May faces backlash over govt 'gagging clauses' silencing 40 charities

Theresa May has been criticised after an investigation revealed over 40 charities have been silenced through gagging clauses enforced as part of major government projects.

An investigation by The Times has revealed an endemic use of gagging clauses by the government to prevent charities and over 300 companies from criticising Theresa May and cabinet ministers.

The investigation revealed Chris Grayling had banned 39 prisoner rehabilitation charities from causing him “adverse publicity” when he was justice secretary. Last month it was also revealed charities working with universal credit claimants had been banned from criticising work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey.

The revelations come after the newspaper found experts hired by the government to test cladding following the Grenfell Tower fire were forced to sign gagging clauses before embarking on the project to prevent them from being critical of Theresa May or other government figures.

The Times said the agreement was made while May faced backlash over her response to the death of the tragedy that killed 72 people.

Gagging clauses are fairly common in government projects with private companies, but charities have long argued these should not exist within the public sector.

ACEVO chief executive, Vicky Browning argued that anti-advocacy clauses such as these are “anti-democratic” and the government should “actively encourage the sharing of any information that benefits the public”.

“They are also an example of the imbalance of power that exists between charities seeking funding to provide life-changing services and the government contractors who are able to dictate terms,” she said.

"While large charities in receipt of government contracts with anti-advocacy clauses can use other funds to campaign, this isn’t possible for many smaller organisations who are often working with the most under-represented communities.

"Unfortunately this practice is not new. Civil society leaders have been calling for a ban of anti-advocacy clauses in all government grants and contracts for a number of years, and I renew that request today."

NCVO chief executive, Sir Stuart Etherington added: "Given the nature of their work, charities have real insight into how these policies are working in the real world. And they speak up for people who just aren't heard in Whitehall.

"This issue has rumbled on for some time and we are calling on the Government to provide absolute clarity about whether these clauses, in any way, should prevent charities from speaking out.

"I have written today to the Prime Minister to ask her to confirm whether these clauses would prevent charities from publicly expressing concern about a particular policy or programme."

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