In its latest report, the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector claims that both explicit government actions, and inactions, have had a serious impact on the independence of campaigning charities working with it.
The report says the government has:
- imposed contractual gagging orders on some charities, stopping them speaking out about government policies or publicly releasing data
- advised local authorities not to fund certain campaigning charities
- failed to carry out its own policies to support the independence of the voluntary sector.
Sir Roger Singleton, chair of the Independence Panel, said: “Central and local government funding cuts are fuelling the problem. With less money available, charities are less willing to criticise government actions to protect their survival. Some charities are ‘self-editing’ in order to keep on providing services.”
The report highlights widespread non-compliance with the Compact, an agreement between government and the voluntary sector in which the government commits to protect the independence of UK charities.
Tom Elkins, from Compact Voice, said: “The report, like our own findings, suggests that while support for the Compact remains high both locally and nationally, there are concerns around its implementation, with greater efforts needing to be made to ensure activities and engagement with the voluntary sector are reported and shared.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Nick Hurd, minister for civil society, insisted that the sector had not lost its voice and was free to speak out about government contracts. He highlighted research from the Third Sector Research Centre which found that the independence of the charity sector was being maintained, despite the weight of government funding.
The Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector was established in 2011 to ensure that independence is seen as a top priority by the voluntary sector and to make recommendations to ensure that it is not lost. ‘Independence under threat: the voluntary sector in 2013’ is the second of four annual assessments by the panel on the state of independence.