A new government, a new decade, but will anything change for charities?

With the Brexit paralysis seemingly over, the new majority Conservative government has the chance to concentrate on matters closer to home. Liam Kay asks where it is likely to start

10 Downing Street (Photograph: oversnap/Getty Images)
10 Downing Street (Photograph: oversnap/Getty Images)

This year marks a decade of Conservative-led government in the UK, the third consecutive Conservative Prime Minister and an 80-seat majority for Boris Johnson after a decisive election victory.

As the dust of the 2019 general election settles, it provides an opportunity for the charity sector to engage with the government and recently elected MPs. About 100 seats changed hands at the election, bringing in a lot of new faces for charities to build relationships with.

In the immediate aftermath, little has changed. Baroness Barran, who has been relatively well received as charities minister since taking up the post last summer, has retained her post, as has her boss Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.

A major reshuffle is expected in February, however, which could see more radical changes to personnel and even to the departments themselves, with rumours in the media that some government departments could be merged.

In terms of funding, the Conservatives’ manifesto made several pledges, including £250m for civic infrastructure, a £150m Community Ownership Fund, £500m for new youth clubs and services, and maintaining international aid spending. Notably, the party pledged £500m from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – the UK’s replacement for EU funding after Brexit – for disadvantaged people.

It also committed to continuing support for the National Citizen Service, which last year accounted for £260m of the Office for Civil Society’s £316m budget.

The Conservatives’ election campaign centred on three key pledges, with the promise to "get Brexit done", along with proposals to increase NHS funding and recruit more police officers.

The UK will almost certainly leave the EU on 31 January, bringing some closure to the Brexit issue that has paralysed parliament since the 2016 referendum result, notwithstanding the fact that a trade deal with the EU must to be concluded before the end of this year.

Chris Walker, public affairs manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, is hopeful the passing of the withdrawal agreement through parliament will create time in the legislative timetable for other pressing issues that charities are campaigning on. "Anyone who came in new to the 2017 to 2019 parliament basically just spent all their time worrying what to do about Brexit," says Walker. "Suddenly MPs have a bit of space to think."

The nature of the Conservatives’ victory last month, with its eye-catching victories in Labour’s northern heartlands, has also led to speculation that there could be significant investment in the north of England, helping to improve infrastructure and address issues such as deprivation.

Walker says opportunities could exist for charities that work in these areas, although much hinges on the Budget in March and the reshuffle. "At the very least, parties are engaged with what is happening in communities that have perhaps not had the same level of policy attention in recent years," he says. "People working directly in their own communities have an opportunity to be talking to politicians about what people need from government."

But charities must also play a role in holding the new government to account and increasing participation in the political system, according to the charity sector think tank NPC. In a blog, Michelle Man, senior consultant at NPC, says: "While charities are not political, they are civic institutions, just as much a part of and involved in our democracy as any other. Some might find it a difficult line to walk, but charities mustn’t shy away from their role in the democratic process. We’ve had an election, but big questions about our democracy remain and charities must be more involved."

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