The austerity of recent years has meant hard times and many changes for charities and the voluntary sector as they have struggled to do more with less. Donations from the public have held up well, but direct support from national and local government has dwindled, the regulatory regime for charities has hardened, the political environment has become more difficult and surveys have shown an incipient decline in public trust.
Will 2015 be different? Reporters from the Third Sector took a look at various sectors…
Local government finances
Figures from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations show that half of public funding to the sector comes from local government. Central government grants to local authorities are down by a further 10 per cent for the year from April 2015, so the signs are that it will be harder for councils to maintain their support for local charities in that year.
In its Future Funding Outlook, published in July, the Local Government Association said that, despite growth in the local economy, government projections showed continuing funding cuts for local authorities well into the next parliament.
The lobbying act
The act, in force since September, limits the amount that non-party campaigners, including charities, are permitted to spend in the run-up to the general election on activities – known as “regulated activities” – that could reasonably be seen as intended to influence people to vote for particular parties or candidates.
There is anecdotal evidence of self-censorship – of charities being less willing to engage in public debate on matters of political prominence.
The general election and the future deficit
Because of the recent election of two MPs who defected from the Conservatives to the UK Independence Party, and the rise in the polls of the Scottish National Party after the Scottish referendum, some commentators see the general election on 7 May as the most unpredictable for a generation, and a hung parliament resulting in another coalition government is considered likely.
Some pundits are also calling it the election no-one really wants to win, because of the spending cuts or tax increases the new government is likely to have to make.
The Protection of Charities Bill
This bill was introduced in October in response to requests by the Charity Commission for increased powers. One of its proposals is to extend automatic disqualification of charity trustees beyond those convicted of offences of dishonesty to include those convicted of other offences; it has been pointed out that it is currently possible for someone convicted of a terrorist offence to remain as a charity trustee.
Other measures include more powers for the commission to disqualify trustees for 15 years, allowing the commission to continue with the removal of a trustee after the trustee has resigned, and giving the commission the powers to issue statutory warnings to trustees and to direct a charity to wind up.
It is not yet clear whether the bill will be introduced to parliament before the election, or if Labour would take the bill forward if it formed or led the next government.
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