In the week or so since my fellow Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock made an announcement about a new clause to be included in all government grants from May onward, I have seen a great deal of misunderstanding develop within the sector, which suggests to me that clarity is needed and some myths need to be debunked.
First of all, let me be absolutely clear: this clause will not stop charities or grant recipients in other sectors from reporting back to government on the impact of the grant funding. Nor does this clause seek to silence anyone. It simply ensures that government grant funding is used for the purposes for which the grant was given and is not used for campaigning or lobbying unless expressly authorised by ministers.
Grant recipients are still free to engage in lobbying but should use other sources of funding unless it is specifically part of the terms of the grant.
These rules will protect taxpayers’ money and freedom of speech, making sure that this government can keep taxes down and support services that improve people’s lives.
The new clause will apply to any organisation in receipt of government grant funding, which for 2014/15 totalled £130bn, the majority of which went to local authorities and arm’s-length bodies. Charities and voluntary groups account for just 7 per cent and private companies for 3 per cent of grants.
In terms of enforcing this clause, as with all other terms and conditions of grant agreements, it is primarily for grant recipients to ensure they comply with all the terms of the grant agreement. Then it will be for departments to ensure that recipients are abiding by the terms and conditions of the agreement.
Throughout government a significant number of our grants are administered by intermediaries and some third parties. This clause provides greater certainty for those who manage and administer these grants.
Furthermore, this new clause is not about singling out individual groups. However, we are very clear that any notion of "government lobbying government" is not acceptable.
I know that some groups have claimed that this clause is not compatible with the Compact, which says that the government will "respect and uphold the independence of civil society organisations to deliver their mission, including their right to campaign, regardless of any relationship, financial or otherwise, which may exist".
The new clause is absolutely compatible with the Compact because it does not restrict the rights of charities to campaign on behalf of their beneficiaries. What it rightly prevents is this being done with taxpayers' money, where this was not the intention of the funding.
For more than a year before this announcement, this new clause has been piloted through the Department for Communities and Local Government, which means some sector organisations have already had experience of it.
Feedback from the DCLG shows that this has not prevented any funded organisations from carrying out valuable work or making representations to government. And some grant agreements already in use by departments use a form of words with intent similar to the wording of the new clause. This clause makes that approach consistent and enables government grants to be treated in the same way throughout government.
I have been asked whether the new clause would affect feedback and prevent a charity from making representations in private to ministers about the way a grant is used.
Good management of a work programme, whether it's funded by a grant or a commercial payment, would demand that feedback is provided. Nothing in the clause is intended to hamper the normal course of work and feedback, so this would not be regarded as lobbying or influencing. Of course, a department is perfectly able to include specific authorisation for lobbying activities in the grant terms with the explicit agreement of its minister.
This new clause will be implemented by 1 May at the very latest. We have specifically given time for conversations to happen across government and I would urge any organisation that receives government grants to speak to its partner department if it has any concerns or wishes to seek guidance.
I have consistently made it clear that I, and indeed the government, have no issue with any organisation "speaking truth to power" and lobbying for its causes. This new clause makes sure that they should do so with other sources of funding and not taxpayers’ money.
Rob Wilson is the Minister for Civil Society