Strategic partnership funding 'requires charities to promote government policy'

Scrutiny by Directory of Social Change concludes that conditions of the funding do not protect charities' independence or prevent government taking advantage of them

Jay Kennedy, head of policy, DSC
Jay Kennedy, head of policy, DSC

The recent strategic partnership funding awards by the Office for Civil Society have been criticised by the Directory of Social Change as part of its continuing Great Giving Campaign.

The DSC, a training and advocacy organisation, established the campaign to scrutinise funding relations to ensure they do not take advantage of charities or compromise their independence.

Jay Kennedy, head of policy at the DSC, told Third Sector that terms relating to the £8.2m strategic partner transition fund appeared to reward charities for promoting government policy rather than providing impartial advice.

Clauses in the application guidance sent to prospective bidders say partners must "contribute to the development of the big society agenda" and "help to support and deliver strategic policy of OCS".

"The DSC does not believe that this should be the purpose of government funding for charities," said Kennedy.

"If the OCS is going to pay for strategic partners it should be for them to give critical, constructive advice rather than to deliver policies that come down from the top."

Nine organisations, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and chief executives body Acevo, have been awarded grants under the programme.

Kennedy said government was frequently the worst funder of charities because it wrote long, legalistic contracts that passed the risk on to charities.

The OCS has yet to issue final terms and conditions to the nine successful applicants. Kennedy said these should have been available throughout the process so charities knew what they would be getting.

The DSC did not apply to the strategic partner programme, but did receive state funding from the previous government to run, a grants information website.

The government agreed to remove terms in the contract to run the site after the DSC complained they restricted its independence.

Among the terms removed were those stipulating that the DSC would "be prepared to work in partnership with OTS in the development and implementation of policy initiatives" and "work in partnership with organisations funded by OTS [the former Office of the Third Sector] when reasonably required to do so".

An OCS spokesman said: "A key role of strategic partners will be to provide a voice, including challenge, on behalf of the sector.

"There will also be a clear duty on the strategic partners to provide certain deliverables, as is to be expected with any taxpayer-funded grant provision and even more so in the current financial climate.

"These deliverables will be detailed in memoranda of understanding, currently in negotiation and to be published."

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission, asked whether the regulator had any concerns about the application guidance, said: "Provided a charity's objects are consistent with this strategy of the OCS, then no, there is no specific concern on our part."

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