Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Queen's Speech

So there were few surprises in the Queen’s Speech in the end. Perhaps that itself isn’t too surprising. As the Coalition goes into its final few months before the election, this final session of Parliament is light on legislation and focuses on a few selected areas. It’s a shame to see public service reform rather unceremoniously dropped; it wasn’t mentioned at all in today’s speech. 

What did we get?

A highlight was the new Modern Slavery Bill, which proposes to strengthen powers against human trafficking. There was confirmation of Chris Grayling’s new Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism (‘Sarah’) Bill, too, which could in principle help encourage more people to volunteer by reducing their risk of being sued. In practice, such cases are very rare, but anything that reduces barriers to civic involvement should be a good thing. Notably, the government has also confirmed that a Draft Protection of Charities Bill will be published, along the lines of the Cabinet Office’s recent consultation. It will strengthen the Commission’s powers of enforcement. I hope this will also mean more resources for the Commission. Anything less will simply put it under even more pressure.

My Policy team have produced a full summary of the Queen’s Speech for charities here (and the full Government briefing is here).

So what wasn’t there?

More important than these proposed Bills was the complete absence of measures on the NHS or any other public services. And this on the same day as new NHS England CEO Simon Stevens gave a big speech on the NHS being at a "defining moment" for its future sustainability. So this wasn't because the government considers its work on public services to be done, surely. But more that they’ve decided to avoid any further policy on public services this side of the election. I’m not criticising the lack of innovation just for its own sake. Rather, it shows that the bold rhetoric on Open Public Services three years ago has now been unceremoniously dropped, leaving an excellent opportunity unfulfilled.

All of this leaves plenty of fertile ground for the election campaign. Now the third sector isn’t set to feature in Parliament’s calendar, its all the more important that the parties go full tilt for it in their manifesto formulation. We expect Labour’s consultation on the third sector to launch very shortly, and ACEVO will spend the next year pushing hard for the third sector to feature in every part of the election manifestos.

The Queen’s words on small businesses show how much the government can help one sector if they recognise its contribution to national growth and resilience and choose to follow this through with laws. Small businesses had their red tape cut further and their access to finance improved. Now it’s time for charities to have the same treatment. Put us into the National Infrastructure Plan and make sure the new Infrastructure Bill makes the most of what our sector can offer for sustainability, growth and political reform! 

Lastly, it was sad to see the departure of Nick Young which was announced today. He has been a towering figure in the third sector for many years. A very distinguished CEO of the Red Cross for the last thirteen, and of Macmillan Cancer Care for six years before that. I remember his wise counsel to me on a number of occasions. And I wish Mike Adamson well in his role as acting CEO. I have recently been working with him on our plans for the NHS, and in particular our proposals for alleviating the problems of A&E departments. 

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