Tuesday 3 May 2016

The Uncharitable Commission?

Some worrying questions are being raised about the Charity Commission, by observers who see a board with little of the independence and specialist knowledge needed to guide the Third Sector through difficult times.

Both charity organisation NCVO and chief executive body Aveco have written to the Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson, expressing extreme concern with the current make-up of the board. These are just two of many voices who have spoken up about the Charity Commission over the past few weeks. This isn't just one charity with an axe to grind. This is across-the-board dissatisfaction.

The Charity Commission has always had a bumpy ride, with accusations of partisanship and close connections to the government of the day. For example, the previous head of the board, Dame Suzi Leather, was pilloried for her links to Labour during their time in power. But the criticisms levelled at current head William Shawcross go deeper still, and are aimed at the Commission as a whole.

The problem is that the current make-up of the Charity Commission does not live up to the high ideals set up by Shawcross when he rebuilt it from the ground up three years ago. His vision was to put together a board with the right skills to both modernise and prepare the board for the challenges ahead. The end result doesn't match those aims: it's a grouping made up of lawyers, writers and accountants who have little experience in the charity sector, drawn from a privileged background that lacks the insight or knowledge of the issues at stake.

More worryingly, many on the board have close ties to right-wing think tanks that have advocated a reduction in the way charities can raise funds. One member in particular, Gwythian Prins, has published papers via The Institute For Economic Affairs (in reality another politically right-skewed quango) calling explicitly for a throttling-back in charitable fund-raising. He has also been quoted as saying that he believes charities should "stick to their knitting".

More worryingly still, The Charity Commission is aiming to expand its remit, issuing high-handed edicts and recommendations without consultation from the wider sector. The founding of a series of sub-committees with yet closer ties to government was done in secrecy, and there's still a distressing lack of transparency to the inner workings of the Commission.

Our View: these are difficult times for charities, and it's extremely worrying to see the Third Sector's regulatory body mired in accusations of cronyism and partisanship. Accusations that the Commission does not meet the best interests of charities, or worse, that it could be actively working to strangle their ability to raise funds are being met with silence. This is no way for a public body to act. We await the response of the Minister For Civil Society with interest.


For more, including details on the full make-up of the Charities Commission and their links to government and right-wing think tanks, we recommend a look at this detailed summary from Civil Society: http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/governance/compliance/analysis/content/21677/who_is_really_in_charge_at_the_charity_commission#.VyB_RrxLOK0


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