Charity groups alarmed by new rules preventing govt grants funding campaigning

Umbrella groups have expressed deep concerns over new rules that would prevent organisations receiving public funds from using them to campaign for new regulation or more government funding.

Cabinet Office announced at the weekend plans to insert a clause into all new and renewed grant agreements to exclude expenditure on influencing policymakers and grant decisions.

The clause to be inserted reads: “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”.

NCVO chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington said the new rules would appear to prevent charities from suggesting improvements or efficiencies to civil servants or ministers, or even from raising concerns with MPs around issues such as the treatment of vulnerable people.

Etherington said charities are already subject to rules preventing party-political campaigning, and some current grant programmes are explicitly designed to involve charities in policy development and delivery.

The new rules effectively require charities to take a vow of silence, he said, and go against the spirit of open policy making that this government has championed to date.

“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,” Etherington said.

Charity chief executives’ group Acevo was “shocked and disappointed” by the “erosion of free speech and advocacy” the new rules represent. The group called on the Government to reconsider the proposal and withdraw it.

The association said in a statement that charities are best placed to know what is needed by the people and causes they serve. Restricting the sector from drawing the Government’s attention to gaps or failures of service is “not only draconian but self-defeating”, Acevo said.

“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.”

Announcing the new rules, Cabinet Office said organisations will not be stopped from using their own funds for campaigning activity.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Matt Hancock said the “common sense” rules would protect freedom of speech, but “taxpayers won’t be made to foot the bill for political campaigning and political lobbying”.

“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 Department for Communities and Local Government has piloted the rules over the past year.

Guidance on the new clause is available here.

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