Why aren’t more charities engaging with the lobbying bill?

I took three major steps in preparing for my interview for my new job at Third Sector at the end of last year.

I polished my shoes, dug out a newspaper interview with Lord Heseltine – he who founded our publisher, Haymarket – and decided I’d try getting my head around the lobbying bill. It was getting a fair few column inches, I couldn’t help but notice. 

Digging out some personal contacts and a bit of cold calling got me through to three people from relatively diverse corners of the voluntary sector.

The first was the founder of a very small, specialist charity. What, I asked him, did he make of (looking down at my notes) the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill?

“The what?” he replied.

“The lobbying bill,” I said, sure that the shorthand would ring a bell. It didn’t.

My second victim leads a slightly larger and more established charity, had heard of the bill, understood the major sticking points, but knew little of the ins and outs. “It’s not likely to affect us, I think,” I was told.

Third time lucky, the policy chief at a higher-profile charity (they get London marathon places) told me he had read through the proposals, that too much of a fuss was being made, and that his organisation for one could comply with little sweat.

At the beginning of 2013, when I was in my old job at recruitment industry title Recruiter, we reported the launch of a ‘Consultation on reforming the regulatory framework for employment agencies and employment businesses’. Important stuff if you’re a recruiter, in short.

Had I taken a similar glance across the recruitment industry, I am pretty certain I would have come across much the same spectrum of engagement: (blissfully?) ignorant minnows, mid-sized players feeling unable to to give it much thought, and the prominent minority of well-resourced big boys.

The above survey is very slapdash, yes, but I’m confident it reflects the rough lie of the land for many a previous consultation – and predicts it for future iterations.

Not to participate in a democratic process is an important freedom, but should we not be just a little disappointed in those who refuse or fail to engage? Or should we ask if government has done enough to get those people involved? Shouldn’t the digital age make for higher than ever engagement in such matters? Answers on a (likely very large) postcard, please.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t get the chance to show off my prep during my interview. But my shoes did look immaculate, so it wasn’t all in vain.