Charities welcome new grants standards

Charities have welcomed substantial changes to the government's planned 'anti-lobbying clause', announced today.

New government-wide standards for grant-making will replace the proposed clause, which was first announced in February this year.

The clause was subject to widespread criticism from charities and universities, who said its unintended consequence would be to prevent them from having normal dialogue with MPs and civil servants.

The government paused the implementation of the clause in April and has since been working on a revised approach.

The new grant standards unveiled today take a substantially more sophisticated approach than the original clause, and explicitly safeguard the important role of charities and others in presenting evidence to government and parliamentarians.

The standards should also prevent another Kids Company situation where an unusually large grant was handed out without proper oversight or a competitive process.

Commenting, Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said:

'The original clause was counterproductive and would have meant grant-funded charities would be unable to provide crucial insights that improve legislation, regulation and public services.

'This fundamental flaw has been recognised by the government and its new guidance is crystal clear in saying that activities such as raising issues with ministers and civil servants, responding to consultations and contributing to the general policy debate are not only permitted but actively welcomed.

'The new standards also have the potential to improve grant-making across government, ensuring public money is fairly awarded and effectively spent.'

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, said:

'This is good news for the social enterprises that would have been affected by this clause. A number of social enterprises receive grants to support their work, but also want to ensure that they are using their experience on the ground to shape policy on behalf of the people and causes they work for. Today's new grant standards mean that they will continue to be able to make this important contribution.'

Asheem Singh, chief executive of Acevo, said:

'This is a victory for common sense and for free speech. Charities exist to help raise the voice of the voiceless and provide key policy advice to support their beneficiaries.

'The concerns we expressed to government about the proposed inhibitions were real. They had the potential to cause damage to vulnerable people whose voices might no longer be heard by decision makers. We made our case in collaboration with partners across the sector and it is positive to see that the government has listened.

'There remain some questions about the application of the grant standards in practise. There is the potential for confusion between some of the provisions of eligible and ineligible expenditure. But we will continue to work with the government to monitor the implementation of the new guidelines and ensure that the voice of charity beneficiaries remains heard.

'That the government has moved from implementing an aggressive, regressive and unfair anti-advocacy clause to explicitly recognising and facilitating the role of charities to speak out on behalf of their beneficiaries is constructive and welcome.'

Notes

For further information please contact the NCVO press office.

Background

In February 2016, the government announced that it was to ban charities in receipt of government grants from 'using those funds to lobby government and parliament'. The government said that the ban would prevent charities 'lobbying for new regulation or using taxpayers' money to lobby for more government funding'.

It would do this by adding a clause to all government grant agreements.

Despite its rhetoric, the government was unable to cite a single example of such lobbying taking place (1, 2).

Unintended consequences

But the effect of the wording of the new clause was far wider. It would have meant that charities could have been prevented from undertaking their routine work of raising concerns about the issues affecting their causes, or trying to inform and improve policy-making.

It could have had the effect, for example, of preventing a charity in receipt of a grant from the government or its local authority hosting a visit from its local MP, or meant that they would not have been allowed to speak to a civil servant who was seeking advice on a policy issue. It would have meant that charities or academics carrying out research funded by a grant would not have been able to present their findings to parliament. (Read more.)

Government shelves plans

Following strong concerns voiced by charities and universities, the government started to backtrack on its announcement. First, in mid-April, it announced that research funding for universities would be excluded from the clause. Later that month, it acknowledged the widespread concern and announced it would pause the implementation of the clause in its entirety, a move that was welcomed by the Commons science and technology committee.

A better solution

Since then, in dialogue with charity representative bodies and others, the government has worked to replace the original proposal with a significantly more detailed and sophisticated set of guidance on grant making for government bodies, which has been published today.

  1. Parliamentary question, 22 February
  2. Parliamentary question, 23 February
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