Public policy round-up: November 2018

Adverse publicity clauses in government contracts

Last month the Times reported that charities and companies working with Universal Credit claimants have been required to sign contracts including clauses pledging not to damage the reputation of (then) Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey.

These are different from the ‘anti-advocacy clauses’ in government grants, which have now been replaced by the grant standards.

The clauses require signatories to contracts to ‘pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation’ of the Work and Pensions Secretary, adding that they must ‘not do anything which may attract adverse publicity’ to her, damage her reputation, or harm the public’s confidence in her.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) stated that they are standard clauses and their purpose is to safeguard any commercial sensitive information for both government and the organisation involved. The charities named as signatories stated that the clauses do not affect their independence or their ability to speak out against Universal Credit.

However absolute clarity is important.

NCVO wrote to the DWP asking for confirmation that it is not the intention of the clause to in any way prevent or deter charities or other providers from publicly expressing concerns about a particular policy, in this case the roll-out of Universal Credit. We also suggested that the DWP might consider how the original intention of the clause might best be achieved through a different form of words and whether the clause itself is necessary.

We received a response from the DWP which clearly states that:

  • the aim of the clauses is to ensure that contractors adhere to good working practices, not to stifle criticism.
  • the clauses do not stop any contract holders or affiliates from fairly criticising any specific Government department or Government policy. Nor do they prevent charities from campaigning for any particular cause with their own money.

The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) received a similar response.

Guide for charities on Brexit

We have published a new factsheet: Brexit and the voluntary sector: preparing for change.

This factsheet sets out the main Brexit considerations for voluntary organisations in the UK including:

  • economic impact
  • employing EU nationals
  • EU Funding
  • the opportunities ahead.

It also suggests practical steps that charities can take to prepare for the post-Brexit environment.

Code of Conduct for Grant Recipients

The Cabinet Office has published a new Code of Conduct for Grant Recipients.

The document is intended to provide high level expectations about the behaviour of grant recipients and sits alongside a supplier code of conduct. It builds on the existing grant standards to ensure that grants are administered and delivered effectively.

This guidance is helpful in driving up standards across the board, and there are also some particularly welcome statements about the duty of grant recipients to speak out when they have concerns about the grant:

Professional behaviour
10. We expect Grant Recipients to be prepared to invest in their relationships with government and establish trust with our staff and with other entities and organisations involved in the activities being funded. We also expect Grant Recipients to be able to speak out when government officials, civil servants or  other Grant Recipients are not upholding the values embedded in the Civil Service Code or this code. We also expect Grant Recipients to speak out, without fear of consequences, when a grant funded project or activity is unlikely to succeed because of our behaviours or a lack of good governance. We expect the same behaviour when a grant is no longer fit for purpose, for example, in the grant agreement stipulations or measures.

The code also strengthens safeguarding standards in government grant arrangements, by requiring grant recipients to ensure that staff and volunteers ‘understand the boundaries of appropriate behaviour.’

Charity Commission guidance on protecting charities from abuse for extremist purposes

The Commission has updated its guidance to support trustee decision-making which forms part of the ‘Protecting charities from harm’ toolkit.

This guidance has been updated to help charity trustees to manage some of the challenges associated with hosting speakers and debates. It highlights:

  • some of the challenges that charities may encounter and some practical tips as to how to manage them
  • how to avoid problems in the first place
  • what to do if there are concerns about a speaker, an event or literature.

Civil Society Futures

Julia Unwin’s two-year inquiry Civil Society Futures (CSF) has published its final report ‘The story of our times: shifting power, bridging divides, transforming society’.

The themes of the inquiry were as follows.

  • The places that matter: How can we take control of the places and spaces that matter to us?
  • Belonging and identity: How can we rise above division and fear so that everyone can belong?
  • Reimagining work and purpose: How can we shape the future of work and find purpose inside work, or out?
  • How we organise: How can today’s movements, organisations and institutions transform and tomorrow’s emerge?

Given such broad scope, there are too many important messages in the report for me to try to summarise them but these messages that struck me the most.

  • Charities risk losing the trust of the public if they do not learn the lessons of recent mass movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter and the Brexit vote, and listen to communities across the country.
  • The formal charity and voluntary sector is to renew itself by responding to the desire of people and communities for more power and control.

The solution suggested is that all who recognise themselves as involved in civil society commit to a PACT, which is build on the following values:

  • Power: A great power shift. CSF embraces all the cutting edge forms of participation here – citizens assembly, participatory grant-making
  • Accountability: Turning away from meaning accountable ‘primarily to funders’ to ‘primarily to people and communities’
  • Connection: No doubt the strongest category affected by Brexit. Urges civil society activists to return to this task of reducing tension and polarisation as their central task
  • Trust: Again, very much directed at the behaviour of the executives of voluntary and civil organisation who have betrayed the trust of those relying on them.

Another key question raised by the inquiry is whether charities risk becoming irrelevant if they don’t make these changes. In response to this, Karl has written a blog on ‘the road to relevance.’

Kindness, emotions and human relationships – new report

The Carnegie UK Trust has launched Kindness, emotions and human relationships: The blind spot in public policy, a report written by Julia Unwin CBE.

The report argues that the great public policy challenges of our time demand an approach that is more centred on human relationships. With technology and artificial intelligence transforming the world at speed, emotional intelligence is equally important and needs investment.

The report also includes insights from the first ever quantitative survey on kindness.


The Fundraising Regulator’s consultation on a new plainer English Code of Fundraising Practice closed on 16 November.

We shared our response to the consultation in: What NCVO thinks about a new draft code of Fundraising Practice.

The Fundraising Regulator (FR) has announced a change of policy regards naming charities it investigates.

For complaints received after 1 March 2019, the FR will name all organisations it investigates, whether the complaint is upheld or not. To date, the FR has mostly published anonymised summaries of investigations. This new naming policy will not be applied retrospectively and when the FR publishes its decisions, it will ‘recognise the organisations that have cooperated fully with our investigation and any actions they have taken to learn from the complaint, whether it is upheld or not.’

Charity Digital Code

A new Charity Digital Code has been published.

The new code aims to answer calls among charities for more help to manage risk, persuade leaders of the importance of digital and to improve staff skills.

It features two separate versions for small and large charities.

The code also has the backing of government, which has announced £1m funding to support programmes helping charities to improve their digital skills.


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Avatar photo Elizabeth was head of policy and public services at NCVO until 2020.

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