The Government has recently announced a new clause that will be added to grant agreements, meaning that no proportion of a grant awarded to a charity can be used for lobbying Government and Parliament. It is unclear how this legislation would be enforced in practice (charities will still be entitled to lobby Government with any privately-raised funds), and has already been met by objections across the sector.
Last year I wrote a blog showing that the charities MPs think are most effective are those with substantial independent income. As such, I doubt the new legislation will stop any effective campaigners from campaigning. What this new grants clause does tell us about is the ‘mood music’; Government increasingly wants to differentiate between charity service provision and charity campaigning. This blog will explore how unhelpful this polarisation is for the public, Government and charities.
In the Government’s recent press release, the Cabinet Office said that the new grants clause would stop taxpayer’s money being “diverted away from good causes” to fund lobbying. I think it is problematic that the Government talk more and more about charity campaigning as something that is separate to a ‘good cause’ for three reasons:
- The public is very supportive of charity campaigning
The principle behind the new grants clause is that taxpayers’ money awarded to charities should not be spent on campaigning, only on the cause. When we asked the public we found that they are largely in favour of their donations being spent on campaigning, and see the important function of charities advocating for their causes. Only 6% of the public would be put off from giving to a particular charity because of the charity campaigning to change the law.
The Government quite rightly has a duty to make sure taxpayers’ money is not being wasted, but this should not be translated into the assumption that the public are not in favour of charity campaigning. In fact the best value for taxpayers has often come from insight from the voluntary sector. NCVO highlighted in a recent blog the great example of the Department of Health’s strategic partner programme, where volunteers, carers and service users are consulted to help inform the future direction of the Department’s policymaking.
- Campaigning can improve government services
Charities provide a significant proportion of the UK’s health and social services and are therefore well placed to give expert advice on how things are on the frontline. It seems obvious that an effective Government would want to know from them how policy and provision can be improved, regardless of whether or not the charity is receiving any state funding.
- Campaigning and service provision are a spectrum
Charities have a role to speak out for their beneficiaries and give them a collective voice, especially when dealing with vulnerable or isolated groups. I’m sure few MPs could argue that this isn’t a worthy cause. Despite this, at nfpSynergy we have heard many MPs tell us that charities should return to the work they were set up to do; in their minds, this is service provision. It’s amazing how frequently MPs forget that advocacy for beneficiaries, by any and all means possible, is why charities exist today and have existed historically in our society.
The underlying tone of the new grants clause is that campaigning is a diversion from the real work of charities. Campaigning is such a core component of the fantastic work charities do, and will continue to be a valuable and well-supported spend of taxpayers’ and donors’ money.