The New Schools Network (NSN), the taxpayer-funded charity given the job of promoting free schools, has been warned by the Charities Commission about appearing to support a particular political party.
An article, now removed, was published in the news section of NSN’s website with the title Tories are fighting for the people Labour has abandoned
. It was in fact a copy of a Telegraph comment piece but NSN didn’t make that clear. The Commission said* that in reproducing the partisan Telegraph article without stating its origin “it does appear that the charity is expressing support for the Conservative party generally.”
Charities can express views about policies “directly linked” to the charity’s “charitable objects”. In the case of the New Schools Network, whose present director Natalie Evans
was once Deputy Director at the Conservative Research Department, these are the “establishment and support of Free Schools”. As a charity, NSN is not allowed to lobby on behalf of a political party.
This is not the first time NSN has been warned. The Charity Commission received a complaint
from Lisa Nandy MP in 2010 about NSN’s impartiality given its close links to Michael Gove and the Conservative Party. Its first director was Rachel Wolf
who had been Gove’s education policy advisor. Its director of development, Diana Berry
, was head of fundraising at Conservative Campaign HQ from 2004-2008 and Tory donor, Theodore Agnew,
was one of the charity’s trustees. At the time the Commission said it had been “reassured” that NSN had been “acting appropriately” but nevertheless felt it was required to “press home the importance of remaining independent”.
“Remaining independent” hasn’t appeared to stop the NSN from publishing an article in favour of the Conservatives.
*email to author from Charities Commission 24 July 2014