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Inside: Charity lobbying, stressed-out banks, design thinking. View this email in your browser

Socks off in the lobby

The Cabinet Office has released new guidance on its grants to charities, which reverses the ‘anti-advocacy clause’ condemned by charity spokespeople and scientists after its introduction without consultation in February. Announcing the changes on Friday, the Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson recognised the controversy, if in positive language:

The new grant standards announced today will not only increase the opportunity for charities to work with government through improved grant making practices, they will better protect the role of charities to speak out on behalf of their beneficiaries whilst ensuring taxpayers’ money is used as intended.
 
Going forward, departments will be required to put forward explicit eligibility requirements for grants, and according to the new guidance (pdf) this “by definition...will preclude activity such as paid for political lobbying.” What is included, by definition, is:
  • providing independent, evidence based policy recommendations to local government, departments or Ministers
  • providing independent evidence based advice to local or national government as part of the general policy debate
The Guardian’s Matthew Weaver and Patrick Butler call this a “full climbdown”. Asheem Singh, interim chief executive at Acevo, described it as a “victory for common sense and free speech”.
 
There’s a twist in the tale for think tanks. The Institute for Economic Affairs put out three reports on state funding for campaigning between 2012 and 2014: Sock Puppets, Euro Puppets, and The Sock Doctrine: What can be done about state-funded political activism. In February, it announced that it was “delighted” to see the original ‘anti-advocacy’ guidelines introduced:
 
when government funds the lobbying of itself, it is subverting democracy and debasing the concept of charity. It is also an unnecessary and wasteful use of taxpayers’ money.
 
The IEA is a “registered educational charity”. In the 2016 Transparify survey of 150 think tanks, it received a zero score for transparency as it reveals no information about who funds its research and advocacy. In essence, it is impossible to discern who privately funded advocacy by a charity for an end to publicly-funded advocacy by charities.
 
The irony of this situation was not lost on Andrew Purkis, a former member of the Charity Commission board. He has unsuccessfully urged regulatory action by the Commission, which in its 2008 guidance claimed that:
 
If the purpose of providing information or education is to persuade people to form specific conclusions, then this is not education.
 
Fast forward to today and the Commission’s Chief Executive Paula Sussex is satisfied (pdf) by the assurances of the IEA’s trustees that it does not engage in campaigning or “policy engineering” . How about the public?

Quick Reads

Out of the sandbox. Micro-schools - some a single classroom - offer innovation lessons for the UK’s one-size-fits-all education system. Innovation Unit

Listen up. The devolved administrations aren’t satisfied by just being kept informed on Brexit. They want a say on the deal. Centre for Constitutional Change
 
“Unhelpfully complicated and opaque”. One year of English Votes for English Laws. Centre for Constitutional Change
 
Like waiters. To get the attention of governments, citizens need to make a noise. Democratic Audit
 
Stresses and strains. Eight years after the crisis, RBS is still paying for it, posing a risk to the financial system, and unlikely to be fully privatised. Time for a rethink? New Economics Foundation
 
Professing. Religious faith isn’t disappearing in Britain - but believers would like to see more public religious leadership, which is becoming increasingly unacceptable to non-believers. LSE British Politics and Policy
 
This week’s The Donald Award goes out to this review of the effect of for-profit schools on educational attainment across school systems, which extensively cites the work of Gabriel Sahlgren. Sahlgren is Director of Research for the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education, who published the review.

Reports

Money for nothing. Given how weak the funding situation is for pension schemes, should money managers be replaced by algorithms? Centre for Policy Studies

107 vs 76. The number of minutes it takes to make a good consumer decision versus the time we naturally spend. But giving consumers isn’t the whole answer. Citizens Advice
 
Down the river. We spend four times as much on land management that doesn’t prevent or encourages flooding than we do on preventative measures. Green Alliance
 
If you’re ready for a rethink. A practical guide to design thinking in public service innovation. Nesta
 
Repressive tolerance. Religious freedom is under threat because a universalistic view of rights has won out over the protection of difference. ResPublica

See also

24%. The average increase in rail fares since privatisation. Touchstone Blog

Think Tanks

Room for a view. Academics are engaging with Parliament like never before, but is their expertise becoming “part of the argument”? Crick Centre

Oh, 2016. Permanent Secretaries reflect on the year passed. Civil Service World

“Enough of those”. Tony Blair’s new venture is not a think tank, he insists. Total Politics
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Compiled by Tom Jeffery
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