Editorial: Culture change at the Charity Commission

The story of the African Aids Action inquiry suggests the transformation may not yet be complete, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

In a speech he made in June, the former chief executive of the Charity Commission, Andrew Hind, said that the commission had in the past been, to an extent, guilty of a "slightly high-handed" approach to regulation.

Now it was dealing with problems more informally, guiding charities back on track: there had been "a huge change in organisational culture", he said.

A worked example of this new approach is to be found in the commission's report last month on its difficult and protracted inquiry into African Aids Action. The report details extensive flaws in the charity's procedures, but prescribes only a reforming action plan to be implemented within six months.

But the report also reveals that this approach was chosen only after the failure of what might be called a more high-handed course of action: the commission tried last year to order the charity to be wound up, but came to grief because of a drafting error. This suggests at least some internal uncertainty and tension, exacerbated by the mistake.

That impression is reinforced by an early version of the report that was leaked to Third Sector in March. This draft was based on the same facts as the final report, but was palpably more hawkish in tone. In particular, it criticised the behaviour of a trustee and passed judgement on the ambitions of the charity. The published report does neither.

The commission attempts to distance itself from the draft on the grounds that it has "no provenance".

It is naturally keen to preserve a seamless public facade. But when evidence emerges that things are not entirely as they seem inside a powerful regulator, the regulated surely have a right to hear about it and form their own views.

At the very least, it suggests that Hind's "huge change in organisational culture" may have some way to go. And who is to say, in these harsher political and economic times, that the pendulum will not swing back?

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