11 February 2016

The clause

The UK Cabinet Office has issued guidelines to prohibit organisations in receipt of grant funding from all UK departments from influencing government or parliament. The wording of the clause is:

“The following costs are not Eligible Expenditure: Payments that support activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, Government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action”.

Our position

  • We fundamentally reject the notion that government funds should not be used to resource lobbying, campaigning or informing public policy.
  • 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.
  • We do not accept any distinction between campaigning or service organisations. Service delivery provides essential insights into the issues faced by the most vulnerable people in society. It is essential that this is used directly to inform public policy debate and to underpin campaigns run by charities.
  • There is already adequate checks on charities not to campaign on behalf of political parties, as overseen by OSCR in Scotland and the charity regulators in other parts of the UK.

Our analysis

  • Many Scottish third sector organisations receive UK Government funding. This includes international development charities receiving resources from the UK Department for International Development, employability support organisations receiving resourced from the UK DWP and charities in receipt of Treasury grants such as proceeds from LIBOR fines.
  • Additionally, many UK-wide charities and voluntary organisations operate in Scotland. As they often account for their services centrally, their Scottish operations will be affected. Any shared learning they facilitate across UK nations will also be limited.
  • One important practical concern is that organisations would be unable to improve their services by discussing and sharing what they have learned from their government grant-aided work. This could scupper many of the consultations issued by Parliament and Whitehall as they seek evidence and comments to inform legislation and regulations.
  • There is a possibility that these provisions could affect devolved funding. If this is the case, the impact on Scotland’s third sector would be total and devastating. 34% of Scotland’s third sector funding comes directly from public sector, with more coming indirectly.

Key messages

  • A healthy democracy requires a healthy civil society to inform and challenge bad policy.
  • This is the kind of position we would expect to see from despotic regimes clamping down on dissent
  • This is an existential threat to civil society’s role within a mature democracy. The evidence for public policy provided by advice charities as diverse as Citizens Advice Scotland, Shelter Scotland, Child Poverty Action Group, SCIAF and Oxfam in Scotland is part of the reason for their existence.
  • Parliamentary democracy is not sufficient to challenge bad public policy. It requires wider input at all stages of policy development and delivery.
  • Charities and voluntary organisations are a critical channel for people, particularly those most marginalised from political processes to inform public policy that works.
  • The proposals to restrict funding for advocacy in public policy clearly undermines basic human rights of participation recognised in UN Conventions on Human Rights Articles 19, 20 and 21 to which the UK is a founding member.

What SCVO is doing

  • We are currently assessing and clarifying the extent of this threat to Scottish organisations or UK organisations’ operations in Scotland.
  • We are closely co-ordinating with and supporting our colleagues in the rest of the UK, including our sister councils NCVO, WCVA and NICVA.
  • We are discussing and sharing our concerns with Scottish Government and Scottish MPs.