Charities face ‘serious threat’ from government over their independence, report says

Sir Roger Singleton, chair of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector, says there are insufficient guards to protect charities

The voluntary sector is facing a "serious and growing threat" from government over its independence, a new report has found.

The third of four annual assessments from the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector, a group of sector experts established in 2011, says that the sector’s ability to act independently from government is being weakened.

Increased government interference in state-sponsored charities, a weak and under-resourced Charity Commission, growing political opposition to charities acting as a voice for communities and measures contained in the lobbying bill have all been factors, the report says.

A particular concern it highlights is the emerfence of "gagging clauses" in contracts for the government’s Work Programme, preventing subcontractors from criticising the programme or releasing potentially embarrassing data.

Reductions in government consultation periods, challenges to charities’ ability to challenge government decisions in court and the number of "charities subject to levels of state control, such as museums and academies", are also areas for concern.

The report says the Compact, the agreement that sets out how public sector and voluntary sector organisations should behave towards each other, "is important but is neither effectively enforced nor followed in spirit by the different arms of government".

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