Lobbying bill – significant steps forward

At the eleventh hour, Government has announced its amendments to the rules on non-party campaigning in the Lobbying bill

The concessions are significant (and quite surprising given the mood music we have had so far). Most importantly, they reflect NCVO’s key asks and the concerns that we first raised in the Summer.

The headlines are:

  • Registration thresholds: increased to £20k in England; £10k Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Regulated period: reduced to 7 and a half months (although only for the 2015 General Election)
  • Coalition campaigning: a change to the rules so that smaller spending organisations that a part of a joint campaign do not have to account for the whole coalition’s spending.
  • Spending limits: an increase for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (but no increase for England).
  • Review of the Bill: a review of the rules will take place after the 2015 General Election.

These are positive changes that NCVO has welcomed. They mean that the majority of organisations that undertake small scale campaigning activity won’t have to worry about the rules as they are highly unlikely to go anywhere near the registration thresholds. It is likely that due to the broader range of activities that contribute towards expenditure, some of the larger campaigning organisations will have to register. It is therefore important that the accounting and reporting requirements involved in registration are proportionate and workable.

Furthermore, there are still some big problems with the bill, which need to be addressed in order to make it workable and ensure charities and voluntary organisations are not deterred from undertaking campaigning activities.

In particular, staff costs and further changes to the rules on coalitions are necessary. These continue to be deeply problematic and could cause huge problems for many organisations, even the largest. In particular the blanket requirement to account for staff costs is unworkable, unfair and disproportionate: most organisations don’t have the systems in place to make these calculations, indeed political parties are exempt from such a requirement precisely on the basis that is excessively burdensome.

So we have one final push before the Lords debate the bill next Wednesday 15 January. We’ll be asking members to help us flag these remaining issues with peers to make sure we have a proportionate regime.

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Elizabeth Chamberlain Elizabeth is head of policy and public services at NCVO. She has been part of the policy team since 2008, as the expert on charity law and regulation. Her policy interests also include charity campaigning, the sector’s independence, transparency, and accountability.

16 Responses to Lobbying bill – significant steps forward

  1. Alan Postill says:

    This is good news but we share your concerns and agree that further work is required. You have the support of Marple Civic Society in this endeavour.

  2. Roger Miller says:

    It is ridiculous to think that small charities know what staff costs to attribute to particular lobbying efforts. If compelled to write something in a box they would simply guess & nobody would be able to check, which makes the whole process pointless.

  3. Thanks very much for the update and some good news here! Having to account for staff costs would definitely be a burden for my organisation and I’m sure many others. Look forward to hearing more about specific asks for amendments.

  4. Vince Crosby says:

    This is very good news we have a big enough problem in the voluntary sector as it is and I have a legal background I am sure there are other organisations that could not cope with this legislation nightmare facing volunteer trustees.


  5. Paul Keen says:

    Good progress but vital that disproportionate costs are not loaded onto the voluntary sector through a requirement to account for staff costs. That would be add costs to the voluntary organisations I work with and would deliver arbitrary estimates. That is not a sensible way to require charities to deploy their income and is the type of bureaucratic cost the will deter giving.
    Thank you for all you hard work to date.

  6. The government need to actively help facilitate, especially the role of small charities, to fill the gaps resulting from scaled down government intervention, and not impose unnecessary bureaucracy or costs so these charities can focus on front line delivery of their products and services.

  7. Deborah Mitchell says:

    Progress indeed, thank you for your work on this

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  9. Caroline Evans says:

    Many thanks for all your success so far, it is indeed a challenge to make common sense heard … good luck this week

  10. Alex Whinnom says:

    The changes are very positive and we very much appreciate the efforts of NCVO, NAVCA and other national organisations in leading the campaign on this. I share your remaining concerns re coalitions and staff costs.
    By way of illustration, I wonder how we would all go about complying with the legislation with regard to the campaign on the Lobbying Bill? As there is a kind of coalition working together, I suppose all of us would have to record the time we have spent and let each other know? Would this include all our members as well?

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  12. Derek Jones says:

    thank YOU for your success so far and thank you for all your work on this

  13. Rodney Waldeck says:

    Thank you for all the hard work – here´s hoping for further progress.
    One question following on from that raised by Alex Whinnom: those small NGOs who do not employ full time staff, relying on volunteers for most of their work – would they be exempt from the need to calculate costs?

  14. Andy Benson says:

    Bit rich to congratulate NCVO and NAVCA for ‘leading the campaign’ when all the useful and detailed briefings that I’ve received have been from Friends of the Earth, who, with their colleagues, as far as I can see have been making the running on this. And why did NCVO not consult on and co-ordinate its own (self serving) press release which seriously distorted the collective view of how to respond to government amendments?

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