The UK’s universities and science minister Jo Johnson has confirmed that academic researchers will not be affected by planned ‘anti-lobbying’ rules to be applied to those receiving government grants from May.
In a statement on 19 April, Johnson said that the rule would not apply to grants awarded by research councils, the Higher Education Funding Council for England or the National Academies.
The new clause being added to grant agreements will ban those receiving government money from using that money to influence or lobby government. When the update was announced, researchers voiced concerns that it may prevent publically funded academics advising policymakers, and a petition was set up to call for an exemption.
‘The new clause in government grants is about ensuring that taxpayers’ money is properly spent on what was intended in the grant agreements,’ Johnson said. ‘I have been talking to the research community and working hard with colleagues in government to determine what clarification may be necessary to ensure that research is not adversely affected in any way.’
Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, who set up the petition, praised the government for doing the ‘right thing’, but said there were still some issues to be clarified, such as whether scientists who receive funding directly from the government would be affected. ‘I hope that the exemption will apply not just to grants from the higher education funding councils and research councils, but also to grants from government departments for research,’ Ward said in a statement. ‘Without the exemption, the clause would forbid researchers from using government grants to attempt to influence policymaking. Such a restriction would be bad for policymaking, bad for the public interest and bad for democracy.’
Johnson said he was continuing to talk with the research community ‘and will outline more detail by 1 May, when this clause takes effect’.