Editorial: A closer look at the big picture

Lord Hodgson's review of the Charities Act 2006 evidently intends to tackle some of the fundamental questions facing the sector, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

The Conservative peer Lord Hodgson has issued a call for detailed evidence to inform his review of the Charities Act 2006, due to be completed in July. The questions he poses confirm the messages in his recent interview with Third Sector - that he will be looking at the big picture as well as tidying up legal technicalities.

The most important question is what it means to be a charity: what should be the advantages and responsibilities of charitable status, and how easy should it be to gain it? People set up charities partly because of the tax advantages and public approval. There are currently more than 160,000 of them in England and Wales - too many, in most people's book - and while the majority have the highest standards, there is some fraud and malpractice.

This leads to the next big question: regulation. Hodgson raises the possibility of the Cabinet Office or the Charity Commission setting up specialist sub-regulators for particular kinds of charities. But would this really improve matters? A better route would be to bite the bullet and introduce a scale of charges for regulation. This is implacably opposed by the advocates of allowing a hundred flowers to bloom, but it would restore the impossibly squeezed finances of the commission and give a sense of proportion to its bloated register.

A third big question is the licensing and regulation of fundraising. The 2006 act contains a provision for the commission to run a rationalised, central licensing system. So far the will and resources to implement it have been lacking. But the balance between charities' need to raise money and the public's desire for privacy is, as Hodgson says, upmost in people's minds. He is talking partly about face-to-face fundraising.

A big, Deakin-style commission on the future of the sector, as has recently been mooted, might not currently be on the cards. But Hodgson's wide-ranging review might be the next best thing, and the sector's thinkers and theoreticians should be beating a path to his door to give their responses before his deadline of 16 April.

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