An independent mission: The voluntary sector in 2015
Charities face a "barrage of attacks on their freedom to defend the most vulnerable", which have grown more serious in each of the last four years, the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector has said in its final report.
In the report, entitled An independent mission: The voluntary sector in 2015, the Panel states it is particularly concerned about the sector's independence of voice, which has come under attack from government ministers and MPs.
The Panel is an independent group of individuals who have held leading roles within the sector. It was formed in June 2011.
It has called for a “new settlement” between government and the charity sector, including a "Compact with teeth".
The Compact was an agreement signed in 1998 between government and the sector which enforced three-year funding, sensible consultation with the sector, and the right for charities to campaign. While government still holds that the Compact applies, it has been referenced less and less frequently in recent years.
The Panel says that recent years have seen a trend for charities to face a “barrage of attacks on their freedom to defend the most vulnerable people in society”. It is calling for more formal mechanisms for dialogue between the government and charity sector at national and local levels, and for the government to reverse restrictions such as “gagging clauses” and repeal the Lobbying Act.
The report highlights as one of its main concerns the “loss of the sector’s distinctive identity and respect for independence”. It says this has continued to get worse, referencing concerns over the two most recent civil society ministers Brooks Newmark and Rob Wilson including the “use of volunteering as a workfare tool”.
Another major concern of the Panel is “threats to independence of voice”. This, it says, has worsened every year since the Panel has been monitoring independence. It references the Lobbying Act and its “chilling effect”, as well as specific examples of where the sector’s independence has been threatened which were raised in front of the panel.
The Panel is also calling on the next government to “demonstrate that the Charity Commission is genuinely politically independent”. This follows concerns raised over the Commission’s “unambiguous commitment to upholding the ability of charities to campaign”.
The Panel has made several recommendations, including removing constraints on independence of voice by repealing the Lobbying Act, reversing changes to judicial review and removing gagging clauses. It also recommends “more formal mechanisms for dialogue and collaboration between government and the voluntary sector”, at a national and local level, and a “Compact with teeth”.
It also recommends targeted financial support to the voluntary sector and a reform of commissioning and procurement, as well as the assurance that the Charity Commission is “politically independent with a clear role to protect the independence of the sector, including its right to campaign”.
To download the full report visit www.independencepanel.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Independence-Panel-Report_An-Independent-Mission-PR.pdf.