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Thursday, December 06, 2018

Government u-turn could liberate gagged charities

The Times reports that Theresa May has pledged to review government’s contracts with charities after an investigation found that dozens of the organisations had been banned from criticising ministers, an issue I covered a few months ago.

The paper says that the Prime Minister has written to charities to say that officials were looking at how their contracts could be rewritten so that there was no doubt that they could speak out against policies:

The Times found that 40 charities and more than 300 companies with government contracts worth a total of £25 billion had been gagged.

Charities working with people claiming universal credit signed deals saying that they should “not do anything which may attract adverse publicity” to the work and pensions secretary. They also had to agree to “pay the utmost regard” to the minister’s “standing and reputation”. In 2015 dozens of other charities working with former prisoners were banned from criticising Chris Grayling, who was the justice secretary.

After the Times investigation, Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), wrote to Mrs May asking her to “confirm unambiguously” that charities would not be prevented from campaigning. “Any policy which mutes what the government might hear will only harm the policy process,” he wrote.

On Monday Mrs May replied, saying that the government “recognises the importance of the voice of charities and social enterprises in speaking out on behalf of beneficiaries”. She wrote that the clauses had been included in contracts to help the government to take action against providers who broke employment law or acted in an “unfair or unethical” way. She said they were not gagging clauses and “would never be used as a means of attempting to stifle debate” or “legitimate” criticism. “Please be assured that the government will consider ways of clarifying future contracts and grant agreements,” she wrote.

This clarity is very welcome. Any situation where bodies working in some of the most sensitive areas of Government are banned from raising concerns would be unacceptable, as well as working against good government.
A review does not mean it will happen.This MUST be remembered and followed up to make sure this u-turn happens. I feel that it is also a way to make her look 'nicer' in the public psych.
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