Caron Bradshaw: Charities are still being far too quiet about Brexit

Back in August last year, hot on the heels of the CFG report A Brexit that works for everyone, I wrote a piece for Charity Times, urging charities to be vocal on the issue. And as we hurtle towards the end date for negotiations I am taking the opportunity to do the same again as I fear we are still being far too quiet.

I also urge you to consider, based on what you now know, how Brexit is going to impact you and your beneficiaries. Are you preparing for what might come? First, a brief canter through the story so far.

Last year we were of the view that a well-managed Brexit negotiation could offer the sector a rare opportunity to resolve issues that have long impeded our performance – much like the rules around state aid and the burden of irrecoverable VAT.

Since then, we have been engaging and closely monitoring how negotiations have progressed as well as what developments might mean for charities. Having not taken a position before the referendum, we took the view that doing so after the outcome would have been improper and unhelpful.

At CFG, we pride ourselves on our objectivity. We seek to consider the changing evidence base and the wider interests of the sector. Consequently, we have been able to use language and highlight areas that have opened, hitherto closed, doors for the sector. We have been able to engage with those influencing Brexit so that they might think beyond the interests of business alone and include in their deliberations the impact on charities and society.

In our first report, we examined the impact for charities of leaving the EU and considered issues beyond the loss of EU funding, considerable though that is. We examined questions about workers, state aid, procurement and the need for coordination – particularly regarding the delivery of international aid.

Earlier this year, we commissioned research leading to a second report looking at work force issues. This was helpful in pressing politicians to think about Brexit from the impact on social change in the event of EU workers no longer being available to us. In our latest report, a cost benefit analysis, we have concluded that, as negotiations are currently progressing, the sector stands to have all the costs and none of the benefits of Brexit.

Over the twelve months since our first report, we’re pleased that we’ve had some success in getting the charity perspective to the table. But the voice needs amplifying and sadly the negotiations appear to have achieved very little for us as a sector. We need to change that.

Wherever you are on the politics of this, there is one thing we must all do now - speak up for our beneficiaries. If you haven’t already done so, make representations to your MPs. Your voice is critical and we are fast running out of time for consideration to be given to the issues of most importance to our sector.

My second plea to you all is to think about what Brexit means for you as an organisation. Have you given consideration to how it might impact your charity, from the perspective of the economy, the tax regime, workforce skills or changes in public spending and regulation? Map out your risks or the opportunities that might flow to your charity. Put Brexit on the agenda for your board of trustees. Consider whether a working group which cuts across your organisation might be helpful (depending on your size) and make sure you speak with your stakeholders and understand how they might be impacted.

Brexit – unless it is halted – is not a two year process, but is likely to be a decade (at least) long event. So creating the structures to monitor the impact over the longer term, right now, will save you pain in the long run and set you up to be able to capitalise on any opportunities that might arise. Above all, don’t watch from the side lines – you might think this will have little bearing on your charity, but this is such a significant event that it is hard to think of charities that won’t be exposed to some change either directly or indirectly.

Caron Bradshaw is the CEO of the Charity Finance Group

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