Editorial: A sea change on the regulator's board

The Charity Commission's new board has some bias towards law enforcement, the private sector and Conservative politics, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

In two months from now, all six members of the Charity Commission board will have been replaced, and a glance at the new appointments shows that a sea change is taking place.

We are clearly coming to the end of a period, which began in 2004 with the appointment of Geraldine Peacock as chair and Andrew Hind as chief executive, when experience in the sector was at a premium and the commission tried to combine being enabler and regulator.

The new board has, collectively, comparatively little inside experience of the sector and some bias towards law enforcement, the private sector and Conservative politics; and it is working to a brief of focusing on the regulatory role.

If the change leads to firmer action on cases such as the Cup Trust and African Aids Action, all well and good. There is a feeling that the commission has sometimes been too tolerant and that its legalistic mindset has blunted its capacity to see the wider picture and intervene decisively.

The concern is that the balance could swing too far the other way and that blunt, uncomprehending enforcement takes over. A tougher approach to the exploitation of charitable status is clearly necessary, but the commission needs to work with the grain of the sector and avoid crushing the voluntary spirit that sustains most of the charity world.

The role of the board is, of course, to set a strategy rather than manage, and it will be a while before any movement is felt. One question for the new board is whether it will take on the difficult task of changing the ingrained culture of the organisation that many feel to be embodied in some of the long-standing senior management.

Meanwhile, the backwoodsmen who are currently on the march against charities that campaign and challenge vested interests will probably look at the new board and rub their hands. But the appointees must resist any form of co-option and defend the all-important independence of charities and their right to campaign for their legitimate charitable objects.

- Read our analysis on the new board members

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