Charities are being "far too quiet" in the run-up to the general election, according to Gina Miller, the philanthropist and anti-Brexit campaigner.
Speaking on a panel about Brexit and the charity sector at the Charity Finance Group’s annual conference yesterday, Miller said charities had been too cautious about involving themselves in the forthcoming election and denied that the lobbying act prevented charities from speaking out.
"Before the election, I think the sector has been far too quiet," she said. "It’s not against the lobbying act for you to be talking about your areas and your concerns and for your beneficiaries.
"There is very little in the media coming from the third sector, and I implore you that you still have some time before 8 June to speak up and be heard. I think that is really important."
Miller said charities should consider implementing a model similar to the chambers of commerce used by businesses.
"Rather than one central voice, I think there is an opportunity to have local voices," she said.
"If you look at the business sector, where there are local chambers of commerce, why not have local chambers of charities? I think at local level it could be far more effective than just that one national voice."
Miller has been criticised in the voluntary sector because of reports published by the charity she chairs, the True and Fair Foundation. A 2015 report from the charity on the proportion of charity income that goes on charitable activities "wilfully misrepresented the facts", according to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and the Charity Commission said it was flawed.
Miller warned yesterday that although Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had guaranteed funding until 2020 for thousands of organisations receiving money from the EU, there was a risk that some charities’ projects could miss out.
"Watch out, because in that wording it did say they would honour and replace funding for projects they thought were valuable and value for money," she said.
"What does that mean? And how many hoops are you going to have to jump through to prove they are value for money? There is an awful lot of dialogue to happen there, and you need to be aware of that."
In response to a question from the audience about whether charities had "become the establishment" and whether they could be more forceful in how they communicated, Baroness Hayter, the shadow minister for exiting the EU, said charities needed to be able to communicate with the government in a way that it understood.
"When you are talking to the government, you want to look like the establishment," said Hayter. "You want to be professional and well-proved, and you want to be able to relate to them.
"When you are doing that on behalf of beneficiaries, I don’t have any hang-ups about you looking and sounding like the establishment. Your unique selling point is that you do understand what is going on. You reach into communities, and even elected politicians don’t reach into where your reach is."
Fabian Picardo, chief minister of Gibraltar, who was also speaking on the panel, said charities should talk to people in a way they understood.
He said: "You have to unashamedly be a chameleon – you talk the way that people understand you. Language is not about the apostrophe and making sure you split the infinitive properly all the time. It might be if you are sitting an exam in the English language at Oxford University, but it’s not if you are trying to communicate with somebody on the estates.
"Be unashamed about expressing yourselves and communicating as best you need to to get through to your audience."