The Cabinet Office has announced that from May 2016 all organisations that receive government grants will be banned from using these funds to lobby government and Parliament.
A new clause to be added to all future and renewed central UK government grants “will make sure that taxpayer funds are spent on improving people’s lives and good causes, rather than lobbying for new regulation or using taxpayers’ money to lobby for more government funding”.
The government made grants of £2.2 billion to charities in 2013, a decline since the high point of £6 billion in 2003.
The Cabinet Office attempted to head off criticism that this might erode freedom of speech by suggesting that charities could continue to use other funds to lobby or press for changes as part of their charitable objectives if they had them or if they wished.
Matthew Hancock, Minister for the Cabinet Office, indicated a difference between traditional direct help from charities and efforts by charities to persuade government to tackle some of the root problems that created the need for the charities’ help in the first place. He said:
Taxpayers’ money must be spent on improving people’s lives and spreading opportunities, not wasted on the farce of government lobbying government. The public sector never lobbies for lower taxes and less state spending, and it’s a zero sum game if Peter is robbed to pay Paul.
The announcement came one day after a group of charities combined to launch the Grants for Good campaign, warning that government grants to charities could dry up completely within four years, based on current trends in grant cuts.
The new rule
The specific phrase that appear in new government funding contracts is:
“The following costs are not Eligible Expenditure: Payments that support activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action”.
The Cabinet Office has published guidelines on how the new rule will be implemented.
The mention of political parties in relation to charities’ lobbying is odd in that it is redundant. Charities are already prevented by law from carrying out party political campaigning for their beneficiaries or to seek support for their work.
Charities required to take a ‘vow of silence’
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, pointed out that charities have a long record of providing insight and expertise to help improve policy-making and even save or better target taxpayers’ money.
On the Cabinet Office’s announcement he said:
“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.
“This is tantamount to making charities take a vow of silence and goes against the spirit of open policy making that this government has hitherto championed. We call on Ministers to reconsider this draconian move that could have significant consequences for the charity sector’s relationship with government. I trust government will consult further on this.”
He subsequently described the move to the BBC as an “insane policy”. He added:
“Take a service charity funded to run a helpline. They may well be dealing with ex-servicemen, there will be policy issues that emerge from that. They’re not allowed to tell the government?”
‘Not only draconian but self-defeating’
ACEVO took a similar stance. It issued the following statement:
“The charity leaders’ network ACEVO is shocked and disappointed by the latest erosion of free speech and advocacy proposed by Cabinet Minster Matthew Hancock.
“Charities by their very nature are best placed to know what is needed by the people and causes they serve. To restrict the sector from drawing the Government’s attention to gaps or failures of service is not only draconian but self-defeating.
“Charities’ daily experience gathers vital intelligence and a profound understanding of society’s needs, intelligence and understanding which are crucial to the formulation and delivery of responsible and meaningful policy”.
The group urged the Government immediately to reconsider the proposal and withdraw it.
Ending charities ability to lobby ministers wld have serious consequences for #publichealth Balance already distorted in favour of industry
— Sarah Wollaston MP (@sarahwollaston) February 6, 2016
Charities barred from using government grants to lobby ministers https://t.co/xHVWpc4BKz > more policy designed purely for headlines
— Jay Kennedy (@JKENNEDYDSC) February 6, 2016
Main image: silence by Vladimir Gjorgiev on Shutterstock.com
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