A huge amount of time and energy have gone into the Lobbying Act. Debates in parliament; debates within the sector; individuals within charities interpreting the Act; individuals within charities discussing it with their colleagues, trustees and senior management; reviews by Commissions into its impact; seminars and tutorials provided by consultants. The list goes on.
At the risk of putting (and hopefully not wasting) more energy into the Act, we have written a report on its impact on campaigning and public affairs professionals. What started as an exercise to provide members of our Charity Parliamentary Monitor syndicate with guidance on how to interpret the Lobbying Act soon became a collation of its many different interpretations. We interviewed 19 public affairs and campaigning professionals and, ahead of the report’s release next week, here are some of our key findings:
1. It is time-consuming. All of the charities we spoke to said they have invested a lot of time into interpreting the Lobbying Act, and how their campaigning will change as a result. Some charities have also sought legal advice. In the words of one Public Affairs Manager we spoke to:
“The administrative burden of being registered is overwhelming. I just feel it’s an extra, unnecessary administrative cost for us. It’s more of a worry than anything else.”
2. There is significant reputational risk. “This is not a legal issue. It is a perception issue”, said one interviewee. Our research shows many charities are concerned that if they fall foul of this legislation, there could be significant reputational damage to their brand. This is a significant factor in why charities have invested so much time in interpreting the legislation. The vast majority of charities are very risk-averse and the Lobbying Act appears to have added to this conservative nature.
3. The Electoral Commission is not investigating any charities... yet. We have submitted two Freedom of Information Requests and as of the 19th of January, the Electoral Commission were not investigating any charities, though they have received queries. In their own words:
"Although we have received queries as to the provisions and whether certain activity or behaviour is in compliance with the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, none of these instances have identified as being a breach of the legislation. We therefore do not refer to these as allegations or complaints requiring investigation. On this basis, the Commission has not received any complaints or referrals which have required investigation."
Please look out for report next week. We would love to hear how your charity has been impacted by the Lobbying Act and what you think should happen to this legislation in the future.
Are you an Aye or a No? Leave us a comment below.