A Perfect Storm



This is a special edition of our weekly Bulletin- covering what we’ve heard from conversations with civil society groups across the country.

By Jane Thomas

Do No Harm

Most will be familiar with Henry Marsh’s seminal book Do No Harm but at this week’s round table in Sheffield on Brexit, it became more of a rallying cry around the impact of Brexit on our health care and wider rights and protections for civil society.

And as the prospect of a No Deal grows (see thisfrom groups in Northern Ireland) it is vital organisations prepare as we could rapidly approach post-Brexit world WITHOUT a transition period.

John Tizard Chair of NAVCA (https://navca.org.uk/) raised this very succinctly at the Sheffield Round Table on Brexit convened by the Brexit Civil Society Alliance on June 25th. As Brexit grinds on the uncertainty is as painful for civil society organisations as it is for business. And even more so for communities. What are the risks and how much will smaller organisations be exposed, especially in a No Deal scenario?

As John Tizard asked the audience in Sheffield " if we have deeper austerity where do communities and where does civil society look to as further deep cuts to public services take place. Even those organisations with reserves may see them eaten rapidly with depressed interest rates. And if local services get squeezed it will be those same civil society organisations that are expected to pick up the pieces".

And whether the UK leaves the EU or not John suggested we need a new social and political settlement based on social justice, fairness, equality and redistribution of wealth and assets, and power. An opportunity to recast the state and one of democratic renewal. Maybe not a 1945 moment now but then this year is not over yet!

The meeting in Sheffield was clear - any further downturn in the economy will affect cash strapped local authorities heavily especially where there is already facing a crisis of funding. In the absence of local authority provision for some key services such as social care, civil society organisations become the safety net. But they too are facing their own crisis. Many are reliant on some form of EU funding – some quite heavily - but the current funding round finishes next year. Despite promises of continuity of funding through the Shared Prosperity Fund, there has been absolutely no movement or progress on consultation, design and implementation or delivery of this – despite less than a year left to go before its introduction.

The Scottish parliament is conducting its own enquiry to explore the experience of lead partners, delivery agents and beneficiaries to help inform the design of any future funding of structural priorities in Scotland post-Brexit. And Equally Ours has written detailed recommendations for funding post Brexit in this very thorough report and this excellent scoping Research paper from Equality and Human Rights Commission

This week the Alliance also played host to a series of meetings with civil society organisations from around the UK including the Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit, Human Rights Consortiums in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The message coming out from these meetings is clear: the UK government must start to engage with civil society groups in any meaningful way and this must reflect, or even understand, the nature of the asymmetrical devolution and how that can be protected as we go through negotiations. The “command and control” attempt to govern from Westminster and Whitehall flies in the face of how many have engaged with their communities in the devolved nations - particularly in Northern Ireland where consent is such an important part of political life.

The story of Brexit so far for civil society is that it is something that is being done to us but not for us. That it's about conversations ‘over there’ but not here. That people are not being listened to and are removed from the political process. This is equally true for people in England. The temptation to confuse Westminster with England has led to a perception that Brexit feels like a Westminster driven project, not even an English one.

Going forward, the Government needs to build an effective engagement strategy - engage properly with the devolved administrations, business groups and civil society. The devolved administrations must continue to have a role with regular meetings with the Government to discuss the negotiations and the government needs to build on the expertise of civil society. These are people and organisations who have enormous skills and experience on consumer rights, environmental protection, constitutional law, and dare we say it - understand a thing or two about the Irish Border. Why would you want to leave experts like this who have the lived experience of what is being negotiated out of the room? If we want Brexit to work then the government must accommodate these voices, utilise the extensive networks and embrace the expertise of civil society.

Finally this snippet from Graeme Cowie @CommonsLibrary a Constitutional Law Researcher with the House of Commons Library who says that the recess dates have now been approved, the statutory timetable for an early General Election (on Thursday 24 October) would on his count require a Vote of No Confidence to be debated no later than Tuesday 3rd September (first day back from summer recess).

Why 24 October? It’s the last Thursday before exit day, so the last likely polling day that could lead to a pre 31 October change of Government. Count back 25 working days to get a date of dissolution takes you to the beginning of Thursday 19 September. The Crown’s proclamation for setting polling day therefore can’t be later than Wednesday 18 September. Still with us? The proclamation cannot be made until after the statutory 14 day window has expired. So it can’t expire later than Tuesday 17 September. 14 day period begins with day after day on which a VONC is passed. So the vote must take place no later than rise of Commons on 3 September.

It's NOT going to be a quiet Summer.

Recommended reading
If you do one thing watch this TedX talk by Anand Menon here

And do go to this excellent event on the Shared Prosperity Fund if you can. Tickets here

The campaign organisation Sheila McKechnie Foundation reckons civil society can be at the centre of much significant change and their recent report is worth a read here