Soap Box: Finger-wagging has no place after Shawcross leaves

With a new chief executive being hunted and a chair in its final year, it would be a good time for changes at the Charity Commission, argues Andrew Purkis

Andrew Purkis
Andrew Purkis

A new chief executive of the Charity Commission to succeed Paula Sussex is being sought, and William Shawcross is in his final year as chair. What might we hope for from change at the top? Some good things should continue. Shawcross deserves credit for safeguarding the commission's existence by keeping onside important, mainly right-of-centre political and media constituencies. Attention to doing more with limited resources and to user-friendly online services, practical advice and guidance should continue. We want a firm approach to rooting out abuse. We want the commission to remain independent of the sector.

Other things need to change. The new team should be seen to be equally independent of ministers and a particular political party. Crucially, the new chief executive and chair need to have significant experience of working in the sector, or it is too difficult to regulate the most influential part of it successfully. Should the top brass of Ofcom have no working experience of the media and communications? The new team also has to demonstrate support for the vital role of political activity by charities as defined in CC9. The mixture of finger-wagging, frostiness and confusion on this subject should leave the commission with Shawcross. It might also be a good idea for the chair to have done at least one substantial job - Shawcross was a freelance writer.

Finally, the new chair and chief executive should rediscover the lost voice of the commission as a source of experienced, knowledgeable and independent contributions to public understanding and debate about charity. Fingers crossed.

Andrew Purkis has chaired four national charities and is a former Charity Commission board member

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