I posted the other day about the UK government’s proposal to ban charities from using government funds to try to influence policy. Many commenters thought “nothing to see here, no big deal”. Now it appears that the clause applies quite generally to organizations receiving government grants, stating:
The following costs are not Eligible Expenditure: Payments that support activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action.
The implementation guidance then includes the following:
Q12: Where departments use third party organisations (either public, private or charity sector) to administer grants on their behalf, will the clause need to be included in the T&Cs between the third party and the grant recipient? A: Yes. Departments will need to ensure that the clause is included in all grant agreements that the Department ultimately funds, subject to exceptions signed off by Ministers. This guidance should be shared as necessary.
Unless ministers grant specific exceptions then, government grants to bodies like the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research to conduct research into policy, must not aim to “influence legislative or regulatory action”. The same would go for university-based researchers in receipt of government money vie HEFCE or the Research Councils. Still more absurd than this is the picture that emerges when the clause is combined with the government’s own “Impact Agenda” which forms part of its “Research Excellence Framework”. Under this, university researchers who apply for grants are required to demonstrate “impact” which may include influencing government policy, but it will now be a contractual condition that you may not do this thing that you must do.
Given that this is so irrational, I’m tempted to conclude there must be a misunderstanding here. The alternative is that the clause will be enforced selectively against bearers of unwelcome news.
(Alerted to this by Martin O’Neill on FB).