Political groups face grant threat

Outright opposition to government policy or participation in direct action and demonstrations could lead to lottery grants being called into question, according to draft guidance to be distributed by the Community Fund later this month.

The proposal comes as a National Audit Office (NAO) report on the fund's controversial grant to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns urges the distributor to issue clarification "on political and doctrinaire activity" as soon as possible.

The guidance, which will be sent to NCVO, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Charity Commission, is expected to consist of a nine point guide to applicants on what constitutes unacceptable political behaviour.

The problem areas highlighted include personal attacks on politicians, outright opposition to government policy, political bias, participation in demonstrations or direct action, use of abusive language on a web site, or encouragement of law-breaking.

Boni Sones, head of public affairs at the Community Fund, said it was "common sense guidance to alert us to extreme political activities". Contravention of one or more of the points would not mean that a grant was automatically withdrawn, she said, but it would trigger an investigation into the organisation.

The fund's stance on political activities has been complicated by the fact that grant recipients that are also registered charities are already subject to the Charity Commission's regulations.

However, the existing guidance is far less specific than the Community Fund proposals, merely stating that an organisation's entire purpose cannot be political and that its arguments must be well reasoned.

But non-charity voluntary groups that receive fund grants do not have to comply with the Charity Commission's guidance.

The fund says that registered charities will have to accept its new guidance to get grants but that the commission will be considered a "higher authority" and cases involving charities will be referred to it.

In addition to its call for new political guidance, the NAO report also recommends that the Community Fund extends procedures on checking applicants to include all aspects of their activities, rather than just their constitution and objects, and introduce compulsory web site reviews.

But Krishna Sarda, chief executive of the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations, called the NAO recommendations "worrying". "It will have far-reaching consequences to quell opposition. This is about issues of justice and liberty," he said.

Luke FitzHerbert, researcher at the Directory for Social Change, said: "The arguments in this report could, for example, have been used just as well 200 years ago to deny support to the campaign against the slave trade, whose supporters also showed a lack of balance towards absolute stances."

Richard Buxton, chief executive of the Community Fund, said that the fund would certainly be acting on all of the recommendations.

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