ASH did not make a grant application to the department’s Third Sector Investment Programme: Innovation, Excellence and Service Development Fund for 2011-12. The department currently has no other plans to provide ASH with funding in the next financial year.
Now, however, Lord Howe has told Mr Atherton:
At the time of Lord Howe’s statement, no decision has been made about whether to award a Section 64 grant to Action on Smoking and Health for 2011-2012. A grant of £150,000 has subsequently been awarded to ASH for work to support the delivery of some of the commitments in the Tobacco Control Plan for England, published last year.
And so taxpayers are once more compelled to fund a pressure group whose views may be at odds with their own. Ministers of Health have repeatedly denied that these grants are used to lobby, but ASH does not seem to do anything except lobby. A legalistic defence could perhaps be made by referring to 'advocacy' (which is permitted under law), but no one seems to be able to provide a convincing explanation of how advocacy for new laws differs from lobbying.
The coalition government has cut its spending on charities in the last two years. Many of these charities are political by nature and do not provide charitable services as the public generally understands the term. What they do would be illegal in countries like the USA, where lobby groups cannot be funded by the state.
What we have seen in Britain over the last fifteen years is a politicisation of 'civil society' and the rise of state-funded astro-turfing. Under the leadership of Suzi Leather, the Charities Commission has actively encouraged NGOs to campaign while the government has encouraged them to take statutory funding. It should be no surprise that this subverts and undermines democracy. That was surely the intention. When businesses do this, we call them what they are: front groups. A change of government at a time of austerity might have done something about this, but it seems that the Department of Health remains a law unto itself.