Supporting civil society leaders to have the freedom and confidence to campaign.
In recent years charities have faced a number of attacks on their freedom to campaign and advocate on behalf of their beneficiaries. This includes the introduction of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, the attempted introduction of anti-advocacy clauses in government grants and the Charity Commission’s announcement that charities should only campaign on the EU referendum in exceptional circumstances.
Charities must be allowed and encouraged to campaign in order to further their charitable objectives. Civil society leaders should have the confidence and freedom to campaign to meet their organisation’s charitable objectives no matter who the organisation receives funding from at whatever point in the election cycle.
Following the calling of a general election for June 2017, we produced a briefing on what campaigning activity is allowed. You can download our briefing here and read the media statement here.
ACEVO was also a founding member of Lord Harries’ Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, a coalition of over 100 charities and campaign groups formed to campaign around the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014.
We also commented on the withdrawal of the anti-advocacy clause.
Together with Bond and NCVO, we worked with the Electoral Commission to develop a new guidance for non-party campaigners, which was published on 24 September 2019.
In November 2020, together with Quakers in Britain, Bond, SMK and Shelter, we submitted to The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee an inquiry on a potential forthcoming Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission. We called for it to consider how to improve the environment for civil society campaigning. The evidence has been published here.
In April 2021, we published a joint statement from social sector leaders on the right to campaign. In September 2021, we signed a joint letter to the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Justice to share our urgent concern over the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which is soon to be debated in the House of Lords.
In October 2022, as part of the Charity Commission Annual Public Meeting, Orlando Fraser, the Charity Commission Chair made a speech introducing a new short guide on political activity and campaigning for trustees. The guidance is based on CC9 and is part of the series of ‘5 minute guides’, which seek to make the longer form guidance more accessible.
Orlando Fraser said that his most urgent advice for trustees was to demonstrate prudence and sound financial stewardship. This will not be news to charity leaders who have always had a duty to manage and mitigate risk to the furtherance of their charitable objectives, including of course reputational risk.
A charity’s right -and duty in some cases- to engage in political activity and campaigning to support their purpose is enshrined in law and history bears witness to the many advances in public policy that this activity has helped achieve. Public debate is a sign of a healthy democracy, and a healthy democracy needs engaged civic participation and challenge, which is not always welcome (nor necessarily considered ‘prudent’) by those who disagree. However, the risk is for charity leaders to manage and balance against their charitable purpose, backed by fair and effective regulation.