I wrote at the beginning of February about plans by Matthew Hancock MP, Minister in the Cabinet Office to gag all charities that receive public funding. This will put many charities into a very difficult position. The Government has begun discussions with charity support organisations to indicate what the “anti-advocacy clause” will include and what will be excluded. There is a useful briefing article here which covers some of the issues. The article includes the comment that “The clause is not intended to prevent any specific activities. It states that unless it is specifically authorised by the terms of the grant, organisations must have other funding sources if they are to carry out lobbying or influencing activities. Giving evidence to parliament at parliament’s request would not be seen as lobbying – but submitting written evidence proactively may be, if such activities were not in the original grant agreement. Organisations should consult their grant manager if in doubt.” The problem as I have written in regard to other attacks on the values of the voluntary sector by the Government is that charity trustees are essentially risk averse in their role and so even where charities have alternative funding in place, they may be discouraged from writing to Parliament, their local Council or even their MP on matters currently being discussed by our ‘democrats’. A good example of the impact is here (I have changed the name to protect the innocent). Anyvillage Development Trust is awarded funds by their local council to help strengthen community resilience and keep open a community centre that is not sustainable on its own, but cheaper for the local authority to support than if they tried to run the building themselves. When it comes to the needs of the residents of Anyvillage under the new anti-advocacy clause, the ADT Trustees might feel they are prevented from raising concerns with the Council if they discover some elderly residents are being denied help due to the poor performance of a state funded home visiting scheme in the area. Thus public money would continue to be wasted and vulnerable people would continue to suffer simply because of the unintended consequences of this new clause.
I started my blog by suggesting that charities need a strategy and I believe that there are two approaches to take. One is to fight these changes, and that is a good place to start. However the second is to plan for a changed environment if this gutless and heartless Government pass this change, just as the coalition previously passed part 2 of the Lobbying Bill (I wrote about that extensively at the time). In looking at how to respond in a changed world, I believe that charities could learn a great deal from the Institute of Economic Affairs, also a charity. They are the people who put together the arguments that led to the anti-advocacy clause being developed by Matthew Hancock in the first place and it was to them that William Shawcross Chairman of the Charity Commission turned when he wanted to consider this issue on behalf of the Commission. They don’t appear to receive any public funding so they won’t be affected by the anti advocacy clause. However there are elements of their work on other matters that could help charities develop a strategy regarding the anti advocacy clause.
The Director General of the IEA, Mark Littlewood is a well known Euro-sceptic and he is frequently invited on to our screens and radio stations to speak about Europe. Now that we are in the run up to a referendum, expressing views about Europe is clearly political and the Charity Commission have come out with this guidance that prevents charities from engaging with the debate. One might have assumed this would keep Mark Littlewood off our screens. However he continues to speak on panels and send tweets regarding his views as though there were no difference. I visited the IEA website to see if he had perhaps taken a leave of absence so he would not create any problems for the IEA. However he and they have adopted a different approach as you can see here. In essence they have held an internal poll of their employees and published the results showing that they don’t have a dominant view within the organisation. They have also published a statement saying that as a charity they don’t have an agreed view regarding the EU referendum. This appears to have protected them from the risk that Mark Littlewood can be accused of using the platform he gets as a result of the work of the IEA being the basis for promoting what is assumed to be purely his personal views. In simple terms they appear to have found a way to have their cake and eat it too. Perhaps other charities can find similar strategies that will enable people within the charity from continuing to speak up on behalf of those whose voices are being ignored by our state agencies, whilst at the same time ensure that they cannot be accused of advocacy or lobbying. In the meantime let us hope that our politicians understand how their actions will be to the detriment of all of us and they will reverse their plans to introduce this damaging clause.