Charities fight back against government gagging order

David cameron

​Charities write to prime minster urging him to drop a clause preventing charities from lobbying against government 

12th February 2016 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Leading charities have joined to oppose plans by the UK government to gag them and halt campaigning, insisting they will not be silenced.

More than 130 groups have written to the Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to scrap what amounts to a "gagging clause" designed to curb criticism of austerity and other Tory policies.

The Cabinet Office in Westminster announced to all its departments that any funding given to charities must have a clause preventing them from using the cash to campaign against or lobby the government.

This means that all new or renewed grant agreements from 1 May cannot be used to fund activity intended to attempt to influence parliament, government or political parties.

It has created outrage among the sector with charities across the UK joining to oppose the clause which many view as little more than a gagging order.

Oxfam, the British Red Cross, Guide Dogs, Save the Children and Unicef UK are just some of the leading charities opposing the move.

The letter states: “You have repeatedly reiterated your commitment to social justice, which depends upon building alliances of grass-roots organisations.

"To say to those organisations that government will work in partnership with them but, if they do, they will not be heard, is surely contrary to those commitments.”

Voluntary organisations not only have a right to campaign and lobby government but a duty to do so - SCVO

While in Scotland many charities are funded directly by local authorities or the Scottish Government, dozens of international development charities receive sizeable grants from the UK government as do many service-based organisations such as Citizens Advice Scotland which last year received over £3.5 million from the UK government.   

In a briefing to members, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said it “fundamentally rejects the notion that government funds should not be used to resource lobbying, campaigning or informing public policy.

The briefing continued: “Voluntary organisations not only have a right to campaign and lobby government but a duty to do so.

“All government funding, whether grants or contracts, should make provision for advocacy and input to improve public policy openly and transparently.”

Rob Wilson, UK minister for civil society, justified the move by saying there must be “proper checks and balances to ensure public money is not wasted on political lobbying.”

He added: “This clause has not to date and will not prevent charities or any of the other funded organisations from carrying out valuable work or making representations to government.

“Grant recipients are still free to engage in lobbying but should use other sources of funding unless it is specifically part of the terms of the grant.”

However the National Council for Voluntary Organisations said the attempt was "tantamount to making charities take a vow of silence", while Labour called it an “outrageous attempt to further curb the independence of charities".

Shadow minister for civil society Anna Turley added: “Yet again we are seeing the actions of an illiberal Government who are scared to debate their record or be open to scrutiny.”