Just as the Government faces criticism for proposing to limit Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to Whitehall departments and other state agencies, it now wants to extend the Act to charities – all 165,290 of them.So..?
Most of these organisations are led by volunteers. They range from household names such as the British Legion and Barnado’s to the local bowls club. The justification for this move is that charities receive taxpayers’ money in some shape or form, either to provide services or to fix the church roof.Then if they receive it, they should be accountable for it.
The answer, of course, would be to not receive it. You know, be a real charity.
Charity leaders welcome transparency and support the public’s right to know how their money is spent; and on the face of it, this proposal would appear to strengthen that right.But I bet there’s a ‘Oh, but you’d be wrong!’ looming…
Yet dig a little deeper and it is evident that this measure would actually undermine FoI. It is, in truth, a rather crude tactic to divert attention from the central issue.Oh, really?
The concern is that the review is in reality an attempt to dilute FoI and so spare the Government from scrutiny. And one is compelled to view the proposal to extend FoI to voluntary organisations in this context – as a strong-arming measure to defuse the criticism of the real dilution of openness that is threatened by this review.Hmmm, seems like a less-than-cunning plan to me.
Only 6 per cent of all government expenditure with independent organisations makes its way to the charitable sector. Most of the rest goes to large companies and higher education institutions. Not only would this extension of FoI to the charity sector be minuscule, therefore, it would also be capricious. Charities are already regulated by the Charity Commission. Do they need more rules?Well, given the huge increase in complaints about charities over the last few years, then yes.
Do we really want our charity leaders and our volunteers spending their time fielding all manner of FoI requests, let alone having to appoint the staff to do it?Well, I suppose it beats having them spending their time in John Lewis…
The Government needs to work with charities and commercial organisations to get this right.Really? With you as their appointed spokesman, I suppose?
As charities we could discuss with the Charity Commission how best to make data available on the use of public funds. This would recognise the importance of the principles behind FoI while at the same time being sensitive to the extent to which the burden of red tape weighs heavily on voluntary bodies.Yes, I can’t see anything wrong with consulting the fox on the eventual design of the future henhouse…