The Charity Commission must not have a cosy relationship with the sector because it exists to serve the public rather than act as a champion of charities, a senior commission executive has said.
Sarah Atkinson, director of policy and communications at the regulator, was speaking at a Westminster Social Policy Forum event on charity law, regulation and finance in London yesterday.
"We are clear – we're here to serve the public; we're not champions of the sector," Atkinson said. Nevertheless, she said, the sector and the commission had a common goal, which was improving public trust in charities.
She said: "Our relationship with the sector should never be cosy. We are the sector’s regulator, not its defender or champion." Atkinson said she welcomed constructive criticism from the sector – if the commission were never criticised, she said, she would fear it was "doing something wrong".
Atkinson told the seminar that, given declining resources, the commission was increasingly less able to provide individual advice to charities, but it was developing its online advice and guidance for trustees in response to the recurrent problems it witnessed. But it was a challenge to address the issue of how many trustees did not understand their basic legal responsibilities, she said.
Reflecting on one of the recommendations of last month's National Audit Office report on the commission, Atkinson said the regulator needed to do better at explaining its regulatory approach to the sector.
She also responded to a concern raised by an event attendee about the difficulty of using the commission's new website, which was launched in September.
She admitted that the commission was still getting to grips with how to make best use of the gov.uk platform, and said that anyone who was having problems should give some feedback, and the issue would be taken up with the Government Digital Service. "When we speak to GDS, they say 'no you're not getting negative feedback; people are fine’," she said. "Help us out here – if you're having problems, feed them back."