In Brexit Britain, will charity begin (and end) at home?

Jake Cordell
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Children in Need's Pudsey bear and Peter Andre
It is unclear what role Pudsey (or Peter Andre) will play in the sector's lobbying efforts (Source: Getty)

Government is gearing back into action after a surprisingly business-as-usual summer. MPs have returned, announcements have started and there is one issue lodged at the top of the in-tray.

Despite Theresa May’s pledge not to provide a “running commentary” on Brexit, it seems unstoppable. The Prime Minister has already ruled out a point-based immigration system, Philip Hammond has pledged to match EU funding for farmers and scientists, and trade secretary Liam Fox has wooed the Australians to start talking about a post-Brexit tie-up.

But, as businesses across the country start issuing their own Brexit demands, one sector is worried about getting left behind: Charities.

Just like the country's businesses, charity bosses are increasingly aware of the importance of engaging with government on the details of any Brexit settlement.

Read more: What now? The UK and the EU Single Market

“We have to make sure we’re not led by the agenda,” said Jo Youle, chief executive of Missing People.

She was speaking at an event yesterday for charity chief executives hosted by the People’s Postcode Lottery, which itself will dish out nearly £60m this year.

Urging the industry to step up, Youle added: “Corporates are bringing in special advisers to influence government’s thinking, and as a third sector we should be doing that as well.”

The UK has the second most generous philanthropists in the world, occupying three of the top 20 spots in City A.M.'s 2015 Charity Index.

Winning the ear of the Brexit ministers is seen as vital by a sector that could have a lot to lose.

Not only are some projects yet to receive a post-Brexit funding guarantee, charities are also worried about the potential for restrictions on EU workers. At the same time, those that spend in dollars have been squeezed by the weaker pound.

Furthermore, the third sector is at the mercy of nervy corporate donors. Mary Rance, chief executive of Contact the Elderly, said she had seen signs of private sector partners turning lukewarm.

A lot of big institutions are already making decisions about whether to stay or go. That puts pressure on the third sector because corporates are such a big source of support.

- Jo Youle, Missing Child

Stepping up their advocacy efforts is just one of the ways charities are responding to Brexit with a more commercial edge. The industry also called for stronger trade associations and more collaboration.

“There’s real concern and worry,” said Missing People’s Youle, “but there are opportunities.”

Most of the 25 chief executives gathered yesterday saw the vote as a chance to play a leading role in uniting a fractured post-referendum society.

Some of us are working in those very deprived communities, many of which voted for Brexit. Charities will need to fill the gaps where some of that EU funding used to go.

- Grandparents Plus chief executive Lucy Peake.

So, when the charities next go to see government ministers or start tapping up corporate donors, what will be top of the wish-list? Flexibility, says Clara Govier, head of charities at the People’s Postcode Lottery (PPL).

If EU funding will be replaced by a UK pool of cash, then charities want some of the rules and restrictions stripped back. As it stands, restrictions often determine where and how the money can be spent.

Read more: City A.M.'s Charity Index

“Flexible funding allows charities to apply resources to the areas that need it most.” PPL funds come with no-strings, says Govier, adding: “The unrestricted nature allows charities to feel trusted to use it in the most beneficial way, and also gives them the freedom to think of creative and innovative ways to make a difference.”

“Money that is currently trotting off to Europe, may get redistributed once we leave,” said one of the top dogs yesterday. “It’s our job to make sure we get our share of that.”

It looks as if Prime Minister May should make some space in her diary.

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