Charities have been warned that they will be stripped of grants if they campaign against the government.
Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, was denounced yesterday by charity chiefs, who said that he was using the threat to stifle democracy.
He was accused of a “squalid attempt” to make them “dance to the tune of government” during the election period.
In a written statement last week, Mr Pickles said that research by the Institute of Economic Affairs had “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 regulation”.
All contracts between the communities department and charities will now contain a clause banning organisations from using the cash from standard grant agreements to influence or oppose government laws, the minister said. Mr Pickles also wants to apply the measure across Whitehall, where £13 billion is spent on voluntary services.
The move comes after allegations that some charities or quangos have been using grants to campaign on policy or to hire lobbyists. Mr Pickles said that he had set an example to the rest of Whitehall by amending all standard grant agreements with this clause: “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 legislative or regulatory action.”
Sir Stephen Bubb, the chief executive of Acevo, which represents more than 2,000 charity leaders, said that the move “rests on an entirely false distinction between a charity delivering services and ‘influencing’ ”.
“Charities must be free to speak about injustices they see on the ground whether they are contracting with government or not,” he said. “This is a squalid attempt by the secretary of state to get charities to dance to the tune of government.”
Charities could get 10-year contracts to help deliver NHS services if Labour wins the general election, the shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, has told voluntary sector leaders.
Not-for-profit care organisations would be given “a form of preferred provider” status under legislation that a Labour government would introduce to replace parts of the coalition’s 2012 Health and Social Care Act. The move would recognise their contribution to strengthening communities.
The announcement came as Burnham sought to allay fears in the voluntary sector that his plan to restore NHS trusts’ preferred provider status for delivery of health services would hit charities as well as private companies.
Addressing the health and social care conference of Acevo, the voluntary sector chief executives’ group, Burnham said: “The voluntary sector should have a different status in law when it comes to contracting, in terms of length of contract and the way contracts can be renewed without open tender.”
Sir Stephen Bubb, Acevo chief executive, warmly welcomed Burnham’s commitment. “In terms of Labour policy towards the [voluntary] sector, this is the most radical we have heard,” he said. “If it was to roll that our across public services as a whole, that would be fantastic.”
Charities have expressed concern after Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, urged all government departments to adopt a new “anti-lobbying, anti-sock puppet clause” when giving money to charities or other groups. In a written statement to parliament last week, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government referenced a paper published by the free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs suggesting that some charities were state-funded “sock-puppet” organisations that used government funds to lobby government itself.
Speaking in London at a health and social care conference organised by the charity leaders group Acevo, Simon Stevens said he had five questions for the charities represented at the event. The first four related to how best to work with and involve charities in the health service, with Stevens saying: “We are serious about co-producing services.”
His fifth question was about how to ensure charities could continue “to act as eyes and ears and advocates for change” while also being partners of the NHS. Stevens said that the sector’s campaigning role should not be stifled. “We should never trade that away for participation,” he said.
After Stevens’s address, Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, told Third Sector that he thought the NHS chief’s comments were designed to reassure charities in the wake of remarks made by Eric Pickles, the communities secretary.
WMN readers will be aware of the shocking mistreatment of people with learning disability at the Winterbourne View care home near Bristol in 2011. An extensive report on the improvements needed in care services was delivered to the NHS by Sir Stephen Bubb last autumn, followed this month by a detailed response from the NHS, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and other agencies, setting out the steps such transformation required.
Sir, Stephen Bubb (letter, Feb 28) trots out the old justification that “it is better to pay £150,000 a year to a CEO who is successful” than £50,000 to one who is not, but overlooks the fact that too many chief executives have received very high salaries while turning in abject performances.
If paying more automatically produces greater success, then why are we not paying our prime ministers the going rate for a top footballer? Or rewarding all doctors and nurses with six-figure salaries? Would paying the Editor of The Times £2,000,000 a year send circulation rocketing? Can Sir Stephen produce figures to prove that all charities paying their chief executives more than £100,000 a year perform significantly better than those paying less?
Pickles warns charities play ball for cash (4 Mar, The Daily Mirror) [on p11 of the print paper – not on their website yet]
Government contracts will have clauses banning them from opposing its laws. It is the latest move by the Coalition to silence charities who raise concerns about David Cameron’s Britain. Sir Stephen Bubb, head of Acevo, which represents 2,000 charity bosses, said: “Charities must be free to speak about injustices. “This is a squalid attempt to get charities to dance to government’s tune.”