UK ‘Sock-Puppet’ Charity Clause Draws Ire
12 March 2015 at 10:47 am
There has been uproar in the UK after the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, urged all Government Departments to adopt a new "anti-lobbying, anti-sock puppet clause" when giving money to charities or other groups.
The Communities Secretary said in a statement issued to Parliament last week that charity groups found lobbying against the Government in the lead up to the national election could lose their Government funding.
“The Institute of Economic Affairs has undertaken extensive research on so-called ‘sock puppets’; they have exposed the extensive practice of taxpayers’ money being given to pressure groups and supposed charities, in turn being used to lobby the Government and Parliament for more money and more regulation. This is an issue which needs to be addressed,” the statement said.
“My Department has set an example to the rest of Whitehall by amending our standard grant agreements to impose a new anti-lobbying, anti-sock puppet clause. The simple, short but effective clause says: “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”.
“I hope this sends a clear signal on how this Government will stand up and protect the interests of taxpayers, and rein in the spendthrift practices of state bureaucracy.
According to thirdsector.co.uk, Sir Stephen Bubb, the Chief Executive of the charity leaders group Acevo, called the statement "a squalid attempt by a Secretary of State to get charities to dance to the tune of Government in an election year".
"Let’s be clear what influencing means here: charities must be free to speak about the injustices they see on the ground, whether they are contracting with government or not. And governments should be willing to listen, not close their ears to the effects of their policies," Bubb said.
Brian Lamb, from the UK National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) Advisory Group on Campaign Effectiveness said Pickles’ statement raises problems for both Government and the voluntary sector.
Lamb outlined his concerns in a voluntary sector review on campaign policy called Is charity campaigning under threat from the Coalition Government?
The Review sets out “the current debate around the legitimacy of charity campaigning in the UK within the context of recent changes to how the UK Government manages charity campaigning and policy engagement, through a focus on analysing the proposals set out in the Lobbying Bill and in changes to judicial review”.