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Taxpayer-funded activism declines in England, but soars regionally & in the EU says new IEA report

IEA releases the next in a series of research on use of public money to lobby government

Following on from research published between 2012 and 2014, a new report from the Institute of Economic Affairs finds that the use of public money to oppose free market policies has become less blatant in England, while remaining common occurrence in Scotland, Wales, and the European Union.

The report “Hand in Glove? A re-examination of state-funded activism” highlights evidence which suggests that campaigning with money from central government has declined in the UK. This change may have been brought on by a combination of austerity measures, new grant standards, and the creation of quangos to act on behalf of activist groups and as advocacy organisations in their own right.

But while activist groups in the UK appear to be receiving less money from Whitehall, state-funded activism is not on the decline regionally. It appears to have grown in Scotland and Wales. Despite budget cuts in recent years, local councils are still able to find money for like-minded pressure groups to support their activities.

State-funded activism continues to be endemic at the EU level. The majority of organisations mentioned in IEA research in 2013 receive more money from EU bodies now than they did in 2011, and most of them rely on the EU for the majority of their income.

Quango-style pressure groups that receive state funding, labelled ‘sock puppets’ in previous IEA research, tend to lobby for politics favoured by politicians and/or civil servants. While there have been improvements in some areas, mutual back-scratching and feather-nesting remains, notably in the green sector and nanny state sector.

With ‘civil society’ dominated by taxpayer-funded organisations, there is a risk that important stake-holders, not least ordinary consumers, are squeezed out of decision making.

Key points

State-funded activism in the UK

Activist groups appear to be receiving less money from Whitehall than they did five years ago. It is difficult to ascertain whether this is because of budget cuts or because of the new grant standards. Whatever the reason, the use of public money to oppose the free market has become less blatant in England while remaining common in Scotland, Wales and the EU.

  • The devolved governments of Scotland and Wales are funding campaign groups such as Alcohol Focus Scotland, Stonewall, the Scottish Fair Trade Forum, Obesity Action Scotland and Action on Smoking and Health.
  • Local authorities are funding campaign groups such as Balance Northeast, Sustain, Fresh, the Birmingham Food Council, Food Active and Give Up Loving Pop.
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