Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), has blasted proposals to bring in a public affairs register as a ‘missed opportunity’, while expressing concerns that charities could be aligned too closely with lobbying.
Etherington pointed out charities lobbying government were ‘very different to businesses advancing private interests’, adding that charities were already accountable to their board of trustees and often to the Charity Commission.
‘We remain concerned about the perception that charities are just lobbyists by another name,’ said Etherington, adding that he was concerned smaller charities could be discouraged from engaging with the political system by such a register.
The NCVO had initially welcomed the idea of a register as a ‘way of shining a light into an industry in which there is a lot of public interest’, said Etherington, who appeared at a Hansard debate on the issue last week.
However, he added that the consultation fell short of its mark, as it proposed to leave out in-house teams, failed to offer a code of conduct and did not call for enough detail of agencies’ lobbying activity.
‘You can either do nothing or do something significant and this felt like it was at the bottom end of doing very little. It looks like a bit of a sop. It is carrying little value around the charity space.’
Etherington added that although charities’ in-house teams were not currently included in the proposals, he felt the need to take a stand. ‘We feel it’s important that people realise this isn’t up to much,’ he said.
In recent weeks UKPAC launched its own long-awaited register with the hope of feeding into the consultation, which will close on 13 April.
The news comes after PRWeek revealed fears from the PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham that the Government’s proposals could be illegal under EU law for excluding in-house practitioners.
Responding to concerns, Mark Harper, the minister leading the consultation, has sought to reassure public affairs figures that the plans were not set in stone.