The Campaigning Research Programme was scrapped after officials objected to plans by grant recipients to use the money for direct campaigning, according to Tom Levitt, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Community and Voluntary Sector.
The Government's stated reason for cancelling the £750,000 programme last November, three weeks after the successful applicants had been announced, was that the money would be better spent topping up the £16.7m Hardship Fund, which offers grants to front-line charities struggling as a result of the recession (Third Sector Online, 13 November 2009).
The aim of the programme, according to the application literature, was to "learn how small third sector organisations can campaign effectively".
Levitt told Third Sector his understanding was that when officials looked at what the recipients were planning to do with their grants, they were concerned that some were planning to use the money directly for campaigning rather than to build their campaigning infrastructure.
"Rather than name and shame organisations, it was deemed preferable to cancel the whole fund and transfer the money to another funding stream," he said. "When officials see a hole in the ship and no quick and easy way to fix it, they sometimes prefer to scuttle the whole ship."
He said that lessons had been learned by ministers about the breach of the Compact caused by the last-minute scrapping of the fund.
A spokesman for the Office of the Third Sector rejected Levitt's theory. "The minister cancelled the fund because, in this economic climate, she decided the money would be better spent supporting front-line, recession-focused services," he said. "The decision to transfer funding had nothing to do with groups' use of the funds."
The spokesman said the second phase of the programme would have funded campaigns that had been planned in the first phase.
Rikki Arundel, founder of transgender support social enterprise Gender Shift, one of the intended recipients, said it was impossible to learn about campaigning without actively doing it. "It would be like learning to swim by watching a video," she said.
At the time of the decision, Arundel said she thought the Government might be worried about tabloid newspapers criticising it for funding fringe social groups.