Charities to be banned from using taxpayers' cash to lobby ministers

Charities will be banned from using Government grants to fund campaigns to pressure ministers to change policies under new rules.

Matthew Hancock

A clause inserted into new and renewed grant agreements is aimed at making sure that taxpayers’ money is spent on improving people’s lives and good causes, rather than lobbying for new regulation or increased funding, the Cabinet Office said.

The Government insisted the clause will not prevent charities and other organisations in receipt of Government grants from using privately-raised funds for lobbying campaigns.

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Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock said: “Taxpayers’ money must be spent on improving people’s lives and spreading opportunities, not wasted on the farce of Government lobbying Government. The public sector never lobbies for lower taxes and less state spending, and it’s a zero sum game if Peter is robbed to pay Paul.

“These common sense rules will protect freedom of speech - but taxpayers won’t be made to foot the bill for political campaigning and political lobbying.

“This Government is standing up for value for money, so we can keep taxes down and support better services that people can rely on.”

The system has been trialled in grants provided by the Department for Communities and Local Government and ministers insisted it had not curtailed the ability of charities such as Shelter from lobbying on housing legislation.

The move follows work by the right-of-centre think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) into so-called “sock puppets”, where taxpayers’ money is handed to pressure groups which then campaign for policy changes or extra money.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, warned the “draconian” new rules could force charities to take a “vow of silence”.

He said: “Charities provide vital insights and expertise which improve policy-making and often help save or better target taxpayers’ money.

Charities are already subject to charity law and guidance on campaigning that does not permit party-political campaigning.

“The new rules attached to grant income would appear to prevent charities from suggesting improvements or efficiencies to civil servants or ministers, or even from raising concerns with MPs, for example about the treatment of vulnerable people.

“Indeed, several Government departments have developed ‘strategic partner’ grant programmes specifically to enable them to access the expertise of charities to inform their policy development and delivery for these reasons.

“This is tantamount to making charities take a vow of silence and goes against the spirit of open policy-making that this Government has hitherto championed.

“We call on ministers to reconsider this draconian move that could have significant consequences for the charity sector’s relationship with Government.”