How should the Charity Commission cope with less money?

'Focus energies, improve accountability, lay off the PR', say experts

Dame Suzi Leather
Dame Suzi Leather

Should the Charity Commission investigate only those issues or organisations that have national significance? Should it be rigorous or 'light' touch when considering new charity registrations?

These questions feature in an online consultation on how the commission should adapt its activities to meet a budget cut of 33 per cent in real terms over the next four years.

In the introduction, Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the regulator, says: 'We may have to withdraw services, change the way we interact with charities, even refocus our regulatory approach. So it's vital that the changes are informed by a wide range of stakeholders."

Third Sector asked three charity experts to offer advice on how the commission should move to meet the budget cuts. The consultation can be found on the commission's website and is open until 14 January next year.

- Debra Allcock Tyler, Chief executive, Directory of Social Change

Debra Allcock TylerWhat is civil society really all about? It's about the millions of individuals and the myriad small organisations that grit their teeth, gird their loins and garner the hearts, minds and hands of their fellow citizens in pursuit of worthy endeavour. That's what rebuilds communities and society.

The commission would do well to remember this in its restructure. Small charities that engage local citizens in local action need support and guidance, and they can't pay for it. This is where the commission's role is so vital. Don't worry about the big charities - they can look after themselves. Focus your energy where it is needed most. Serve the small. Never underestimate the damage that the failure of a local organisation can do to confidence in our sector. That's where you should invest what little money you have.

- Richard Fries, Chief Charity Commissioner, 1992 to 1999

Richard FriesLosing a third of its funding forces the commission to review its strategy and to focus on what will maintain public confidence - namely, its integrity and commitment to the public wellbeing. The commission must continue its admirable efforts to enhance charities' transparency and accountability. Resource-intensive enforcement will have to be prioritised, even at the expense of the intricacies of charity law.

The commission's work with individual charities will have to be rationed, relying on its excellent general advice material. Partnership with the sector in promoting good governance will have to be intensified.

The review must consider whether the commission can fulfil its functions adequately under the Charities Act 2006, the provisions of which are due to be reviewed next year.

- Penny Chapman, Partner, Bircham Dyson Bell

Penny ChapmanThe commission has a formidable arsenal of powers, but often seems unable to exercise them because of a lack of resources.

It should intervene only when charitable assets are at risk or other serious harm has occurred. But it should devote more resources to checking the information charities are required to file and reviewing any charities whose activities give cause for concern.

The commission is too concerned with PR. It should stop doing research into public trust and confidence in the sector. And it must not spend its resources acting as a secondary legislator, as seen in the debate over its public benefit guidance.

The commission would be more effective if it had a more streamlined process for dealing with cases, so charities' lawyers could deal directly with its own lawyers where necessary.

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