'Febrile political environment' is a bigger challenge to the sector than the economy, NCVO chair says

Martyn Lewis tells charity trustee conference that recent attacks have been 'frequent and vicious' and that trustees must respond

Martyn Lewis
Martyn Lewis

The charity sector faces a greater challenge from a "febrile political environment" than from the economy, according to Martyn Lewis, chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

The former newsreader told his organisation’s trustee conference in London this morning that in recent years the "challenging economic environment" had been the focus for the sector, but that over the summer and autumn "attacks on individual charities and our sector as a whole have been frequent and vicious".

He said responding to these was now a priority.

"More recently, it's the febrile political environment that has been giving us cause for concern," he said. "Although the economic environment is still challenging, I can't help but think that we must focus our attention on those who are challenging our ways of working, challenging our motivations and challenging our place in building a better society.

"We would be foolish to ignore the concerns about a number of issues currently being aired in the media, however badly formed or wrongly assumed they are.

"Charities are coming under greater scrutiny about their staff remuneration, the right to campaign, fundraising practice, value for money and involvement in public services."

Lewis said that charity trustees must be prepared to respond to criticism of the sector.

"Now is not the time to hide or to hope that such attacks will recede," he said. "Issues such as senior pay and fundraising strategy are, ultimately, all governance issues. As trustees, you have a crucial role to play in considering these issues, upholding public trust and speaking up for the great work that your organisations are doing.

"We have a collective responsibility to strengthen governance in voluntary organisations – our structures and practices, our skills and behaviours, our knowledge and values. It is only by seeking to strengthen our governance that we can deal with the clear and present dangers we now face."

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