Softening of approach to lobbying in govt grant contracts welcomed

Voluntary sector bodies have welcomed new standards for government grants that safeguard charities’ ability to communicate with policymakers.

The Government in February announced its intention to include a clause in grant contracts to prevent recipients using the funds to for lobbying activity.

The proposal gave rise to deep concerns across the sector that the clause would prevent grant-funded charities from having a normal dialogue with policymakers, and impinge upon their ability to effectively advocate for beneficiaries.

Implementation of the clause was paused in April and the Government has since been working on a revised approach.

Announcing publication of the new guidance, Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson said: “Government grants fund important work by thousands of charities in local communities across the country. The new grant standards announced today will not only increase the opportunity for charities to work with government through improved grant making practices, they will better protect the role of charities to speak out on behalf of their beneficiaries whilst ensuring taxpayers’ money is used as intended.”

Several umbrella bodies today released a joint statement welcoming the “substantially more sophisticated approach” taken by the new guidance.

The groups said the new guidance explicitly safeguards charities’ role in informing policymakers, and should also prevent a “Kids Company situation” where large grants are issued without proper oversight or a competitive process.

NCVO chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington said the clause proposed in February was “counterproductive”, and would have prevented grant funded charities providing insights to improve laws and policies.

“This fundamental flaw has been recognised by the Government and its new guidance is crystal clear in saying that activities such as raising issues with ministers and civil servants, responding to consultations and contributing to the general policy debate are not only permitted but actively welcomed.”

Interim Acevo chief executive Asheem Singh said the new guidance was a victory for common sense. The Government’s move to recognise and facilitate the role of charities in speaking out for beneficiaries was “constructive and welcome”, he said.

However, Singh said questions remain about the application of the grant standards in practise.

“There is the potential for confusion between some of the provisions of eligible and ineligible expenditure,” he said. “But we will continue to work with the Government to monitor the implementation of the new guidelines and ensure that the voice of charity beneficiaries remains heard.”

Social Enterprise UK chief executive Peter Holbrook said the new guidance was also good news for the social enterprises that would have been affected by the cause.

“A number of social enterprises receive grants to support their work, but also want to ensure that they are using their experience on the ground to shape policy on behalf of the people and causes they work for,” Holbrook said. “Today’s new grant standards mean that they will continue to be able to make this important contribution.”

View the standards here.

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