Charities could lose support 'by working too closely with business or government'

Sam Younger, chief executive of the Charity Commission, tells the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector that third sector organisations need their independence

Sam Younger
Sam Younger

Charities could lose the support of volunteers and donors if they work too closely with commercial organisations or the government, Sam Younger, chief executive of the Charity Commission, has said.

Giving evidence yesterday at a session in London of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector, Younger warned that charities must maintain their independence when working with the private and public sectors.

He said: "I think there is a danger that as charities become more and more engaged in partnerships with commercial organisations in the delivery of services, donors might say: ‘How different is this charity from a commercial organisation in terms of deserving my support?’

"Where there's major public service delivery there is a danger that people will think: ‘Hang on – I'm being asked to pay my taxes for these services – why am I being asked to pay again for a charity?’"

The panel asked Younger whether the government’s lobbying bill, and the regulations it could impose under electoral law, would undermine the commission’s ability to regulate charities that broke campaigning regulations.

Younger said it would still be the place of the commission to regulate charities, but it was working within limited resources. "We're also in a period where the pressure is on us to be tougher on malpractice," said Younger.

He said it was uncommon for charities to breach campaigning regulations, and most of those that did were think tanks.

Asked whether he agreed with a comment made by Gwythian Prins, a new member of the commission’s board, that charities should "stick to their knitting", Younger said he thought campaigning was a legitimate activity for charities. "I think my view is that both changing public perceptions and influencing changes to public policy are things that charities need to be able to do," he said.

The Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector was set up in 2011 by the Baring Foundation to monitor the independence of charities. It is chaired by Sir Roger Singleton, a former chief executive of the children's charity Barnardo's.

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