Charities 'out of touch' and 'accountable to no one', says Tory peer

In a Lords debate on civil society, Lord Balfe of Dulwich says the sector should be reformed to improve democracy and transparency

Lord Balfe
Lord Balfe

Charities are "out of touch", "apparently accountable to no one" and should face reforms to improve democracy and transparency, a Conservative peer has told the House of Lords.

Speaking during a debate on civil society and lobbying yesterday, Lord Balfe of Dulwich said the charity sector had moved away from the views of the majority of the British public and lacked appropriate accountability.

"The most significant lesson of the Brexit debate is how out of touch we were," he said. "The fact of the matter is that many charities today are out of touch.

"There are well-paid chief executives, in the name of professionalism, but apparently accountable to no one. They are less accountable than a trade union general secretary or a chief executive officer in a FTSE-listed company. They often exist in an area where there is no apparent democratic structure."

Balfe said proposals to extend the Freedom of Information Act to charities should be revisited and that charities should not use government money to lobby the government.

In response to claims about bullying in the charity sector made by his fellow Conservative peer Lord Shinkwin, Balfe suggested that a sector certification officer be introduced. Certification officers are responsible for statutory functions relating to trade unions and employers’ associations.

"Why should what the charities do not be accountable? They are, after all, spending money raised from the public sector or volunteers," Balfe said. "It is not, in large part, private money."

But the Labour peer Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, who is also chair of Age Scotland, refuted much of what Balfe had to say.

"I do not think that he understands the charitable sector at all," Foulkes said. "He said that we are not accountable. That is rubbish.

"We have an annual general meeting coming up later this year at which all the members – we have more than 1,000 – will be represented. They will decide to re-elect or not the officers of the organisation.

"In Scotland, we are also accountable to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and, in England, to the Charity Commission. That is a great deal of accountability."

Other speakers in the debate criticised the government’s attitude to charities, with the Labour peer Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town accusing the government of seeking to "clip the wings of charities" through their attitude to lobbying by the sector.

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