The government has announced its intention to include an anti-advocacy clause in all future grant agreements. Specifically it will say that the following expenditure is not permitted: ‘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.’
Many charities have been in touch to ask how they can raise their concerns about this policy shift. Over 150 have already written to the Prime Minister explaining that this widely-drawn clause would have a detrimental effect, limiting their ability to speak up for their beneficiaries and inform improvements in government policy. While the Minister for Civil Society has written an article about this, many unanswered questions remain.
There is limited time to take further action on this important issue. Here are four things you can do today.
Four ways you can help
Contact government departments who you have received grants from
While no formal consultation process has been agreed, the Minister for Civil Society has made clear that time has been set aside for departments to discuss the clause with grant recipients, and that he would ‘urge any organisation that receives government grants to speak to their partner department if they have any concerns or wish to seek guidance.’
Individual departments will be required to implement this clause in grant agreements by 1 May, so it is important that you discuss how this could affect your work directly with them. When writing to the relevant minister, we would encourage you to copy in the permanent secretary for the department.
Write to the relevant select committee chair
One of the key questions that remains unanswered is how the clause will impact on the work of select committees.
Select committees will doubtless remain keen to hear from charities in receipt of grants, but it is not clear whether, for example, grant-funded employees would be able to give evidence to select committees, or whether grant-funded research could be included in submissions.
Writing to select committee chairs to highlight potential concerns, and encouraging them to seek clarity could help to address these questions.
Write to your MP
You could also help to influence the debate around the clause by encouraging your local MP to raise this issue in the House of Commons. Even if your MP broadly agrees with the principle set out by the clause, it would be helpful if they could write to the Cabinet Office minister, Matthew Hancock, for detailed clarification of what would be covered.
Provide support on social media
It is also helpful to ensure that there is continued discussion on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms of what this will mean practically for charities in how they are able to inform public policy. Please do where possible include details of how your work may be directly affected.
Key points to make
This clause is counter-productive for government – The Minister has said that ‘normal’ feedback on grants would not be classed as lobbying and influencing under the clause, but this raises concerns over exactly how it will be defined and interpreted. Charities will be concerned about sharing insights from their work or campaigning in relation to their grant-funded work, if there is a risk that their funding may be withdrawn. This could ultimately harm policymaking and increase costs for taxpayers if policies are less well informed without the input of service users and those who advocate for them.
This clause is broadly drafted and potentially restricts a range of activities that could be undertaken by grant-receiving organisations, not just ‘campaigning’ – no clarity has been provided by the government on whether the guidance as written means grant-funded employees could be prevented from taking part in a wide range of activity, potentially including giving evidence to select committees, discussing their work with MPs or the media, and taking part in government consultations.
The clause could be damaging to relationships with voluntary organisations – the Prime Minister personally signed the Compact agreement on how government and the voluntary sector can work together. One of the key principles of the Compact is that the Government will respect the right of charities to campaign ‘regardless of any relationship, financial or otherwise which may exist.’
Despite the government’s first response on this matter, it is clear that key questions remain unanswered, including:
- What activity will be covered by the clause, for example will grant funded staff be able to meet MPs, give evidence to select committees, government consultations etc?
- Will this apply to local authorities? Will this apply to think tanks?
- What evidence exists of charities lobbying inappropriately?
- Will the charity be able to talk to the media about evidence or findings relating to the grant during the grant period?
- Given the Minister’s admission that ‘clarity is needed’, wouldn’t it be appropriate to initiate a formal consultation process?