Commission's first 'informal inquiries' focus on political bias

The Charity Commission has cleared two think tanks of being affiliated to the Conservative Party but warned them to work harder to avoid perceptions of political bias.

An unnamed MP complained about Policy Exchange and the Reform Research Trust early last year.

The commission declined to open a formal inquiry, but its findings are revealed in the first two regulatory reports it has produced in line with its intention to publicise non-inquiry cases that provoke a lot of public interest (Third Sector Online, 2 July).

The publication of the reports coincides with a commission inquiry report that criticised trustees of another political think tank, the Smith Institute, for not doing enough to protect it from the perception that it was too close to the Labour Party (Third Sector Online, 18 July).

The report on Policy Exchange
criticises the charity’s events policy. It says some events that were attended by MPs were not linked to a specific educational purpose such as the launch of a report, while accounts of events on the think tank’s website did not make clear that they were attended by MPs from a range of parties.

The report says: "A charity can express support for particular policies provided that this will contribute to the delivery of its charitable purposes. There is a risk that such support may cause members of the public to question the independence of the charity. Trustees must take steps to manage such risks as appropriate."

The report on the Reform Research Trust says trustees failed to keep the charity sufficiently distinct from Reform Britain, which is a non-charitable campaigning organisation. It says the organisations had connected employment arrangements and a website that referred to 'Reform' rather than distinguishing between the two. It also said trustees should have copyrighted publications produced by the charity in order to protect its assets.

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