‘We are increasingly concerned by views of a vocal minority of MPs,’ ACEVO tells ministers

23 Apr 2021 News

Vicky Browning

A “vocal minority of MPs” are repeatedly, and increasingly, attacking charities when they are just carrying out legitimate work, ACEVO has told the government. 

Vicky Browning, chief executive of ACEVO, has written to the culture secretary about the problem, sought assurances that the government will not try to stop legitimate criticism, and invited him to meet with her. 

She said: “ACEVO is growing increasingly concerned by the views of a vocal minority of MPs who are repeatedly calling into question the legitimacy of public facing work that charities are undertaking in pursuit of their charitable objectives, especially when that work is related to equality. 

“This includes writing to the Charity Commission to complain about work undertaken to raise awareness about inequality or to educate others about it.” 

Earlier this week the umbrella body co-ordinated a statement supporting the Runnymede Trust, which was the latest charity to be criticised in parliament. 

Elsewhere Runnymede’s chair has revealed that his charity’s staff have received an increase in hate mail, following the publication of the Sewell Report. 

Seeking public backing government

In her letter to Oliver Dowden, culture secretary, Browning said this week’s debate on the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report was an example of MPs unfairly questioning charities over legitimate campaigning activity. 

Sir John Hayes MP asked the minister for equalities Kemi Badenoch to “give me an assurance today that she will make representations across government to stop the worthless work — often publicly funded — of organisations that are promulgating weird, woke ideas”. 

Browning said: “This was not ‘just’ a complaint about government funded work but seemingly about all work deemed ‘weird’ and ‘woke’. Worryingly the minister did not respond by pointing out that such an act would be undemocratic.” 

She is “therefore seeking assurances from you that the government will not try to ‘stop’ charities and other civil society groups that they disagree with”.

She suggested that ministers could “publicly affirm the right for charities to campaign, even on unpopular or contested causes” and highlighted a recent blog by the chief executive of the Charity Commission, Helen Stephenson, doing just that. 

Browning also reiterated that charities would like the Lobbying Act to be reformed and emphasised the importance of the next chair of the Charity Commission being politically neutral. 

Finally, she invited the minister to a meeting with some of ACEVO’s members to discuss the value of charity campaigning. 

Runnymede: ‘Our staff should not have to conduct their work in fear for their safety’ 

The Runnymede Trust, a race equality charity, was one of the early critics of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED), also referred to as the Sewell Report. 

Earlier this week Conservative MPs raised concerns in parliament about the Runnymede Trust and complained to the Charity Commission. 

Sir Clive Jones, chair of Runnymede, has now issued a statement, suggesting that there has been a “highly orchestrated” response to the charity’s work. 

Jones questioned why other critics to the report, which includes the United Nations, several other charities and a host of foundations, had not been subject to the same scrutiny as Runnymede. 

“While noting what appears to be a highly orchestrated response to Runnymede’s work on the CRED report, we also note with considerable concern the inconsistency in the fact that the trust, with its eight full-time members of staff, appears to be the only organisation to have been named and attacked in parliament,” he said.  

He added that since the report was published the charity has “received a significant increase in hate mail and threatening phone calls”, and said: “Our staff should not have to conduct their work in fear for their safety.”

Personal attacks 

Earlier this week, Runnymede was accused of launching personal attacks on individuals involved with the CRED. 

Jones said: “We refute any allegation that the Runnymede Trust has made ad hominem attacks against individual commissioners.” 

He went on to say its open letter, “in the best traditions of British democracy”, highlighted concerns shared by many about the report, but did not attack any individual. 

“The letter signalled the many concerns with the report, focusing on the evidence, detailed recommendations and issues. No individual commissioner, official, politician or adviser was in any way singled out in that letter,” he said. 

Instead, Jones accuses MPs making personal attacks. 

He said: “While respecting the principle of parliamentary privilege, it is deeply regrettable for an MP to use the floor of the House of Commons to launch personal attacks on individual members of Runnymede’s staff.”  

Jones concluded by inviting Kemi Badenoch, equalities minister, to meet with the charity. 

For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector, sign up to receive the Civil Society News daily bulletin here.