Letters to government on adverse publicity clauses

This is the text of two letters, sent by NCVO to the prime minister and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, seeking clarification around the use of 'adverse publicity' clauses in government contracts. These letters were sent in response to articles published in the Times on 12 October and 6 November 2018.

Letter to the prime minister, 7 November 2018

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The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA

7 November 2018

Dear Prime Minister

‘Adverse publicity’ clauses in government contracts

I am writing following today’s Times article, ‘Gagging clauses: Criticism of Theresa May banned in Grenfell safety deal’, to seek clarification around the use of ‘adverse publicity’ clauses in government contracts across a range of areas, including major projects that are likely to be the subject of policy debate and discussion. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 12 October with regard to a previous Times article highlighting the use of these clauses in back-to-work programmes, to which I have not yet received a reply.

These articles suggest that these clauses may inhibit charities, and other providers, from speaking out about the experience of the people they work with, thereby preventing the provision of vital insights and expertise which improve policy-making, both through their conversations with government as well as informing wider public policy.

The government has long recognised that voluntary organisations play a much-needed role in policy development and shaping regulatory reform. Our democracy is stronger when civil society plays an active role in voicing the concerns and experiences of everyday people, and any policy which mutes what the government might hear will only harm the policy process.

I would be grateful if you could confirm unambiguously that these clauses should not in any way prevent or deter charities or other providers from publicly expressing concerns about a particular policy, including those relating to the delivery of the contract. I wonder if in the spirit of open government, you might consider how the original intention might best be achieved through a different form of words and whether these clauses themselves are necessary.

Yours sincerely,
Sir Stuart Etherington
Chief Executive

Letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, 12 October 2018

Download this letter as a PDF (120KB)

Esther McVey MP
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Private Office
Caxton House
Tothill Street
London SW1H 9NA

12 October 2018

Dear Secretary of State,

Back-to-work programme contracts

I am writing following today’s Times article, Charities gagged by ministers, to seek clarification around the use of ‘publicity’ clauses in back-to-work programmes run by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The article suggests that these clauses may inadvertently prevent charities, and other providers, from speaking out about the experience of the people they work with, thereby preventing the provision of vital insights and expertise which improve policy-making, both through their conversations with government as well informing wider public policy.

The government has long recognised that voluntary organisations play a much-needed role in policy development and shaping regulatory reform. Thanks in part to the open policy-making approach you have championed, voluntary organisations bring the real-world experience and evidence-based expertise into public policy debate.

I would be grateful if you could confirm that it is not your intention that this clause should in any way prevent or deter charities or other providers from publicly expressing concerns about a particular policy, in this case the rollout of universal credit. I wonder if in the spirit of open government, you might consider how the original intention might best be achieved through a different form of words and whether the clause itself is necessary.

We support your ambition to open up supply chains to a wider variety of providers, involving both small and large charities where their expertise can help people back to work. Giving greater clarity about this issue will be important for both current providers and other future participants in back to work programmes.

Yours sincerely,
Sir Stuart Etherington
Chief Executive

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