The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement made no mention of the Big Society but referred to “charity” or “charities” 12 times in 154 pages which in many ways summarises the Statement for charities; there was no overall theme but a number of small measures, some of which may be welcome but some of which may have a sting in the tail. Let’s start with the good news:
• The Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme is to be reviewed. It is generally agreed that the rules are too complex and a simplification would help small charities and community amateur sports clubs.
• There will be an expansion of social impact bonds with the Government investing £105 million over the Parliament to help deal with issues including homelessness, poor mental health and youth unemployment. £80 million of this will be provided to the Cabinet Office to increase funding for locally designed schemes.
• The National Citizen Service will be expanded with the Government supporting 300,000 young volunteers by 2019 – 2020.
• Women’s health and refuge charities will benefit from the £15M raised in VAT on sanitary products. Disappointingly, the Statement announced the first three recipients (all in themselves excellent charities) and will announce the remainder in the Budget which suggests that small, local charities may not be able to bid for donations.
• There will be further support for military charities from banking fines.
• There is to be consultation upon corporation tax relief for contributions to grassroots sport and upon tax reliefs to help museums and galleries to exhibit their collections. How far this will extend to local or regional museums remains to be seen.
And the sting in the tail?
• Funding for the Charity Commission is to be frozen for the next four years. There is no prospect of the Commission being able to resume its engagement with small and medium sized charities to provide one to one advice and guidance. The Commission’s funding problems may well re-ignite the debate about the sector (or at least larger charities) contributing to its funding through an annual fee.
• The Government will report on its review of business rates in the next budget. It would have been re-assuring if the Statement had contained a commitment to the current system of rates relief for charities.