The effects of the lobbying act on charity campaigning have been overstated, according to Vinay Nair, chief executive of the charity campaigning platform Lightful.
Nair was speaking at the Institute of Fundraising’s fundraising convention in London yesterday as part of a panel discussion on the impact of last month’s general election on the voluntary sector.
His fellow panellist, the consultant John Tizard, agreed, saying the act did not need to infringe on the advocacy work of charities.
The lobbying act sets spending limits and makes it a legal necessity for all organisations that spend more that £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Wales on regulated campaigning prior to an election to register with the Electoral Commission.
Many in the sector have expressed concern that it has had a "chilling effect" on campaigning, leaving charities wary of speaking up on issues that affect their beneficiaries for fear of falling foul of the law.
But Nair said he thought the effects of the lobbying act were "a little bit overstated" and if charities were carrying out advocacy that might mean they would pass the threshold for controlled expenditure, they would be able to prepare for that.
But he welcomed Labour’s manifesto pledge to repeal the act.
Tizard agreed, saying it would be great to see the lobbying act amended, but it "does not need to restrict our ability to lobby or campaign, provided we do it in a non-partisan way, if we do it in an evidenced way and we can prove we’re doing it on behalf of our beneficiaries".
Lucy Caldicott, chief executive of the youth charity Uprising and a board member of the Fundraising Regulator, was also part of the panel. She said Brexit was likely to dominate the agenda in this parliament and, as a consequence, there would "be little appetite for further regulation of the sector".
She added that the lack of policy priorities expressed by the government that were not related to Brexit could provide opportunity for the sector.
"Fortune can favour the bold," she said. "That ability to make policy change will be there for us, and it’s about seizing the moment while we can."
Tizard agreed, saying the lack of a majority for the Conservatives meant parliament was going to be much more important and charities needed to angle their campaigning accordingly towards issues that affected them and their beneficiaries.
"It will be possible to create an all-party coalition to get change," he said, adding that the sector would need to be "much more subtle" than simply knocking on the door of the minister.
Tizard said more campaigning would need to be done at constituency level as backbench MPs tended to be "more enthused, energised and interested" when they could see the impact on their own constituencies.
"It’s about going local to build national change," he said. "I think it’s really important too that we see an increasing role for smaller and more local charities."