Rob Wilson MP, Minister for Civil Society, has told Third Sector magazine on 15 September, on the subject of the anti advocacy clause, that:
“The Cabinet Office has been listening and talking and looking at what to do next, and I think that the principle that taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be used to lobby for more taxpayers’ money is a very good, strong and honourable one,” he said.
Such a “principle”, however, is phoney. If it is being dusted off as a way of saving face for Cabinet Office Ministers, who have put their original, dreadfully drafted anti-advocacy clause on hold, it deserves robust challenge.
Every day of the week, taxpayers’ money funds civil servants who advocate for the interests of their Department. It is part of their job in Whitehall to lobby for more Government attention – including resources – to pressing needs in their subject areas. It may be for an area like Northern Ireland, or Wales. It may be for Defence or security against terrorism. It may be for new sources of energy, or the needs of battered women, or tackling Modern Slavery, or even, we hope, strategic investment in a flourishing civil society. It is a very good, strong and honourable principle, and time-honoured practice, that taxpayers’ money should be used in this way as part of good government. Rob Wilson’s “principle” falls apart.
It is also perfectly reasonable and common for taxpayer-funded Departments including their Ministers to press for more resources for their own Department or Division within it as part of this process for resolving competing priorities.
If it is normal and OK for the Whitehall civil servants to lobby like this, why does it suddenly become unprincipled if Government-funded charity staff make a case for better-funded services for their beneficiaries?
It may be helpful to take an example, which I have made up (although there are also such arrangements in real life). Suppose that Government has funded a charity to provide services to help victims enjoy a better experience of the criminal justice system. Those government-funded charity staff gather in the course of their work a great deal of cumulative knowledge and experience of how the system makes life difficult for victims of crime in different ways and how it could be improved. What sensible “principle” prevents part of discussions with Government or other policy makers being about how additional resources to relevant services might transform things for the better? And why would you not want such knowledgeable frontline workers (funded by the taxpayer) to be fully involved in making the case, or even suggesting how they themselves could make things work better if they had extra resources to do it? Wilson’s phoney principle would, as he has expressed it, stop these conversations happening. Good governance would be the loser. Such examples are legion.
We have wasted enough time already on the ill fated anti-advocacy clause, erected on the flimsy edifice of an ideological polemic by the Institute for Economic Affairs, (see my blog https://andrewpurkis.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/the-rotten-basis-for-government-anti-advocacy-policy/) and slipping past over-stretched civil servants and experienced Ministers who knew better. Please, Mr Wilson, do not invent phoney “principles” in order to save face. Better just to acknowledge that someone messed up big time, leave it alone as a blind alley, and move on.
As Clint Eastwood put it, “The only good anti advocacy clause is a dead one”.