Damning report on Charity Commission 'could damage public view of the sector'

Caron Bradshaw of the Charity Finance Group says the requirement for the regulator to respond to the Public Accounts Committee could prompt 'knee-jerk' reaction

Caron Bradshaw
Caron Bradshaw

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group, has warned that the Public Accounts Committee’s criticisms of the Charity Commission could damage public perceptions of the sector as a whole and prompt a "knee-jerk reaction" by the regulator.

In response to today’s highly critical PAC report, which says the regulator lacks a coherent strategy and the ability to address its shortcomings, Bradshaw said it was "too easy to make sweeping criticism and declare wholesale failure".

She said the commission had "achieved a lot in helping charities to professionalise and comply with their duties".

"Worryingly, this approach may create a damaging impression in the public mind of how well charities are run and ultimately push the commission in an unhelpful direction," she said.

"We welcome scrutiny of the regulator, but we are concerned that the requirement to report back to the Public Accounts Committee in a year’s time will result in a knee-jerk reaction by the commission’s leadership."

Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research at Directory of Social Change, criticised the committee for making "irresponsible" statements – for example, that the regulator was not fit for purpose.

"These kinds of attack won’t help the commission to regulate better – quite the opposite," he said. "They simply demoralise staff and provide cheap sound bites that will be recycled ad nauseam in the press and political debate over coming months, forcing the commission to spend more on its PR apparatus to defend itself."

He said the regulator’s position had been made more difficult by large reductions in its budget in recent years. "That’s not its fault – that’s the utter failure of the government to value the function it provides to the public and charities," he said.

Kennedy said he was concerned that politicians seemed to be pushing the commission to focus on a "bad cop enforcement role above all else".

Other voluntary sector bodies said it was important that the commission received support, but this should not detract from its failings.

Joe Irvin, chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca, said the report was "a stinker" for the commission.

But he said: "I hope the emphasis is now on supporting the commission rather than kicking it when it’s down. Part of the solution has to be working with other organisations supporting charities, as Navca members do across the country."

Asheem Singh, the director of public policy at the charity chief executives body Acevo, said: "We have argued time and again that the Charity Commission has been crippled by cuts to its budget. These have undoubtedly had an impact on its ability to do its job. 

But the commission "cannot be absolved of all blame", said Singh. "In many cases it has been its own worst enemy. We are concerned that it is often too ready to lose sight of its core mandate. The commission’s intervention on the lobbying bill, where it argued against a charity exemption, was particularly unfortunate."

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the commission was moving in the right direction.

"It has started taking firmer action and is seeking to enhance its legal powers," he said. "The Charity Commission still has significant work to do in order to restore its reputation, but we could not do without its specialist role.

"I welcome the Public Accounts Committee's plan to review the commission again in a year and I hope it will be able to demonstrate that it is continuing to improve."

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