Charities quizzed on regulation

An investigation is under way to discover whether bureaucracy is crippling the voluntary sector.

The Better Regulation Task Force will question charities on their regulatory burdens and then send its findings to Home Office minister Paul Goggins in November.

Barrow Cadbury Trust director Sukhvinder Stubbs, the task force member who was chosen to lead the inquiry, said charities have a compelling case for less compliance.

"We have this bureaucratic creep setting in that is homogenising the sector," she said. "It is undermining our diversity and isn't in our long-term interest."

She said the growing contract culture had left charities feeling "hampered and hijacked by the public service agenda. I've had some groups tell me they spend 10 hours a week filling in forms."

Stubbs has urged charities to tell the task force, an independent body set up in 1997 to advise government on improving regulation, about any paperwork that is "daft, leads to inefficiencies or undermines the ethos of the voluntary sector".

"A lot of government decision-makers think the voluntary sector is the same as small business," she said. "We haven't yet shown that it is distinctive.

If we do, people will better understand what role the sector has to play in terms of strengthening social capital and enhancing civil society."

Goggins will have 60 days to co-ordinate the Government response. He isn't obliged to implement any changes, but Nick Aldridge, director of strategy at chief executives' body Acevo, thinks the political climate is becoming more favourable.

"The National Audit Office report last month showed there are serious problems between the Government and the voluntary sector when working together," he said. "But there is a genuine willingness to do something about it.

"It's not just about the voluntary sector filling in forms - the public sector has to read them.

If we can genuinely identify regulations as unnecessary, open to duplication or over-burdensome, everyone will want to get rid of them."

The task force has 19 members from all sectors, including trade unions, consumer groups, enforcement bodies and the professions.

O2 chairman David Arculus, who chairs the task force, said: "We want to ensure that regulation on the sector is proportionate and does not discourage the efforts of charitable entrepreneurs to help those in need."

- Organisations interested in contributing to the study should contact Ann Marie Farmer at taskforce@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk.

CASE STUDY: Community Action Network - Kemi Joseph, finance director

"We are a small organisation with an annual turnover of £5m and 20 staff. But the amount of regulation we face is huge.

We lease 29,000 square metres in a building near London Bridge that we rent out to 60 charities. We have to sort out commercial agreements, negotiate with the local authority on rates, arrange insurance and take care of health and safety.

We are registered as a charity and a company so we have to comply with the laws for both. We have contracts with the local authority and we've also had to get to grips with the new Sorp. There are even more layers of bureaucracy for those that offer residential care or have volunteers.

I have worked with big charities such as Scope and Barnardo's, and it's a major issue for everybody. But it's worse for small charities because everyone has to comply with the same regulations, so the cost is proportionately higher. Small groups often end up using the chief executive to sort out regulation, which isn't a good use of their time.

I am sure many charities fall foul of regulations they didn't even know existed, and the publicity of doing so is always bad.

Regulation is there for a reason, but it would make life much easier if someone could produce an idiot's guide to dealing with it."

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