Editorial: Regulator faces a year of reckoning

The Commission's preliminary plans are a blend of sound principle and pragmatic judgement, but things are bound to get more bloody, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

Over the past few years, the Charity Commission has made important advances in the service it provides to both charities and the public.

Charity Commission Direct, for example, has offered a streamlined service to organisations needing information and advice, and the summaries of charities' finances now available on the website have made it easier for outsiders to see what's going on.

But the reflection, consultation and research prompted by the big cuts in the regulator's funding have evidently led to the conclusion that the balance has shifted in favour of charities. Dame Suzi Leather, the regulator's chair, even finds it necessary in her interview with Third Sector to state what ought to be axiomatic - that it is there for the public rather than for charities.

The commission's preliminary conclusion that it should cope with the cuts by concentrating on its core regulatory role is justified partly by reference to the responses it received to the consultation and research. Stakeholders and the public clearly wanted focused, effective regulation above all else.

But they are not going to get everything they want. It was clear they considered it important, as part of that effective regulation, that the commission should investigate all prima facie cases of breaches to charity law. But the reduction in funding means that anyone expecting this is, to use Dame Suzi's phrase, "living on another planet". Investigations will be targeted and risk-based.

There is also only qualified support for the proposal to start transferring the giving of individual advice to other sector bodies. Some stakeholders said small charities in particular valued direct advice from the regulator, and nearly 70 per cent of survey respondents thought it should be a key 'enabler' by providing individual advice.

As a general blueprint for the future, the commission's preliminary plans are a blend of sound principle and pragmatic judgement. Things are now bound to get more bloody - not least over cutting the staff by a third - as the details are worked out and put into effect over the coming year.

Read Dame Suzi Leather interview

See Charity Commission analysis

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