The proposed new anti-lobbying clause in government grant agreements is "absolutely compatible" with the Compact, which sets the rules for relations between government and the sector, according to the Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson.
In an article published today for Third Sector, Wilson says some have claimed that the clause is not compatible with the Compact, which says that the government will respect and uphold the sector’s "right to campaign, regardless of any relations, financial or otherwise, that may exist".
The potential conflict between the new clause and the Compact was mentioned in a letter to the Prime Minister last week, signed by 130 sector chief executives, that urged the government to think again.
But Wilson says: "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."
The minister emphasises that grant recipients will still be free to engage in lobbying, provided this is done with funding from other sources, unless lobbying is included in the terms of the grant.
He also says the clause will not prevent grant recipients from reporting back to government on the impact of the grant funding or making representations in private to ministers about the way a grant is used: "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."
The minister does not address questions submitted by Third Sector about whether the clause would prevent grant recipients talking to MPs or the media about their concerns with the grant or the work it was intended to finance.
Commenting on Wilson’s article, Charlotte Ravenscroft, head of policy and public services at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said it raised more questions than answers.
"It’s inconceivable that this clause is compatible with the Compact, which was signed by the Prime Minister and recognises the right of charities to campaign regardless of their funding arrangements," she said.
"In the absence of any operational definition of influencing, grant recipients will have no choice other than to err on the side of caution or else face the risk of grant clawback. At a time when concerns about financial sustainability are paramount, few if any charities will take such a risk.
"We have heard directly from organisations that have self-censored, and it’s no surprise to us that charities are unlikely to tell the government that they think the clause was a problem in their grant agreement."