ACEVO's Singh in Third Sector Magazine: We must challenge Gagging Clauses in Public Service Contracts

Published: Tuesday 1 April 2014 - 12:30

Third Sector Magazine investigates gagging clauses in public service contracts

Contracts that prevent charities from speaking out do not align with government calls for transparency, according to some in the sector. Andy Hillier spoke to ACEVO's Director of Public Policy Asheem Singh and ACEVO board member Joe Irvin [Third Sector Magazine, 1st April 2014]

".....A DWP spokesman says it works "closely and constructively" with providers and subcontractors, but adds: "It's right that all publication of statistics is carried out in line with UK statistical authority rules to ensure accuracy and consistency."

Many in the sector have concluded, however, that such clauses are designed not only to prevent publication of inaccurate figures, but also to prevent discussion of the terms, conditions, strengths and defects of the contracts. Asheem Singh, director of public policy at the charity chief executives body Acevo, says gagging clauses are unacceptable and charities and social enterprises should challenge them.

"There is no doubt that many confidentiality clauses in government contracts are designed to protect not the public but the department or the ministers concerned," he says. "We need an open, transparent system where data is freely shared. We have reams of data protection legislation that is designed to protect the vulnerable. Contractual confidentiality clauses that aim to prevent 'bringing a department into disrepute', as one example puts it, merely protect officialdom."

Joe Irvin, chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca, is equally critical. "We've had members say they couldn't attend meetings to discuss the Work Programme because of these clauses," he says. "With the Work Programme this hasn't helped people looking for work; it's just hidden poor practice by primes. The government has a transparency agenda and must ensure this is achieved right down the supply chain."

Irvin says that, even in cases where there is no formal gagging clause, the voluntary sector can feel constrained about speaking out. "Sometimes the clause is perceived rather than real," he says. "Smaller charities dealing with large prime providers can feel browbeaten. Such charities need support, or they end up signing unfair contracts. And there must be proper procedures for whistleblowing.""

 

Read Third Sector's article here.