Last month, The Times reported that non-disclosure agreements, known as “gagging clauses”, used in government contracts appeared to prevent charities from speaking out, particularly about the failed probation reforms, implemented by the Ministry of Justice, and about the impact of universal credit, implemented by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
After Sir Stuart Etherington from NCVO raised concerns following the article in The Times, both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, wrote to NCVO.
Both letters make it clear that it is not the intention of these clauses to stop providers or affiliates from fairly criticising government departments or government policy.
The prime minister says the government recognises the importance of the voice of charities, and that she believes it is vital that the sector’s independence and freedom of speech are protected.
She says the purpose of the clauses in question is to allow the government to respond if a provider brings them into disrepute, for example through breaking employment law or acting in a dangerous or unethical manner.
NCVO now hope this will give charities confidence that their right to campaign and their role in informing the development of public policy are recognised and respected.
In particular, they want charities to know that, even when under contract:
- they are not prevented from speaking out, and this includes fairly criticising the department or programme they are delivering
- they can campaign for the advancement of their particular charitable cause, provided they do so in accordance with the Charity Commission’s guidance on campaigning and with their own money.