The UK has a wealth of organisations operating in civil society. Many of these, like the TaxPayers’ Alliance and Greenpeace, survive with no taxpayers’ money, only existing thanks to generous donations from private individuals and groups.,
Yet there are many such organisations that take taxpayers’ money, and then often call for higher government spending or openly campaign against the policies of the elected government. As the 2009 TaxPayers’ Alliance research paper Taxpayer funded lobbying and political campaigning found, public bodies in 2007-08 gave over £37 million of taxpayers’ money to organisations engaged in lobbying and campaigning.
But taxpayer funding of lobbying and political campaigning has a number of negative effects:
- It distorts decision making in favour of the interests and ideological preoccupations of a narrow political elite.
- It slows adjustments in the direction of policy in reaction to new evidence or circumstances.
- It increases political apathy among the public.
- Taxpayers are forced to fund views they may seriously disagree with.
This note provides a snapshot of the sums that central government, devolved administrations, and a small selection of local authorities are handing out to organisations that engage in lobbying and political campaigning.
As this paper has only utilised the most recent publicly available documents, it is not an exhaustive list of money received by politicised organisations and dispersed through public bodies, but is a collection of key examples to show the scale of public funds being taken.
- Political research and campaigning organisations known to attack the government or lobby for changes in public policy received £39,584,172 from that same government between 2017 and 2019.
Rosa, which was given a £978,000 grant in 2017-18, in late 2019 accused the Conservative government of “actively selling off our NHS to the US.”
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) granted £256,607 to organisations that lobbied for policy changes in 2018-19. One of these, Diverse Cymru, publicly opposed a ‘no-deal’ Brexit in August 2019, having recently been commissioned to create films highlighting refugees’ issues in Wales.
- Several think tanks continue to receive significant amounts of taxpayers’ money. Between them, the New Economics Foundation, Bright Blue, Demos, the Institute for Government and the Institute for Public Policy Research received £514,215 between 2017-18 and 2018-19.
Alcohol Change UK, a leading nanny state group which lobbies for tightened alcohol control policies, such as minimum unit pricing, received a total of £185,759 from the Welsh government in 2018-19. Of this total, £40,593 was earmarked for ‘policy and influencing’ and £64,940 was for ‘profile, communications, campaigns and events’.
 Greenpeace, Funding and Transparency, 2020, https://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/funding-and-transparency/ (accessed 5 February 2020).
 Sinclair, M.,Taxpayer Funded Lobbying and Political Campaigning, TaxPayers’ Alliance, 3 August 2009.