Small charities have expressed anger and bewilderment at the Office of the Third Sector's sudden decision to withdraw grants worth £750,000 for campaigning.
The OTS last month sent formal grant offers to 32 organisations selected to receive about £20,000 each to take part in the Campaigning Research Programme, set up to monitor the effectiveness of campaigning. But third sector minister Angela Smith scrapped the fund this month without consultation. She said the severity of the recession meant funds would be transferred to the £16.7m Hardship Fund.
Some organisations believe the move was prompted by concerns about the political implications of paying minority groups to campaign, sometimes against the Government. Among the charities selected were two transgender organisations and groups working with street prostitutes, detained refugees and gypsies.
Three women's groups were also affected. Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women's Resource Centre, said: "Our country should not be run and dictated to by the popular press.
"There is an expectation that the OTS will be the champion of the third sector and demonstrate best practice. This is a real blow to that."
Sasha Rakoff, director of Object, which opposes the objectification of women, said: "It's a bit odd that the OTS realised just before the cheque was going into the bank that a recession was going on."
Jess Steele, treasurer of Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust, said: "The programme was designed specifically to enable the voice of marginalised groups, so it's a bit rich to renege when they turn out to be unpopular."
Alison McQuitty, manager of the Reading Refugee Support Group, said the move was "devastating news. We had signed an agreement, and to have it withdrawn at this late stage is very strange."
An OTS spokesman said: "The minister took a difficult decision in extraordinary circumstances. We are very sorry we have breached the Compact."
The OTS has offered to refund costs.
- See In My View, page 12
WHO'S LOST OUT?
Well over half of the 32 organisations selected for the Campaigning Research Programme campaign on behalf of minorities.
Black and minority ethnic groups were worst affected, with six organisations denied funding that had been pledged: the BME Community Champions, the BME Community Services, the Bolton Solidarity Community Association, the Bristol Somali Resource Centre, the Merton Unity Network and the North Hampshire Caribbean and African Network.
Three women's groups - the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation, Object and Street Talk - were affected. So were Press for Change and GenderShift, which help transgendered people, as well as Leeds Gate and the Surrey Gypsy Travellers Forum, which help gypsies and travellers.
The London Detainee Support Group, which wanted to expose the treatment of immigrants detained at removal centres near Heathrow Airport, was selected, as were the Reading Refugee Support Group and Plias Resettlement, which helps ex-offenders.