Interview: Tom Baker

The Tearfund campaigns officer tells John Plummer he is carrying out a survey to gauge charity campaigns across Whitehall

Defra
Defra

In March this year, Tom Baker submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to 17 government departments to try to measure charity lobbying across Whitehall.

Baker had previously submitted FoI requests to the Department for International Development in his job as a campaigns officer for Tearfund. But he thought it would be interesting to capture the broader picture.

Acting in a personal capacity, he asked each department to reveal the total number of campaign letters, postcards and emails that appeared to be part of coordinated campaigns from 1 May 2010 to 1 May 2011.

He also requested a breakdown of these numbers by delivery method and a breakdown by topic and/or organisation for any campaign that had generated more than 500 items of correspondence. Baker posted the results on his Thoughtful Campaigner blog as they came in.

He has so far received responses from every department except the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Defence said it could not provide the information, but every other department has provided at least some data. About half replied in the 20 working days limit and some responses needed more detail or clarification.

The results provide the first snapshot of campaigning activity across government and, according to Baker, "show how vibrant civil society is in the UK. An awful lot of organisations of all sizes have been involved in delivering campaign actions."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Number 10 and DfID provided the most in-depth responses to his requests. Curiously, these four departments were also the most lobbied, each receiving more than 100,000 campaign actions.

The biggest single campaign was the RSPB's Don't Cut the Life From Our Countryside, which generated 53,147 emails to Defra. Animal charities accounted for many of the most popular campaigns.

DfID provided a breakdown by cause rather than charity and said 65,661 campaign actions related to water, which was more than three times more than the second cause on the list - health issues, including HIV.

The issue that generated the most activity at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills was support for keeping British Summer Time.

A planning application for a waste incinerator near Kidderminster, Worcestershire, topped the list at the Communities and Local Government department.

Baker says the project combines his twin passions of blogging and campaigning, but he acknowledges it has limitations. For example, it does not reveal what, if any, action the campaigns prompted and it does not take into account campaign activity targeted directly at MPs.

But with information on campaigning scarce, his survey provides a fascinating insight into which charities are lobbying most vociferously, what they are lobbying about and how they are going about it.

Now that Baker has a first-year benchmark, he plans to repeat the exercise in years to come to show any trends.

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