Sector too ready to use lobbying act as an excuse, says JRRT chief

Fiona Weir, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, tells NPC annual conference that misplaced fears about the act are stopping charities from campaigning

Fiona Weir
Fiona Weir

The voluntary sector is too ready to use the effect of the lobbying act as an excuse not to campaign, Fiona Weir, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, has said.

Speaking at the annual conference of the think tank NPC in London today in a session on how charities can achieve social change in London, Weir said charities had a duty to speak up on behalf of their beneficiaries.

"We cannot adequately support people we work with unless we achieve social change," she said.

But charities’ misplaced fears about the restrictions of the lobbying act were preventing too many charities from campaigning, she said.

"We are far too ready as a sector to allow the so-called ‘chilling effect’ as an excuse," she said.

Weir said research by the Charities Aid Foundation showed that 84 per cent of people thought charities were best placed to speak up on their behalf, and she encouraged charities to make sure they were campaigning for the beneficiaries.

"We have got to stop squandering our unique selling point as a sector," she said.

"We see every day how the latest policy pronouncement is not working," she said, adding that charities must speak up when they found policy shortcomings.

Weir told Third Sector that charities commonly expressed fears about losing statutory funding as a reason for not wanting to campaign. Risk-averse boards were another factor, she added.

She said in the session that there was too much focus in the voluntary sector on the share of large public contracts that charities secured in large government procurement exercises, when they should be asking if those contracts were fit for purpose.

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