Policy update – What can we expect from Theresa May’s government?
Since Theresa May entered Downing Street, we’ve had a Cabinet reshuffle and Whitehall restructure. This blog outlines some of these changes.
Theresa May used her first speech as PM to talk about her ambitions to tackle inequality and disadvantage. Whilst some might question the substance behind the rhetoric, the fact that she has made this a focus so early on in her premiership means there is a clear opportunity to hold her government to account on this and also show her how her government can better support community action and initiatives around tackling inequalities locally.
New findings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies this month show the extent of ‘in-work poverty’, with two thirds of children living below the absolute poverty line live in households were at least one person works. Theresa May was questioned on these findings during her first PMQs, and she outlined her commitment to make sure the economy ‘worked for everyone’ but repeated very familiar arguments about how the way to tackle poverty is through a strong economy to ensure high employment.
Her new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has abandoned his predecessor’s commitment to achieving a Budget surplus by 2020, which potentially gives him room to rethink existing austerity projections. Last week he hinted he might ‘reset’ spending plans. However, in his first Treasury question time in Parliament he also stressed that he would not be deviating from the current Budget for now, and we will therefore have to wait until the Autumn Statement for new spending announcements.
We now know that May is not planning to trigger article 50 until the beginning of 2017 at the earliest, despite European countries still calling on the UK to get on with it. She has appointed David Davis, former Home Secretary and twice leadership contender, to head up a new Brexit Department to lead negotiations to detangle the UK from EU. It will be important that the voluntary and community sector has a strong voice in influencing what EU legislation, regulation and directives need to be protected and amended.
We also have a new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid. As a former Treasury Minister, Javid was helpful in amending the legislation to increase the amount which can be invested in community shares. In his new role, we will be calling on him to put communities firmly at the heart of the devolution debate, to ensure communities are given more powers and resources to directly influence what happens in their areas.
The Office of Civil Society in the Cabinet Office, which drives much of the policy relating to the voluntary and community sector, has been moved to the Department for Culture Media and Sport, along with the minister Rob Wilson. Although there are some opportunities from this move in aligning to DCMS policies around the national lottery for example, we are concerned that the largely peripheral department will be unable to drive VCSE policy on cross-government issues such as public service reform.
We’ve joined calls from across the sector for Theresa May to look at how VCSE policy can be integrated into other departments, with the new Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, for example taking on responsibility for considering and communicating with social enterprise as they develop industrial strategy