.

“But it’s difficult to know at this stage how much that will be realised and whether people will withdraw from that kind of trade.

“It’s the kind of area where you want to do some contingency planning in terms of what you would do if there were items you were no longer able to procure.”

The deal says a Civil Society Forum should be set up for consultation about the agreement and any supplementary arrangements between the UK and the EU.

The forum should meet at least once a year, and include not only civil society organisations established in the UK and the EU, but also domestic advisory groups such as non-governmental organisations, business and employers’ organisations, and trade unions, the agreement states.

Morgan says charities might need to remind the government to ensure the body is up and running and has proper sector representation.

“It’s just the sort of thing that the government could forget about if the charity sector doesn’t shout about it,” he says.

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