'No dinosaurs here'

Paul Jump reports from last week's Charity Commission away day in Swansea

When Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the Charity Commission, told the regulator's open board meeting in Swansea last week that the eastbound carriageway of the M4 would be blocked all day, you sensed her smile was probably due to more than the mere fact that she "doesn't often get to do traffic announcements". Clearly she liked being in Wales.

"It always feels good to come here because there's such enthusiasm," smiled board member Theo Sowa in response to the presentation of Harry Iles, the ebullient, red-shirted head of the commission's Wales Office.

Meanwhile, commission member Andrew Purkis - a man not usually noted for lavishing praise - described Iles's board paper as "encouraging and heart-warming".

Iles returned the love, praising the board's past wisdom in asking him to increase partnership working, engage with the Welsh Assembly and focus more on compliance. "I can't believe we weren't doing these things before," he bubbled.

Not that everything was sweetness and light. Welsh board member Simon Jones complained that the cover of the commission's survey of Welsh charities (Third Sector Online, 28 January) - depicting a green valley, terraced houses and two young mothers - reinforced stereotypes. "There are lots of pictures of volunteers we could have used," he said.

Iles himself also expressed frustration that the commission's recruitment of Welsh speakers and production of Welsh documents had been rewarded with only two emails and 12 phone calls in Welsh all year.

But his solution seems sure to help. "Dino Rescue is the daftest idea we've had," he said with a broad grin. "It is a Welsh language role-playing game involving a fictional charity that looks after escaped dinosaurs from Jurassic Park."

Leather, still unconcerned by the prospect of being stuck in Swansea a bit longer than anticipated, retorted: "Nothing about the Welsh office is dry."

"Or dinosaur-like," chipped in Andrew Hind, chief executive of the commission.

Don't be surprised if the cover of the regulator's next survey of charities in Wales depicts volunteers reading soothing Welsh-language stories to a brontosaurus.

The commission has received 50 requests for reviews of its regulatory decisions since last March, when its procedures changed. Of the 10 case-related appeals that were completed, five had the original decision upheld, one got it changed and four managed to overturn it. In two cases, further appeals have been made to the Charity Tribunal.

The consultation on charitable incorporated organisations indicates there is less interest in converting to them than originally expected, says Rosie Chapman, director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

There were only eight responses to the draft guidelines on public benefit for charities advancing moral or ethical belief systems, which closed on 5 January. The guidelines for religious charities elicited 263 responses.

Forthcoming commission advice to charities about dealing with the recession will emphasise that it is reasonable to dip into reserves to maintain services.

- See The Week, pages 6-7.

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