Editorial: It's a rough time - but not all is gloomy

Despite the lobbying bill, there are positive developments happening in the sector, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

The political and regulatory climate has been turbulent recently, to say the least.

The lobbying bill, now meeting stiff opposition in the Lords, was a bolt from the blue that seemed to disorient charity leaders before they united behind a joint response; and some commentators have discerned dwindling support for the sector from the Charity Commission because of recent remarks by its chair, William Shawcross, about the bill, donations to Syria and chief executive pay.

It's likely to get worse before it gets better. The government seems determined to push the lobbying bill through without further amendment to the key provisions, despite widespread agreement that it is so ill-conceived and unconsulted-on that it amounts to an abuse of parliamentary process. If it does go through, the pressure will be on the Electoral Commission to produce guidance, and on charities individually and collectively to work out before the 2015 election how to deal with the new restrictions.

As to regulation, there will be more tremors next month when the National Audit Office produces the report requested by the Public Accounts Committee of MPs when it roasted the commission over the Cup Trust earlier in the year. The NAO is not renowned for giving public bodies an easy ride and the commission's recent record gives it plenty to chew on.

But while the big picture remains uncertain and rather gloomy, there are still advances. Whatever one makes of Shawcross's fringe interventions, there is widespread support for the commission's renewed determination to sharpen up its regulatory activity and come down harder on wrongdoing. It has also decided to scrap the summary information return and show whether charities pay trustees and are members of the FRSB - all good moves.

Another welcome development is the launch last week of the new Association of Chairs. The commission and the courts have been emphasising the responsibilities of trustees and chairs in particular, and the association's plans for research, a set of standards and networking events all bode well for more responsive and effective governance.

- See our Big Issue on the lobbying bill

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