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A demonstrator calls for an end to the use of fossil fuels at the Time To Act climate rally.

Photo: iStock/David Cliff

Charity lobbying restricted

11 February 2016

From May, charities and other organisations will no longer be allowed to spend government grants on lobbying ministers, the Cabinet Office announced on Saturday.

A new clause is to be inserted into all new and renewed grant agreements from 1 May forbidding the use of such funds for lobbying.

The Cabinet Office said the new clause would mean funds are spent on improving people's lives and good causes, not on "activity intended to influence – or attempt to influence – parliament, government or political parties."

Charity bodies have strongly criticised the government's announcement, arguing that charities have a vital role to play in campaigning for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. They argue that, as the organisations working on the front lines, charities are often best placed to know what policy changes are needed, and draw governments' attention to failures and areas for improvement.

The new rules could limit the valuable role that civil society organisations play in helping to inform government policy.

Bond is concerned about the addition of the new clause, which was announced without parliamentary discussion just days after amendments to the charities bill were agreed in the House of Lords.

The new rules may restrict many of those who share evidence and examples from their work with government departments to make them more effective.

Tom Baker, Head of Campaigns at Bond said: "The new rules could limit the valuable role that civil society organisations play in helping to inform government policy.

"After the Lobbying Act, this worrying clause seems to represent a further attempt to reduce the space that charities have to speak out on issues that concern those they work with around the world," he said.

"We are keen to understand in more detail how the government envisages that the new rules will work in practice. Many of the details are currently unclear. In particular, we will be working to understand what the implications will be for our members and their work with DFID."

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."

According to the Cabinet Office, the new clause will not prevent organisations from using their own privately-raised funds to campaign as they see fit, thereby ensuring that freedom of speech is protected.

The Cabinet Office has published interim guidance intended to help departments consult with their major grant recipients about how to implement the new rules.

The new scheme builds on the "anti-lobbying, anti-sock puppets" clause adopted by Eric Pickles for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) last year.

Bond has signed a joint letter to the prime minister about the issue, saying "We believe that a strong, effective working relationship between voluntary organisations and the state, based upon mutual respect and understanding, is beneficial to the people of this country and beyond."

This article was updated on Thursday 18 February 2016.