New Government code of conduct for grant recipients

05.12.18

The Government has just released a new ‘Code of Conduct for Recipients of Government General Grants’. It’s a companion document to the ‘Supplier Code of Conduct’, which was published in Sep 2017 (both codes are accessible from this link and you can view the grants code directly here).

The big news point in the new code is about the freedom that grant recipients have (or don’t have) to criticise Government policy and actions. The Times newspaper recently investigated the Government’s use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs, commonly known as ‘gagging clauses’). As reported on the Civil Society website, these agreements have been roundly condemned.

Vicky Browning, ACEVO chief executive, said, “Anti-advocacy clauses are anti-democratic.” In a similar vein, the Civil Society article linked above reports the comments of Sue Tibballs, chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

“It’s a fundamental role of charities to speak out about how their beneficiaries are experiencing government policy. Really behind this, I don’t think anyone is in any doubt, is a government that doesn’t want any criticism. They know that charities are influential and powerful and they want to stop them speaking.”

However, charities do have to be careful when campaigning, in order to follow the legal restrictions on their involvement in politics. The Charity Commission gives detailed guidance on this issue.

Right at the top of this guidance it says: ‘An organisation will not be charitable if its purposes are political’. Charities are permitted to ‘campaign for a change in the law, policy or decisions where such change would support the charity’s purposes’ but they ‘cannot exist for a political purpose, which is any purpose directed at furthering the interests of any political party, or securing or opposing a change in the law, policy or decisions either in this country or abroad’.

What about the new code of conduct for grant recipients then? It seems there’s more room for grant recipients to speak out about how Government actions are affecting their beneficiaries.

“We expect Grant Recipients to be able to speak out when government officials, civil servants or other Grant Recipients are not upholding the values embedded in the Civil Service Code or this code. We also expect Grant Recipients to speak out, without fear of consequences, when a grant funded project or activity is unlikely to succeed because of our behaviours or a lack of good governance.”

That’s from Clause 10 of the code, but Clause 20 says this:

“We want to work with Grant Recipients who are proud of their reputation for fair dealing and quality delivery. We also want working with government to be seen as reputation enhancing for the Grant Recipient. Equally, we expect Grant Recipients, in delivering the funded activity, to ensure that neither they, nor any of their partners, intermediaries or even subcontractors, engage in any act or omission, which is reasonably likely to diminish the trust that the public places in government.”

There hasn’t yet been much public reaction to the new code, though it has been welcomed by national not for profit sector support body, NCVO. Their chief executive and head of policy & public services (scroll down to the section, ‘Code of Conduct for Grant Recipients’) have both commented positively on the code.

Time will tell on the implementation of the new code and, of course, different politicians and civil servants will interpret it differently, in terms of what actions might ‘diminish the trust that the public places in government’ (as Clause 20 says).

Charities have to follow the law at all times. They also have to keep to their own governing document – constitution, articles of association, deed of trust etc. And if a charity wants to accept money from any other body, it has to follow the rules imposed by that body. There’s nothing to stop us lobbying funders, however, if we feel their terms and conditions are unreasonable!

If you have any thoughts on the Code of Conduct for Grant Recipients please comment below, email Sue Dovey, or join in the discussion on the Basecamp messageboard.

For access to Basecamp, send us a quick email and we’ll invite you to join. Your organisation will need to be a member of Action Hampshire – membership is free and you can apply here.