Analysis: new deal promotes local voluntary agreements to control street fundraising

Some councils are sceptical about the deal, sealed last week by Paul Stallard of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association and Mehboob Khan of the Local Government Association

Paul Stallard [l] with Mehboob Khan
Paul Stallard [l] with Mehboob Khan

Last week the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association and the Local Government Association launched a national agreement to improve standards in face-to-face fundraising. The tie-up marks a new era of cooperation between the two membership bodies.

In the document, Making the Pledge, the LGA, which represents 423 councils in England and Wales, recommends that councils work with the PFRA to draw up voluntary agreements on street fundraising.

The PFRA hopes this will increase the number of site-management agreements it has with local authorities – currently there are 52. Sally de la Bedoyere, chief executive of the face-to-face regulator, says the plan is to have 100 in place by the end of 2013 and up to 200 by 2015.

"The best way to protect and promote street fundraising is to raise standards and regulate it well," she says. "Although all our members sign up to the rule book, penalties and sanctions, we can police and mystery shop only where SMAs are in place."

De la Bedoyere says the agreement was born of a discussion between the two bodies before Lord Hodgson published his review of the Charities Act 2006 in July. The LGA was getting an increasing number of complaints about ‘chugging’ and the PFRA argued that its voluntary agreements could help. The pledge, published last Wednesday, is the first time since the PFRA’s formation in 2000 that the LGA has advocated SMAs.

Mehboob Khan, leader of Kirklees Council and chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, says: "The PFRA agreed for local authorities to be able to designate the numbers, areas and dates on which collections would take place, and that it would be responsible for the enforcement and the activities of individual collectors."

De la Bedoyere and Khan say they hope voluntary agreements will work and new legislation will not be needed. But some local authorities remain sceptical. Birmingham City Council, for example, is pursuing a by-law to control street fundraising, and Islington Council believes new legislation is the solution.

De la Bedoyere says she is aware that agreements with some local authorities will prove difficult, but the backing of the LGA and Lord Hodgson, who supports the PFRA’s approach to self-regulation, will help its outreach work with councils.

Chris Neville, head of licensing at Birmingham, says plans for the by-law emerged after a survey of 634 residents this summer found 93 per cent wanted an end to face-to-face fundraising in Birmingham.

Neville says the council knows it could take a long time to get a by-law approved by the Secretary of State, so it has agreed to meet with the PFRA for the first time to discuss a voluntary agreement. The council wants to test the PFRA’s approach in Sutton Coldfield, on the edge of Birmingham.

"We’re sceptical that a trade-run scheme could regulate itself, but are saying ‘go and prove yourself in Sutton Coldfield’," he says.

Paul Convery, Islington’s executive member for community safety, says the council sees the agreement as a stop-gap before the new legislation it hopes will be brought in. "The council, like many residents and businesses, will be watching to see if this temporary agreement provides sufficient protection for Islington’s streets,’ he says.

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