Election 2019: Give us more funds and we'll help to heal the Brexit divide

Charity sector bodies are making their election asks, but is anyone listening? Liam Kay reports

Brexit. Boris. Corbyn. Leave. Remain. Austerity. Trump. Trade. Amid the cacophony of the UK’s third general election in four-and-a-half years, charities are hoping they can break through the noise and play a decisive role come 12 December.

And yet, as we stand on the cusp of what could be the most important – and divisive – election for a generation, the charity sector faces being completely ignored by the main political parties.

So what is the sector asking for this time around? Repealing the lobbying act is a perennial favourite, along with regular calls for changes to VAT, business rates and Gift Aid. But what are the sector’s big, revolutionary, new ideas?

The Charity Finance Group has produced four core proposals that it will put to the major parties on behalf of a group of sector organisations. Of the four, two are focused on Brexit. The first calls for a Resilient Communities Fund, specifically for charities and communities so they can mitigate the economic impact of Brexit.

The CFG is also asking for more details on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, the proposed replacement for EU funding. Details on the amounts available or how the fund will operate – including who will get any of the cash – are scarce, with the government having previously indicated that details would be communicated in 2019 ahead of the fund’s implementation from the end of 2020.

The CFG is also among the umbrella organisations – including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations – pushing for the use of dormant assets, which a government review suggested could be worth billions of pounds, to finance charities’ infrastructure. It is suggesting this could be done in the form of a Community Wealth Fund, particularly focused on deprived communities.

The final demand is a reaction to Britain’s decade of austerity after the 2008 financial crisis. The CFG is asking for local councils to receive an increase in funding and a review of how councils are financed ahead of next year’s full spending review. This includes a commitment from central government to give local authorities more core funding, rather than just give them powers to raise additional revenue themselves. Local councils are some of the biggest funders of charities in the country, but have experienced cuts of almost 50 per cent in real terms since 2010.

As well as hard policy, the charity leadership body Acevo says it will continue to push for a "more meaningful relationship between parliament and civil society", according to head of policy Kristiana Wrixon. The charity sector has complained about being sidelined by the government and opposition over the past few years, an issue that has been exacerbated by the all-consuming Brexit debate.

But will the politicians listen? The 2017 election was notable for the almost complete absence of any policies directed at the charity sector specifically, with neither Labour nor the Conservatives viewing the sector as a significant battleground.

This time it appears that Brexit, the NHS and police cuts will dominate the agenda, and it is unlikely anything radical will be aimed at charities. Both the Conservatives and Labour have released civil society strategies in the past year-and-a-half, and are likely to lean on them heavily when deciding on their offerings to the sector.

But there are signs that charities that might have been deterred from campaigning too heavily in 2017 because of confusion over the lobbying act could be prepared to play a more important role this time around. The NCVO and the Electoral Commission have both highlighted how charities can campaign on core issues without contravening the legislation, and it is hoped this will enable charities to make more of an impression in the run-up to 12 December.

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