As is apparent from Iain Dale's post, many people remain unaware that the 'health groups' and 'charities' who petition for anti-smoking (and other neo-prohibitionist) legislation are quangos in all but name. The fact that charities like ASH raise next-to-nothing in the way of public donations speaks volumes about how little grassroots support these organisations have.
Some of the figures are bafflingly high. Smoke Free North West (who contributed the bulk of responses to Labour's dodgy consultation on display bans) received £1.9m from the taxpayer—ten times more than ASH (England). ASH (Scotland) receives £1.4m to serve a population ten times smaller than England, while employing a staggering 27 people. The UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies—the home of Anna Gilmore and a lobby group in all but name—has been given £3.7m.
In any bonfire of the quangos, these astroturf groups should be the first on the list. I can think of no reason at all why the taxpayer should be forced to fund lobbyists. It is a throwback to the worst excesses of the last government, which routinely used public money to manufacture support for its own policies. Unless the coalition puts an end to this dubious practice, it will be seen to be condoning the Machiavellian tricks of the previous administration while making a mockery of its claim to be the party of responsible spending.
It's really pretty simple. If these groups are providing a public service (such as smoking cessation), they should be incorporated into the Department of Health where they will have to be accountable (and, importantly, subject to the Freedom of Information Act). This is what is happening in Ireland.
If they don't provide a public service (and most are purely lobbyists), then there is no case for them to be funded by the government they are lobbying. If ASH et al. are going present themselves as charities then they should act like charities and do their own fund-raising instead of forcing hardworking people to graft to keep them in the manner to which they have become accustomed. As Longrider said recently:
Well, firstly, if these charities do things that people want, they will fund them voluntarily. If they fail due to lack of funds, then people don’t want them and they will deservedly disappear. If they are providing essential public services, then why are they charities at all?
Quite so. This is an open and shut case. It's time for the anti-smoking lobby to stand on their own two feet.