Ministers trying to silence critics, says the head of a global NGO
The UK Tory government is so terrified of public debate it is gagging charities and groups which hold it to account.
Ministers are undermining free speech, says the head of a global NGO, and are trying to silence critics.
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said this sinister turn has been put in the spotlight by the row over “gagging clauses” charities working with the government have been forced to sign.
The Times newspaper carried out an investigation into non-disclosure agreements in public contracts.
Criminal justice charities working mainly in England have been told they cannot criticise the government on prison reform.
It has been alleged that up to 40 charities could have been effected.
This follows on revelations that groups working to deliver the Westminster government’s Work Programme have been told they must not be criticalof work and pensions secretary Esther McVey.
A clause in the contract for delivering the programme stipulates signed-up charities must “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” to McVey and the Department for Work and Pensions.
Dearden, writing in The Guardian, said this is destroying democracy “by a thousand cuts”.
He wrote: “The problem is particularly acute when 10 years of austerity has hollowed out public services, leaving many non-profit organisations and businesses running an increasing number of basic services directly, on contract from the government.
“Last year, nearly two-thirds of charities reported using public donations to prop up key health and social services they had been hired to provide. Bad enough when such organisations are essentially providing public services subsidised by charity. Worse still when they lose their advocacy voice because, in taking on those duties, they are gagged by the government.
“In the development sector, organisations previously lauded for their campaigning prowess have fallen silent while the aid money they campaigned for is increasingly spent for the benefit of British business and the City of London rather than on combatting poverty.
“Why are they silent? Too many of them are locked into massive, multi-year funding programmes with the Department for International Development.”
Sue Tibballs, chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, which promotes campaigning, said the policy of gagging charities must be scrapped: “Charities are there to serve their beneficiaries,That’s charity law.
“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.”
A government spokesman said the clauses protected commercial interests and did not prevent campaigning.