20 March 2015

Operational Compliance Report: Political activity and campaigning

Alison Paines
Partner | UK

The Charity Commission published an Operational Compliance Report on the report of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) entitled ‘The Condition of Britain’ and its alleged support for the Labour Party.

IPPR, describing itself as the UK’s leading progressive think tank, was established in 1988 to promote research into education of the public in science and technology and also the economic, social and political sciences.

In June 2014, after two years’ of work, it published ‘The Condition of Britain’, a report that it described as ‘offering a comprehensive assessment of the state of British society after the crash and setting out an ambitious programme of social renewal in these tough times’.

The Charity Commission received a complaint alleging that IPPR had supported a political party, contrary to charity law and Commission guidance on political activity and campaigning by charities. The Commission were also aware of similar allegations reported in the media.

In particular, it had been alleged that IPPR had worked closely with the Labour party to produce its report, that it had undertaken research commissioned by a shadow secretary of state into jobseeker’s allowance and that it had received donations from the TUC and published a report calling for greater trade union power. Furthermore, the report was launched by Mr Ed Miliband at an event in London at which he made the keynote speech, widely reported in the press.

The Commission considered whether the public could perceive the report and the charity as providing support for the Labour Party. Charities must be independent and politically neutral. They are not permitted to provide financial support, or support in kind, to a political party. It would be inappropriate for a charity to try to influence law and policy in favour of its funders.

The Commission found that the allegations against IPPR were in substance unfounded. For instance, it found that IPPR works with a wide range of organisations, has contact with politicians from all the major political parties and undertakes a diverse range of research topics. The report had been commissioned by IPPR, was editorially independent and widely funded, in accordance with IPPR’s objects, and IPPR made reasonable efforts to ensure the report was identified as its own work. Furthermore, the Commission discovered that IPPR had informed a shadow secretary of state that it could not take commissions from political parties and that the TUC had not commissioned IPPR to carry out work that called for greater trade union power.

However, given the extent of the media exposure, the Commission found that some of IPPR’s activities may have given the public the impression that IPPR was not independent and politically neutral. For instance, there had been close involvement with the Labour Party throughout the project, the results emerging from the report had been made available to the Labour Party on request and the Labour Party had used the launch event as a platform for its own policies.

The trustees and senior staff of IPPR co-operated with the Commission throughout its examination of the report and the work of IPPR. The Commission gave the IPPR trustees regulatory advice and the trustees have reviewed the charity’s procedures relating to maintaining the charity’s independence and political neutrality.

In the Commission’s view, the lessons for all charities are that

  • charities should be, and should be seen to be, independent and politically neutral;
  • they should have written policies and procedures in place that emphasise their independence if they engage with individuals from political parties and demonstrate engagement across the political spectrum.
Alison Paines Partner | London, Cambridge

Category: Article