Editorial: Lord Hodgson grasps the sector's nettles

He addresses many of the sector's burning issues in his review of the Charities Act 2006, but it remains to be seen if the government will act upon them, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

Anyone wishing to bring themselves up to date with the burning issues in the voluntary sector could do worse than read Lord Hodgson's 159-page review, published last week, of the Charities Act 2006. It's comprehensive and sharp.

Nettles have been growing on the sector's grass verge, and Hodgson grasps them firmly: trustee payment, charges for charity registration, loss of Gift Aid or fines for late filing of returns. You can't accuse him of not having a view.

Many of his proposals offer a way forward from paralysis or uncertainty: one example is social investment, of which he says encouraging words are not longer enough and we need to change crucial aspects of the law.

But remember that the government did not ask Hodgson to conduct his review because it wanted to. It did so because it had to - it was a requirement built into the act itself. Ministers already have their own programmes and priorities, and there is a sense that Hodgson is a distraction from that.

Hence the fairly restrictive criteria by which Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, plans to judge the proposals in the review: will it make it easier to run a charity? Will it increase public trust and confidence in charities? Doing the right or rational thing is not necessarily included.

This is not a formula for nettle-grasping, and it seems likely that many of Hodgson's more radical (and often sensible) proposals will stay on the back burner. The government is busy, short of parliamentary time and more interested in the incremental advancement of existing projects than dramatic new initiatives that could cause trouble.

The Hodgson proposals with the best prospects of implementation appear to be those on the reform of fundraising regulation, which could help to calm public and media agitation over street fundraising and satisfy Hurd's trust and confidence criterion. The three membership bodies in fundraising are unlikely to be turned away if they arrive in Whitehall asking for help in simplifying and clarifying the regulatory system.

- Read our analysis on Hodgson's proposals

- See more news about the Charities Act review

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