EDITORIAL: Keep a handle on the significance of the PIU report

LUCY MAGGS

The parliamentary recess has arrived but there is still no sign of the Performance and Innovation Unit's report into law and regulation of the sector. Initially promised for February this year, it has been delayed yet again.

There is a glimmer of hope that it will be published on 12 September, on the same day as the full spending review. But let's not get our hopes up, since government departments are not exactly renowned for working together.

And let's not forget that the report will only be a series of recommendations to the Prime Minister. If it results in any legislation, this will not appear for at least a year or two.

There have been reassurances from the unit that the delay is not an attempt to push controversial issues under the carpet, but is due to the complexities of the issues that are being dealt with. There's no denying that voluntary-sector law and regulation is a tangled web, but there is a strong possibility that some of the more controversial issues are being sidelined by the delay.

One of the most controversial ideas that came up while the PIU was consulting with the sector, was that all registered charities should pass a public benefit test, which could undermine the charitable status of public schools.

But while chief charity commissioner John Stoker said at the recent Institute of Fundraising convention that "there probably will be proposals on the definition and boundaries of charitable status", there is a strong feeling that nothing startlingly radical will take place. It seems likely that charitable status will be broadened to include different kinds of organisations that don't fit at present.

The report may also cover the regulation of fundraising, trading subsidiaries, mergers and the role of the Charity Commission. So while politicians go on holiday, the sector waits and the Chinese whispers continue. It can only be hoped that it will not all be a huge disappointment.

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