2 thoughts on “It’s our money. Let us know how it’s being spent.”

  1. Posted 12/01/2016 at 14:31 | Permalink

    Chris, its right and proper that charities are accountable, both to funders and the wider public. After all, they are public benefit organisations. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and all that, and as such transparency (and tools to support this) and a culture of openness are important for the world charities now operate in. Just as importantly, as taxpayers we should all be able to follow the money and be able to challenge those in government who spend money on behalf where it goes and what is done with it.

    I’m less convinced than you are however that extending the FoI Act to charities in receipt of public money is the *best* way to ensure transparency and value for money for taxpayers. There will inevitably be an associated overhead cost that, in the case of contracts, will either get passed back to the taxpayer as a cost or reduce the viability of delivering that contract. Most of the £13bn you mention is for the delivery of adult social care, where there is already evidence that providers are not making any surplus or subsidising delivery with other funds. I’d argue that shrinking the market of providers, or adding compliance costs to thousands of delivery partners isn’t the best way of following the money.

    Instead, government commissioners and funders should agree with delivery partners before any contract or grant agreement is signed what data or information on performance and value they need, and write that into the contract. They should then publish that data upfront (i.e. make it open data) so that reasonable questions on value can be answered without recourse to FoI. At NCVO, we’ve already identified how this could happen by working with the Institute for Government: http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2015/03/25/transparency-in-government-contracting/

    I’d quibble with you on one point: you’ve debated the question of whether we should follow the money by looking first at the voluntary sector or other organisations in receipt of government money. Charities deliver a tiny proportion of government services – less than 2 per cent worth in financial terms – while governments own accounts suggest that charities account for less than 6 per cent of government spending on grant making. In those financial relationships charities are relatively weak, rarely able to dictate terms. Wouldn’t it be better to start with the bigger contracts, where there is already evidence that outsourcing companies are able to outwit government procurement? Any rational analysis that had at its heart protecting taxpayers would start – though not end – with the big fish.

    Anyway, heres the NCVO argument on FoI and charities: http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2016/01/05/should-the-freedom-of-information-act-apply-to-charities/

    Karl Wilding
    Director of Public Policy
    NCVO

  2. Posted 12/01/2016 at 17:27 | Permalink

    Hi Karl,

    Thanks for your comment. I don’t see any reason why we should ‘start’ with any one sector and work our way up. Let’s just bring in a blanket rule for any organisation that is spending taxpayers’ money.

    I accept your point about overheads. The FOI Act currently costs government millions of pounds and no doubt some of the requests are vexatious. However, it is money well spent for the access to information that people deserve. The same would, I believe, be true of the expense to charities, businesses and other organisations (which would ultimately be met by the taxpayer). It’s a price worth paying.

    I could be wrong, but I doubt that the adult care sector would be deluged by FOI requests. I would expect only charities involved in controversial or murky areas to be the subject of significant numbers of requests.

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