Page last updated at 15:25 GMT, Friday, 18 July 2008 16:25 UK

Think-tank warned about balance

Gordon Brown
The charity had been accused of being linked to Mr Brown

There is no evidence to suggest Gordon Brown used a charitable think-tank to "further his political aspirations," a Charity Commission inquiry has found.

But it said the Smith Institute's work had not been "sufficiently balanced and neutral as required under charity law".

The Tories had accused the charity of playing a role in Labour's attempts to attack Tory leader David Cameron.

The institute welcomed the report but did not agree that all remarks at its events should be "politically neutral".

Tax-exempt charities are barred from involvement in politics but the Conservatives had complained that the actions of the Smith Institute - founded in memory of former Labour leader John Smith - were not compatible with its charitable status.

'Reasonable decision'

It used to employ Ed Balls - now schools secretary - before he was elected as an MP in 2005 and had held more than 150 events at 11 Downing Street when Mr Brown was chancellor.

The Charity Commission said it had been a "reasonable decision" to recruit Mr Balls as a senior research fellow, after he quit as Mr Brown's economic adviser in 2004.

The continued use of 11 Downing Street may have linked in the minds of the public the institute with the Labour Party
Charity Commission

It also said the think-tank had been carrying out work "for the public benefit" and most of its output was not party political.

But the inquiry said the trustees did not do enough to prevent the perception that the think-tank was involved in party politics.

The inquiry heard that the Smith Institute's trustees had viewed the use of 11 Downing Street as "part of the national fabric and not in any real sense party political".

'Inappropriate'

But the Charity Commission said the "continued use of 11 Downing Street may have linked in the minds of the public the institute with the Labour Party and the government, and may have compromised the perception of the institute's political neutrality".

It said the trustees had now promised to use 11 Downing Street - the official residence of the chancellor of the exchequer - less in future.

It was also concerned about an invitation to an event in January 2007 which it said "constituted a party political statement inappropriate for the charity".

Inevitably, many of our speakers are not impartial, that is the nature of political speakers, but we go to great lengths to ensure balance within each event
Paul Myners
Smith Institute

The report said the charity's trustees had not done enough to supervise its work, and noted a number of party political remarks were made at institute events by the US political expert Robert Shrum and the former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett.

It added: "There are a number of instances where the balance and neutrality of the Institute's work were compromised by a party political association."

It said it could understand how "the perception arose... that the institute was focusing on or connected to the then chancellor and his political aspirations".

But it concluded: "The inquiry found no evidence to suggest that the then chancellor had been involved in using the institute to further his political aspirations."

For the Conservatives Greg Clark said the report confirmed "what has long been suspected: that the Smith Institute was umbilically linked with Gordon Brown and the Labour Party".

But Paul Myners, the institute's deputy director, said the charity commission had shown a "fundamental lack of understanding" of think-tanks in some of its suggested measures to maintain impartiality.

He said: "Inevitably, many of our speakers are not impartial, that is the nature of political speakers, but we go to great lengths to ensure balance within each event and across every programme that we undertake."

The commission has told the trustees to begin a governance review and report back on progress in six months. It will also visit the charity in a year to check its recommendations have been acted upon.

SEE ALSO
Just what is a think tank?
15 Jan 08 |  Magazine
Charity probed over 'Brown links'
01 Feb 07 |  Politics

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