Editorial: You regulate - we give the advice

Several sector organisations are pressing for the Charity Commission's regulatory role to take priority as its funds are cut, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

Charity Working at the Heart of Society, a policy document from the Charity Commission in 2005, announced that the regulator was intending to take a broader role as a promoter and champion, enabling charities to maximise their impact and encouraging innovation and effectiveness.

This caused some consternation among sector umbrella bodies and representative groups. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations, for example, warned that the commission's impartiality could be undermined and confidence in the sector damaged. "It is not the commission's role to promote the sector or protect charity integrity," it said.

When the commission's policy was revised the following year, the phrase "championing the work of the sector" was replaced by "championing the public interest in charity". The dissenters were mollified, but have never been entirely satisfied with the widened role of the watchdog.

The purpose of this historical detour is to put in context the response the umbrellas and representatives have made to the commission's recent consultation about how it should make the £8m cuts to its budget over the next four years. Not to put too fine a point on it, they have treated this as an opportunity to get the commission back in its box.

Their message, broadly speaking, is that the commission should concentrate on maintaining a high standard of regulation and leave it to them to offer advice and guidance to charities. The unspoken implication is that a slimmed-down commission should relinquish any remaining claim to the 'champion' role.

The Institute of Fundraising has gone further than most in saying the commission should help to finance itself by charging registration or annual membership fees. More audaciously still, it suggests that some of the revenue could be shared with other organisations, such as the Institute of Fundraising, that are involved in giving advice to charities. It would have been interesting to watch the movement of the eyebrows of Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the commission, when that one dropped on her desk.

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