The government announced on Saturday (6th February) that a new clause would be added to its grant agreements banning organisations in receipt of such grants “from using these taxpayer funds to lobby government and Parliament”.
This follows a “sock puppets” paper produced by the Institute of Economic Affairs, which the sector has pointed out to be based on little evidence and less logic. See latest Civil Society News piece on why its author’s arguments don’t hold water, for example.
As reported in The Guardian, the government says that this new clause will not prevent charities using privately raised funds for lobbying. However, NCVO’s strong reaction to the news includes the statement:
“The new rules attached to grant income would appear to prevent charities from suggesting improvements or efficiencies to civil servants or ministers, or even from raising concerns with MPs, for example about the treatment of vulnerable people. Indeed, several government departments have developed ‘strategic partner’ grant programmes specifically to enable them to access the expertise of charities to inform their policy development and delivery for these reasons.”
There is a further NCVO article on why the ‘Anti-advocacy clause is counter-productive‘. Local sector support umbrella body NAVCA titles its response ‘NAVCA fears gagging clauses will hit the most vulnerable‘.
Taking a wider view
Two commentary pieces giving a rounded view on why a strong response is needed to the government announcement, but that voluntary organisations shouldn’t panic.
From thinktank NPC, ‘A clause too far‘, which also has various relevant source links, includes this useful extract:
The actual wording in the government guidance, which takes the form of a four page Q&A issued to Government departments, asks: ‘Should the clause be included for all types of grant recipient—e.g. public sector organisations and individuals?’ and then answers: ‘Yes, the presumption is that this clause is always included.’ It will be policed by government departments in the same way as other conditions of grants are, and non-compliance could mean losing money or the contract being cancelled. How that works in practice is anyone’s guess.
What is clear though is that this is an extraordinarily poor way to make public policy – no consultation, little clarity about how it will practically work, and all on the back of some pretty thin, and ideologically driven, research.
‘Policy and practice’ consultant Emma Taggart has ‘Fight for your right to speak truth to power‘, on why charities need to guard against overreaction. “This clause is not saying charities cannot ever campaign, lobby and influence”, although “Charities do need to condemn this latest move, which must surely be seen as part of a wider agenda”.
“Let’s not do the government’s job for it by working ourselves into a frenzy and being scared into submission. Instead, let’s be confident in our resolve to speak truth to power and shout loudly about the reasons why charities are uniquely well-placed to contribute to real world, evidence-based policy making.”
Lobbying law latest, including Scottish lobbying transparency legislation: ‘Charities right to campaign and lobbying laws, UK and Scotland‘.