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Commission orders more editing to campaigning guidance

Commission orders more editing to campaigning guidance
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Commission orders more editing to campaigning guidance

Finance | Tania Mason | 5 Feb 2008

The Charity Commission board has ordered further revision of its regulatory guidance on political campaigning after deciding that parts of it could still confuse trustees.

At its open board meeting in Wales last week, the board considered the latest version of CC9 that Commission executives had prepared. While it agreed in principle that the guidance accurately reflected the law, it ordered some parts to be edited and made clearer.

Sarah Atkinson, the Commission’s corporate affairs chief, said the board “wanted to really road-test the guidance from a non-executive point of view” in order to make sure it really would be understood by trustees.

One of the changes the board ordered related to a section of the guidance that suggested a charity could campaign for a law to be upheld, but not for a new law to be enacted or a current law to be changed, as pointed out in Charity News Alert last week by People and Planet director Ian Leggett (see story here).

The board ordered the wording of this section be changed. Instead of advising that it is acceptable to campaign to “uphold” a law, it will now say campaigning is fine if it seeks to ensure a law is “observed”.

Sarah Atkinson explained: “Once a law is in place, it is fine for a charity to campaign to see it is observed.” She cited the example of a charity taking up the case of a particular vulnerable person who is being cared for in a care home when the law or government policy states that where possible they should be cared for in their own home. “That would be saying ‘This is your policy, you should stick to it’ and that would not be political campaigning,” she said.

But if a law is already in place and a charity wanted to campaign for it to be changed, or even to remain in place, that would constitute political activity and a charity would not be allowed to use it as its sole reason for being.

There was also a long discussion about working with politicians and political parties, with board members suggesting that the guidance should be strengthened to emphasise to trustees the importance of remaining independent from political parties, and being seen to be so.

“Every politician wants to work with charities, and charities must be extra careful to ensure that any association with them does not look as though it has compromised its independence,” said Atkinson.

But overall, the board felt that the new distinction between ‘campaigning’ and ‘political activity’ was much clearer than the old comparison between ‘dominant’ and ‘ancilliary’ activities, and wanted this emphasised even more. It also asked for the inclusion of more examples of situations where campaigning or political activity would be allowed, and where they would not.

Atkinson said the Commission hoped to bring the final version of CC9 to the next board meeting at the end of February, for approval by the board.

Meanwhile, she also sought to defuse speculation in the Daily Telegraph last week that Labour MP Tony Wright planned to launch an investigation into whether “Britain’s charities are becoming over-politicised” as a result of the revision of CC9.

As chair of the Public Accounts Select Committee, which has just launched a wide-ranging inquiry into political lobbying, Wright had been in touch with the Commission to ask whether the issues that CC9 had thrown up would be relevant to the inquiry, Atkinson said.

“We do expect the inquiry will want to look at charities and probably should,” she said. The Commission explained to Wright that some of the lobbying methods the select committee will examine are used by charities and any conclusions it makes will probably affect them, so it would be a shame if it did not take evidence from the charity sector.

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