Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, has defended the statement made by Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, that public funds should not be used by charities to lobby government.
Hopkins was answering a written parliamentary question from Lisa Nandy, the shadow charities minister, about any discussions Pickles had had with the Cabinet Office about the implementation of his policies on providing funding for "sock puppet" organisations that used government funds to lobby government itself.
She was referencing a written statement from Pickles last month in which he urged all government departments to adopt a new "anti-lobbying, anti-sock puppet clause" when giving money to charities or other groups.
In response, Hopkins said that there was nothing in Pickles’s statement that would prevent voluntary sector organisations from campaigning using their own funds.
"It is reasonable, however, to ask that taxpayers’ money for specified projects is not diverted away from the commissioned front-line services or activity laid out in that grant agreement," he said.
"Prior to the inclusion of the new clause on lobbying, long-standing grant agreements already specified types of expenditure that were inappropriate, including entertainment, gifts to individuals and activities of a political nature. All grants are audited to ensure that they only pay for eligible expenditure. I would be interested to know if the honourable member also opposes these existing checks and balances on the use of taxpayers’ money."
Nandy told Third Sector that Hopkins’ response failed to explain why "this latest attack on the right of charities to campaign is necessary or justified".
She said: "It’s still not at all clear what problem the communities secretary is trying to solve. To accuse charities that receive public money of being ‘sock puppets’ is fairly astonishing. To do so just weeks before an election, given the restrictions on campaigning in the lobbying act, sends a clear and deeply inappropriate signal that charities should not challenge or oppose government policy."
Nandy said the fact that the decision had not been justified showed a "genuine disregard for parliament. It is becoming increasingly apparent that ministers do not believe they are accountable, either to parliament or civil society."