Give regulator's support functions to a new body, says NPC report

A pamphlet from the think tank New Philanthropy Capital says Theresa May's vision of the 'shared society' can be realised only if the sector is properly backed by a new improvement agency

The Charity Commission’s support functions should be split from its regulatory functions and given to a new improvement body, according to New Philanthropy Capital.

The think tank made the comments in a pamphlet, The ‘Shared Society’ Needs a Strong Civil Society, written by Dan Corry, NPC’s chief executive, and the academic Gerry Stoker. It argues that civil society should be central to any attempt to flesh out the Prime Minister Theresa May’s vision for what she has described as a "shared society".

The pamphlet also calls for unitary local authorities and regional government to consider including third-sector chambers in their set-ups to ensure that local voluntary sector voices are heard.

"We can embrace the Prime Minister’s idea of the ‘shared society’, but not if it is just a nice piece of rhetoric," the pamphlet says.

"Government must play its part. Business will have a key role. But above all civil society must be seen as the lynchpin."

But the pamphlet warns that, if this is to happen, civil society must be properly supported through raising its status, changes in Whitehall and targeted funds to plug gaps.

As part of these changes the pamphlet recommends "keeping the Charity Commission as the narrowly focused regulator and data source/collector, but creating a new improvement agency to help promote good practice and stamp out bad practice". The new body, it suggests, could operate in the same way as the Low Pay Commission, which supported the introduction and progress of the minimum wage, and comprise practitioners, academics and independents.

It also calls for a third-sector chamber or other means of having a voice in local government, although it does not want to be prescriptive about the exact method, it says.

"In terms of governance, we would like the voluntary sector to be guaranteed a right to be heard at all levels," it says. "In some cases this may mean representatives from the sector having places on decision-making boards and bodies."

It also calls for third sector bodies to have more opportunity to control, use or run assets that are not wanted or are under-used by the state or private sector, and says there should be a review of the processes that allow charities to take on community assets.

The private sector should engage with the idea of its social responsibility more and civil society should actively seek to engage with players "beyond the normal suspects, in order to limit the chances of group think constraining innovation", it says.

Initiatives to boost social capital and social infrastructure should have their progress monitored down to very local levels and have funding earmarked to help support them, it says.

The pamphlet says: "Civil society can be disorganised. It can be unfocused. But in different ways it can also deliver the sense of solidarity, cooperation and mutual respect that is vital to building a Britain that is at ease with itself. If the shared society is to mean anything at all it must put civil society firmly at its core."

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