EDITORIAL: Law reform will protect integrity of every charity

STOVIN HAYTER

There are few major surprises in the Government's proposals for reforming charity law and regulation published last week. That is partly testament to the inclusiveness of the process that led to the proposals.

Many people from the sector have been involved in an advisory capacity, and most of the major proposals have already been aired within the national and sector press.

It is also partly because, far from being a radical rethinking of charities and their role, the proposals are designed to make the current system work better. This should not, however, lull us into a diminished sense of their importance. The proposed changes are bigger than any since charities were first given legal recognition and protection under Elizabeth I. They will also, if they survive the coming consultation process and subsequent politicking unscathed, affect just about every charity.

And they present a real opportunity to strengthen the sector. For instance, some of the proposals to do with the regulation of fundraising may at first seem rather onerous to many organisations. There will undoubtedly be a lot of debate on the details, but it is hard to argue with their intent, which is to ensure a greater degree of public confidence in charities.

The Government has sensibly steered clear of crude league tables, for instance on fundraising costs, to suggest a more qualitative-based approach.

The bigger charities would have to complete a standard return that focuses on how they measure performance against their aims. They would have to state their fundraising ratios, but it would also give them a chance to explain the ratios.

One of the intentions, of course, is to enable people to compare charities more easily. But charities should embrace the chance to provide more information in a standardised way. It is the only way to defend the sector's integrity in the face of an increasingly cynical public.

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