The Conservative Party’s victory in the general election in May was the biggest political story of the year, and for the voluntary sector it meant the reappointment of Rob Wilson as the Minister for Civil Society. Appointed swiftly in 2014 after Brooks Newmark’s short spell, many in the sector were surprised when Wilson was asked to continue in the role.
One of the first jobs in Wilson’s in-tray was responding to the controversy in the national media about charity fundraising, which had been sparked by the Olive Cooke story and subsequent undercover reporting by the Daily Mail newspaper on the fundraising tactics used by some major charities. The government reacted by appointing Sir Stuart Etherington to carry out a review of the fundraising self-regulatory system, and the government later accepted all of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations' chief executive’s recommendations. Wilson appointed the Conservative peer and broadcasting executive Lord Michael Grade as chair of the new Fundraising Regulator, which is due to take over responsibility for the regulation of fundraising in 2016.
In September, Anna Turley, the Labour and Co-operative Party MP for Redcar, was appointed as Wilson’s shadow after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the new Labour leader.
The Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill continued to make progress through parliament, despite warnings that proposed new powers for the Charity Commission needed additional safeguards and concerns about the proposed automatic disqualification from charity trusteeship of individuals for certain offences. MPs will continue to scrutinise the bill in committee stage in early January.
Members of the House of Commons took an interest in the demise of Kids Company. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee began an ongoing inquiry into the relationship between the charity and successive governments. In its report on the funds given to the charity, the Public Accounts Committee recommended that the government carry out a fundamental review of how it makes non-competitive grants to charities.
The Conservative Party’s pre-election proposal to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants caused concern at the National Housing Federation, the umbrella body for registered social landlords, which warned that it would require "a fundamental rewriting of the agreement between government and civil society and would probably require a change in charity law". The Tories pushed ahead with the plan in government and David Cameron, the Prime Minister, announced at the Conservative Party conference in October that housing associations had accepted a deal that would involve them voluntarily signing up to the deal in return for a pledge that the government would make up the shortfall between the price paid for a property by a tenant and its market value.
In March, charities criticised Eric Pickles, who was then communities secretary, after he urged all government departments to adopt a new "anti-lobbying, anti-sock puppet clause" when giving money to charities or other groups.