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Is this an end to government lobbying government?

I'm late to this because I only got back from Ireland over the weekend.

After the excitement about Smokefree South West on Friday there was more good news on Saturday when it was revealed that charities are to be banned from using public funds to lobby ministers.

According to the Telegraph:

Charities in receipt of Government grants will be banned from using these taxpayer funds to engage in political lobbying.

A new clause to be inserted into all new and renewed grant agreements will make sure that taxpayer funds are spent on improving people's lives and good causes, rather than covering lobbying for new regulation or using taxpayers’ money to lobby for more government funding.

Such a clause is long overdue. Crucially however:

It will not prevent organisations from using their own privately-raised funds to campaign as they see fit.

I don't think that could be any clearer (or fairer) but the third sector has spent the last 48 hours complaining bitterly about how unfair, or worse, this is.

According to one BBC report, charities 'will be silenced' by new grant rules. Er, no they won't. They just won't be allowed to use public money to lobby government.

Others described it as a 'draconian' crackdown. Draconian? If you say so.

As for those taxpayer-funded 'researchers' at the University of Bath, they tweeted:

So how will this affect anti-smoking groups that receive public money from government?

Well, had this clause existed in 2012 it may have prevented Smokefree South West spending £500,000 on lobbying government to introduce plain packaging. (If I remember, that money came from local NHS trusts but it was still taxpayers' money.)

With regard to ASH, it's more complicated. ASH currently receives £150,000 a year from the public purse (down from £200k last year), but they claim they don't use it for lobbying, it's for an agreed 'project'.

ASH does however run the APPG on Smoking and Health – whose primary purpose is to lobby government and MPs – and to the best of my knowledge the cost of running APPGs are funded by taxpayers' money.

So will APPGs be exempt from the new clause? I assume they will because APPGs aren't charities. However the APPG on Smoking and Health is run by ASH (which is a charity, albeit a fake one) so we'll have to wait and see how that pans out.

Nevertheless it's good to know that lobby groups that masquerade as charities will be forced to think far more carefully about the work they do, and how it's funded.

Kudos to Chris Snowdon and the IEA who have pressed hard on this issue with a number of initiatives including two reports in 2012 and 2014.

Credit too to blogger Devil's Kitchen who first addressed the issue of 'fake charities' (and built a website, in January 2009. (See also Return of Fake Charities website, 2011.)

Government lobbying government is an issue that has also concerned Forest. In October 2010, for example, PR Week reported, Smokers' group Forest urges Government to cut tobacco control quangos.

This was prompted by a report we published that was entitled 'Government lobbying government: the case of the UK tobacco control industry'.

'Government lobbying government' was read by many people including Rod Liddle:

Writing in the Sunday Times yesterday columnist (and smoker) Rod Liddle joined the growing chorus of disapproval for the millions of pounds of public money that is given annually to pressure groups including "those grey-faced, shrieking maniacs at ASH".

Commenting after the publication of the Forest report that highlighted the level of public funding given to the UK tobacco control lobby, Rod wrote:

'As the government is busy hacking its way through the, uh, dense undergrowth of unnecessary expenditure, like Tarzan on steroids, might it reconsider the amount of taxpayers’ money given to single-issue campaigning pressure groups? How about, in future, giving none at all?

'Those grey-faced, shrieking maniacs at ASH, the anti-smoking group, for example, received almost £200,000 from the public purse in England alone last year for opinion polls and tendentious reports all of which (hard to believe, isn’t it?) supported their cause.'

See Liddle lashes "those grey-faced, shrieking maniacs at ASH".

Brian Monteith (formally of this parish) also chipped in:

Writing in the Scotsman today, former MSP Brian Monteith has launched a fierce attack on ASH Scotland, accusing the "taxpayer-funded pressure group" of issuing a "highly tendentious report claiming that Scottish smokers cost the nation a horrific £129 million more than they paid in taxes".

Echoing Forest, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute and the TaxPayers' Alliance, Monteith goes on to argue that government should stop giving public money to campaigning bodies such as ASH, especially when the money could be better spent on teachers, police officers and care workers.

Why ASH should be at the fag end of government grants (Taking Liberties, November 2010).

So as you can see the issue of government lobbying government has been rumbling on for years.

There's still a lot to play for though because I don't believe for one second the third sector will accept this policy without a fight.

'Charities', fake or otherwise, will try to find a way around it and the interpretation of lobbying will be stretched to breaking point and beyond.

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Reader Comments (3)

It is outrageous that ASH receives public funding. Smokers pay huge amounts of tax to be vilified and cast as pariahs by the likes of these people. Our huge taxes should be reduced and what we do pay used to fund doctors, teachers etc. So called ' Plain Packaging' coming in in May this year is another farce. Cigarettes are already hidden behind shutters in retail outlets. Now they will be emblazoned with false medical porn images making the UK a laughing stock on this issue like Australia already is !

Monday, February 8, 2016 at 16:04 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

Good news! But, as you say, there's a lot of fighting still to be done.

Monday, February 8, 2016 at 16:26 | Unregistered CommenterLisboeta

Good assessment. yes they will fight the restrictions and they will subvert them whenever they can. These sock puppets have already demonstrated that they lie and manipulate data to further their quest for power and plunder.

This isn't the end of their corruption and astroturf influence peddling. They won't stop, gangsters never do. They will alter their tactics to continue their corruption. Their lies must continue to be exposed.

Monday, February 8, 2016 at 16:42 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

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