Newsmaker: Full speed ahead - Andrew Hind, Chief executive, Charity Commission

John Plummer

When Tory MP Andrew Mitchell told the Charity Commission last summer to show a bit more humility, there were probably many in the voluntary sector nodding in agreement.

The regulator has a reputation for talking to charities as if they were naughty schoolboys, so when Mitchell made his remark in a session of the joint parliamentary committee scrutinising the draft Charities Bill, it must have gone down quite well.

Six months on, the signs are that the commission is listening. A new double act is in charge and charming its way into the sector's affections. The ever-smiling chair, Geraldine Peacock, is snuggling up to people in the outside world; inside, Andrew Hind, the London head office chief executive, has substituted affability for austerity.

He admits the commission, which has an income of £30m and 600 staff, has an image problem. "We have a reputation for being a bit oldfashioned and slightly behind the pace," he says. "We need to move to a new era where the commission is considered part of the sector, rather than sitting on a plinth and passing down regulations on tablets of stone."

Hind, 49, prefers to blame the old style on "civil service reticence" rather than on the former chief commissioner, John Stoker, whose role was divided into chair and chief executive when he retired last July. "There was a feeling that the commission's job had been to deal with issues as they came along," he says. "Now we are going to engage much more with the outside world."

A TV in Hind's office broadcasts BBC News 24. "It says something about how I want to model my leadership," he says. "It is about being forward-facing." Besides installing the TV, one of the first things Hind did when his four-year contract began in October was instigate a review. "I don't think the commission had ever made such an effort to see what the outside world thinks about it," he says.

The Charities Bill poses more pressing questions about the regulator's role, particularly with regard to the proposed public benefit test. Alan Milburn, the chair of the scrutiny committee, accused Peacock of "shilly-shallying" around the issue.

Hind points out that the commission does not have the power to pass legislation or override existing case law. Instead, it will consult widely and issue guidance "on what public benefit might look like". Not words to set fee-paying schools quaking. Does he think they should be charities? "I don't think that's a fair question," he says. "I've only been here 10 weeks and I've told you in broad terms how we will go about things."

He "strongly supports" the Bill's proposal to establish an appeals tribunal to enable charities to challenge commission rulings. "Some of the adverse reaction we get is a result of it being difficult for anybody to challenge our decisions," he says.

He talks about tailoring regulatory demands according to charity size. "There is a different level of public interest in large and small charities," he says. "We need to have a very light-touch regime at the small end. At the top end, we need to understand what systems charities have in place to assess the impact of what they do."

Hind thinks the commission's problems lie more in style than in substance. "The commission's reputation differs between people who have been touched by it and those who have little experience of it," he says. "Behind the scenes we are helping hundreds of charities every day. Many great things are going on here."

If 2004 spelled out some home truths for the commission, 2005 will reveal whether the Peacock-Hind show is as serious about embracing change as exuding charm.

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