Editorial: Peacock leaves a void that an owl can fill

Stephen Cook, editor

When Geraldine Peacock took over as chair of the Charity Commission, it was like a breath of fresh air - some would say a powerful gust. It blew away the cobwebs, shook the place up and ruffled a few feathers.

Under the slogan 'Charity working at the heart of society', she went out and promoted her vision of a modern, enabling and innovative commission.

At the same time, her purposeful chief executive, Andrew Hind, began reorganising and rebalancing its structure, addressing the dissatisfactions of its 'customers' and creating a more outward-facing ethic.

The effect was that an organisation once seen as the graveyard of the civil service has perked up considerably and is becoming both effective and respected. But Peacock has decided to leave, partly for personal reasons and partly to allow her successor to be safely in office and ready to meet new challenges when the Charities Bill becomes law. Interviews of potential successors are currently taking place, and the Home Secretary will make a decision shortly, with final approval coming from the Prime Minister.

The instinctive reaction is to say "we must get someone like Peacock" - and, indeed, she has contributed to her successor's job description. But is that, on reflection, the best approach? For a start, there isn't anyone like Peacock - she's a remarkable one-off. Second, all organisations need constant readjustment of policies and priorities if they are to stay relevant and responsive to their stakeholders. In the case of the commission, what may be needed now is a period of consolidation and stock-taking, with permanent revolution put on hold.

Although most of the commission's new vision has gone down well, there has been some questioning of the role it has given itself of 'championing the work of the sector'. This treads on the toes of others and is potentially at odds with its primary purpose of efficient and effective regulation.

This is the area that may need further consideration to avert difficulties in the future.

In the past, the commission might have had too many ostriches; it's had a brilliant time with a peacock, but what it might need now is a wise owl.

John Profumo, who died last week, was an outstanding example of a life gone wrong, then redeemed through charitable work. Why don't more disgraced ministers follow his example?

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