Charities urged to speak out by Cabinet Office, regardless of gagging clauses

New guidance from the department says charities that fear a programme is unlikely to succeed should be able to voice their concerns without consequences

Charities in receipt of government grants should speak out if they have concerns about how public money is being used, regardless of the presence of so-called "gagging clauses", according to new guidance from the Cabinet Office.

A clause on professional behaviour in the Cabinet Office Code of Conduct for Recipients of Government Central Grants says charities that fear a programme is unlikely to succeed should be able to voice their concerns in public without being punished by government.

The Cabinet Office guidance says: "We also expect grant recipients to speak out, without fear of consequences, when a grant-funded project or activity is unlikely to succeed because of our behaviours or a lack of good governance.

"We expect the same behaviour when a grant is no longer fit for purpose, for example, in the grant agreement stipulations or measures."

The new rules have been prompted by concerns in the media that charities working on the Department for Work and Pensions’ universal credit programme were unable to speak about their concerns with how the programme was being delivered because of clauses in government contracts.

Earlier this year a group of 11 voluntary sector bodies, including the Directory of Social Change, called for a ban on "gagging clauses" in government contracts.

The new Cabinet Office guidance says that charities that receive grants should also be able to speak out when government officials, civil servants or other grant recipients "are not upholding the values embedded in the Civil Service Code or this code".

The guidance says it expects charities receiving grants to "be prepared to invest in their relationships with government and establish trust with our staff and with other entities and organisations involved in the activities being funded".

In a statement, Elizabeth Chamberlain, head of policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the new code was a "positive step" that would help ensure greater consistency across government in terms of grant management and also for charities involved in public sector delivery.

She said the clauses about the importance of charities speaking out if they had concerns about how public money was being spent even if they were receiving government grants were "particularly welcome".

Chamberlain said: "The code also makes it clear that grant recipients must take a greater level of responsibility for safeguarding all of those that come into contact with the grant-funded programme, not only beneficiaries.

"This is a message that the NCVO is communicating through the charity ethical principles: trustees, staff and volunteers need to understand what is appropriate behaviour and reflect their charities’ values in everything they do."

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