.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Following the money

The influence of big money donations in British politics continues unabated. We have not yet got to the situation in America where elected politicians spend huge amounts of their time raising donations, where lobbying companies dominate legislation and where PACs and Super PACs are able to by-pass funding rules in elections, but you do get the feeling that unless we introduce some rationalisation of the system here, it is only a matter of time before we catch up.

The latest revelation is in the soon to be axed Independent newspaper, who report that a right-wing think-tank secured a dramatic shift in government policy, to ban charities from using public funds to lobby, after receiving a ring-fenced donation to promote the change.

They say that the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), Britain’s oldest neoliberal think-tank, accepted £15,000 from an unnamed source to “develop” its controversial proposals to prevent charities from using public grants to lobby ministers, civil servants or MPs:

Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock last week announced that the Government was implementing the change and cited the IEA’s “extensive research” on the issue as a principal influence on the decision. The ban has been described by charities as a “gagging clause” designed to restrict their ability to inform Whitehall decisions.

The IEA, which has previously accepted donations from tobacco companies while publicly raising tobacco-related issues such as plain cigarette packaging, declined to name the source of the donation, made in 2013. It insisted the money had come from an individual rather than a company and was not used to “commission” research.

But the existence of the donation and the IEA’s success in persuading ministers to adopt its proposals, set out in a series of policy papers between 2012 and 2014, will raise questions about the links between the Government and think-tanks, as well as the transparency of the policymaking process.

A study last year of 169 think-tanks by the Transparify campaign group gave the IEA the lowest rating for transparency of its donations, describing it as “highly opaque”.

Senior charity executives said that it was “highly unusual” for government to announce a significant policy change based on one organisation’s work.

Kathy Evans, head of Children England, said: “This is a policy that was announced without consultation – there has been no effort to seek input from those affected.

“It raises extremely important issues. I would defend to the hilt the importance of charities being able to provide to ministers and MPs information that goes into the policymaking process. Charities and voluntary groups are often the only voice of those vulnerable groups affected.

“I don’t think that the IEA should be more influential towards government on the basis that they don’t receive public funds. I think it is perfectly legitimate to ask, in a democracy, what is the source of funding that results in a change in policy?”

The irony that lobbying by a thinktank is leading to the end of lobbying by charities is not lost on me of course, but this whole episode raises serious questions about the role of big money in the making of government policy and in the robustness of government legislation.

Surely Ministers need to carry out their own research, and take evidence from as wide a spectrum of opinion as possible? Should a comprehensive consultation process not be necessary in all cases?
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?