Open Government Partnership UK

Charities, politics and civic space | Francis Maude’s response

The following response from Francis Maude (Minister for the Cabinet Office) to the UK OGP civil society network’s letter on charities, politics and civic space was received earlier this week:

Mr Tim Hughes
UK OGP Civil Society Coordinator
33 Corsham Street
London, N1 6DR

1 October 2014

Dear Tim,

Thank you for your letter of 10 September regarding charities, politics and civic space.

This Government believes that charities have an incredibly important role to play in helping to shape Government policy in the UK and we are committed to ensuring that there are platforms to enable this.

Brooks Newmark’s comments were made with regard to charities engaging in party politics and do not contradict our commitment to opening up space in government policy making. Both charity law and the Charity Commission’s guidance are clear: charities can engage in political activity that supports their charitable purpose but they must not engage in party politics.

The Open Policy Making team within my department is leading the effort to encourage greater collaboration between policy makers and sources of wider expertise, recognising that civil servants do not have a monopoly on good ideas; we are committed to ensuring that the civil service is engaging with the broadest range of people, be they international organisations, academics, think tanks, local authorities, local or national businesses, the voluntary and community sector or individual citizens.

The OGP provides a fantastic opportunity for such engagement and I continue to champion the need for more responsive and accountable government. Indeed I think this is the only route to genuine reform, and the development and implementation of our OGP national action plan demonstrates what can be achieved when government and civil society work together.

I would like to take this opportunity to invite representatives from the UK OGP Civil Society Network to a meeting to discuss the strategic engagement of civil society in the ongoing implementation of the UK national action plan.

I have passed on your comments about the legislation around non-party campaigning to the Minister for the Constitution.



Launch of the Northern Ireland Open Government Network

Venue: Malone House, Barnett Demesne

Date: Wednesday 5th November 2014

Time: 10am – 1pm 

Register Here:

The Building Change Trust will be hosting a seminar and discussion event on 5th November for all those organisations and individuals interested in progressing an open government agenda and getting involved in a campaign for the implementation of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in Northern Ireland.

This event is a progression of the Trust’s initial seminar on the OGP back in May, where the clear message from participants was that open government was a subject that merited serious attention in Northern Ireland. In June the Trust convened a civil society group – interested individuals and representatives of the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector – who were committed to taking this work on open government forward.

The group then requested the Trust to commission some exploratory research to help inform its future direction and strategy. Peter Osborne was appointed to conduct this research and over the past three months has interviewed a large number of stakeholders from government, civil society and academia both within Northern Ireland as well as those involved in the Open Government Partnership processes in the Republic of Ireland and at UK national level. Additionally an online survey “Does Northern Ireland Have an Open Government?” was issued to gather information and opinions from the VCSE sector and broader civil society, attracting almost 200 responses.

The results of this research will be shared and discussed with participants on 5th November. Additionally, a panel of representatives from government, academia and civil society will give their responses to the research, as well as their views on how best to progress an open government agenda in Northern Ireland. Participants will have an opportunity to debate with the panel and propose issues and approaches that should form the basis of an open government campaign.

The event will culminate in an opportunity for participants to commit to staying involved through joining the new Northern Ireland Open Government Network.

Lunch will be provided at the conclusion of the event.

To register, please visit: 

For more information contact Paul Braithwaite on or via Twitter on @Paul_BCT or #opengovni

Charities, politics and civic space | An open letter to Francis Maude MP

Yesterday, members of the UK OGP civil society network sent the following letter to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, on the subject of charities, politics and civic space.

The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP
The Cabinet Office
70 Whitehall

10 September 2014

Dear Minister

Charities, politics and civic space

You have on a number of occasions spoken of the importance of civil society holding government’s feet to the fire. Indeed, it has become a popular catchphrase within the Open Government Partnership community – encapsulating civil society’s vital role in ensuring that government is properly scrutinised and held to account.

We were therefore surprised and concerned at the comments made by your ministerial colleague Brooks Newmark in his first speech as Minister for Civil Society, that charities should “stick to their knitting” and “keep out of politics”. One might be forgiven for expecting a Minister for Civil Society to use such an address to defend the right of civil society to criticise and challenge the government of the day, particularly in light of attacks on civic space by governments around the world. If democracy is to function well, and government to be truly open and accountable, it is everyone’s responsibility – particularly those working with some of the most disadvantaged communities – to scrutinise and challenge government policy.

 Charities that campaign on issues or against policies related to their charitable objectives are not interfering in party politics; they are performing their legitimate role as a civil society actor. On this the Charity Commission is clear:

“All charities are united by having a vision of a better society. They have many different purposes, and are focused on different needs. But in the main they are united by a desire to achieve change, whether for a particular group of people in need, or for the wider common good. It is not surprising then that many charities wish to speak out, to use their voice and influence, and to campaign for the changes that would best help them achieve their purposes.”

The OGP, which you have championed, is based on the principle that civil society organisations, including charities, should play a full role in public debate. We encourage you to clarify the comments of your ministerial colleague and revisit recent legislation restricting non-party campaigning. Such attacks on civil society undermine the UK’s reputation and the cause of open government both domestically and internationally. The UK must set an example to those governments around the world intent on avoiding scrutiny and assert the right of civil society to speak out.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Hudson, Global Integrity
Alexandra Runswick, Unlock Democracy
Andy Williamson, Democratise
Anthony Zacharzewski, The Democratic Society
Cathy James, Public Concern at Work
Christine Allen, Christian Aid
David Banisar, ARTICLE 19
Diane Sheard, The ONE Campaign
Javier Ruiz, Open Rights Group
Laura James, Open Knowledge
Maurice Frankel, Campaign for Freedom of Information
Miles Litvinoff, Publish What You Pay UK
Robert Barrington, Transparency International UK
Simon Burall, Involve
Tim Davies, Practical Participation

Download: Charities, politics and civic space

Can we crowdsource an open government manifesto?

The experience of other Open Government Partnership countries demonstrates that elections can be a make or break moment for the progression of open government reforms. With that in mind, we’re exploring ways to ensure that the UK General Election in May 2015 results in more, not less, momentum for the open government movement.

We think a good way of achieving this, while simultaneously broadening the open government conversation in the UK, would be to crowdsource an open government manifesto. Here’s our first draft of a plan for how we might go about doing that, which we’d be grateful for any ideas on.

Tim Hughes, Open Government Programme Manager, Involve

OGP Commitment 6

As part of the UK’s 2013 OGP Commitments, the Government announced last year that it would publish its first-ever National Anti-Corruption Action Plan.

Although various government departments and institutions deal with corruption, until now there has been no one person or department coordinating this work – i.e. no overall strategy, no centralised data collection, and no accountability to Parliament or the public. One of the main consequences of this is that the Government does not have a good overview picture of the state of corruption within the UK. The OGP National Action Plan included a commitment to develop an anti-corruption action plan that coordinates anti-corruption activity across all Government departments.

Eleven civil society organisations – collectively known as the Bond Anti-Corruption Group – have been monitoring the implementation of this commitment and earlier this year submitted recommendations for what the plan should cover, focussing on domestic corruption, international corruption, and the interface between the two.

We are now in the process of selecting representatives to sit on the Government’s Business and Civil Society Forum which will feed in to the ministerial oversight of the Plan’s implementation.

We’ve engaged all the civil society organisations who have expressed an interest in this commitment to date, but if your organisation is not already involved and would like to be, please do get in touch. Contact details can be found here

Rachel Davies, Transparency International UK