New rules will gag charities from campaigning and lobbying government

In BHT’s contract of employment is a section on gross misconduct, and an act that qualifies as gross misconduct is ‘insubordination’, that is being disobedient to authority or defiant. It is right that an organisation has such provision. It cannot be right if everyone felt that they were able to do, and say, anything they like.

But there must be a balance struck, and we have provisions to nature that if we, as an organisation, gets it wrong, there are measures available to staff and clients to try to rectify things. Clients have a complaints procedure, staff a grievance procedure. We protect the right of individuals to make a complaint or declare a grievance. We also have a whistleblowing policy that allows individuals to raise matters with senior managers, the Board or even outside bodies.

Such checks and balances are important for any organisation or institution because things can go wrong, sometimes inadvertently and other times by wilful, even corrupt, intent.

A confident organisation, committed to getting things right and to justice, values honest feedback. It even encourages it.

So why does the government take the opposite view. From May, charities will no longer be allowed to spend taxpayers’ money on lobbying government. The Cabinet Office said grants would mean funds go to good causes not political campaigns.

On the surface this might sound right and proper. But charities often are the first to grasp the harmful consequences and unintended consequences of government policy. Take the current proposal to cap rents in specialist supported accommodation (something I have written about a lot recently), BHT and similar organisations across the country have warned that this measure, to be introduced from April 2018, will result in the closure of tens of thousands of specialist rooms for people with high support needs.

What should we do? Remain silent, perhaps “stick to our knitting” as a former Minister for the Third Sector suggested? Say nothing and allow the government to make a monumental error?

Of course not. We must lobby government and, if necessary, should the government persist, we should campaign. I have written to our local MPs, I have campaigned on the issue, even appearing on Channel 4 News pointing to the folly of this policy.

A confident government, committed to getting things right and to justice, should value honest feedback. It should even encourage it.

What does it say about a government that tries to gag dissent? This is not a criticism aimed just at the current government, the same was also true under New Labour. I am reminded of the saying of the Latin American priest, Dom Helder Camara, who said: “When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask, why are they hungry, they call me a communist!”

Of course charities shouldn’t become involved in party politics, but do allow us to speak truth to power. In fact, the government should welcome and encourage it.

Postscript: Do have a look at what my friend and fellow blogger Ian Chisnall has written about this. (Updated 08/02/16)

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