New rules restricting use of grants an attempt to curb charities' independence - Turley

Shadow Minister for Civil Society Anna Turley has slammed Government plans to prevent charities using taxpayer funds to lobby policymakers.

Cabinet Office announced at the weekend plans to insert a clause into all new and renewed grant agreements to ensure groups receiving public funds do not use them to lobby for new regulation or more government funding.

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”.

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.

However, Turley said the new clause is an “outrageous attempt to further curb the independence of charities”. The move aims to restrict charities’ ability to speak out on issues of “failing government policy”, the Labour and Cooperative MP for Redcar said.

“Yet again we are seeing the actions of an illiberal Government who are scared to debate their record or be open to scrutiny. First we had the Gagging Act, and now these gagging clauses - where will this end? They should be open to the legitimate views and ideas of civil society, who are the ones who have to deal with the failings of government policy, not ride roughshod over them. For the sake of a decent and transparent democracy I urge them to reconsider.”

Turley further criticised the lack of scrutiny of the new clause, which she said had not been put before Parliament to be debated.

However, free-market think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs welcomed the move. The IEA has long criticised what it calls ‘sock puppet’ organisations – civil society groups receiving public funding while lobbying politicians and the public.

Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the IEA and the author of several reports on the issue, said the new clause is “very good news for taxpayers”.

“At every level - local, national and European - people have been subsidising political campaigns that they may not know about and might disagree with. Campaigning is an important part of a thriving democracy but charities and pressure groups should not be doing it with taxpayers’ money.”

Government guidance on the new clause is available here.

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