High pay among the issues undermining charity, warns academic Gareth Morgan

In a lecture to mark the end of his seven years as professor of charity studies at Sheffield Hallam University, Morgan says other threats include attitudes to the regulator, terrorism and globalisation

Gareth Morgan
Gareth Morgan

Failure to address high staff pay is among the issues that could spell the end of the charity sector, Professor Gareth Morgan of Sheffield Hallam University has warned.

In a lecture called "The End of Charity?", which he gave last night to mark the end of his seven-year tenure as professor of charity studies at the university, Morgan outlined the threats he said the sector should deal with if it was to survive.

Key among them, he said, were high pay and the funding of and the sector’s attitude to the Charity Commission, but he also highlighted confusion over the regulation of exempted charities such as academy schools, terrorism fears and globalisation as potential risks.

"‘Charity’ – at least in the structured sense of charitable organisations – faces an extraordinary combination of threats at this time," he said.

"Unless these threats are successfully addressed (which will by no means be easy) we really will face – at least in England and Wales – an end to ‘charity’ in the sense we have known it for most of my life."

He acknowledged that many of the problems charities faced were beyond their direct control, but said pay was not one of them and the issue had damaged charities in the public eye and remained a cause for concern.

The problem was not restricted to senior staff – charities needed to look at the sums paid out to "consultants, subcontractors and all kinds of people receiving payment to support the work of charities", he said.

Morgan singled out universities on the issue of pay, saying that, as charities, they in particular needed to look carefully at the issue.

"In charities of all sizes, many trustees have not, in my experience, grasped the fact that the charity exists for the sake of the beneficiaries, not the staff," he said.

"If this view prevails in the long term, the real purpose of the charity can be totally subverted, and the result is the end of charity."

He also called on the media and the government to drop what he called their "hostile" attitude to the Charity Commission, saying it threatened to "inadvertently undermine" its work.

"I am concerned that the Charity Commission itself is increasingly becoming used as the focus of criticism for everything that is wrong about charities," Morgan said.

He added that those who wanted to complain about how it worked should make it clear that they were not criticising its fundamental role.

"The sector needs to stand up clearly and enthusiastically for the commission’s role and encourage parliamentarians to do the same," he said.

The commission was also drastically under-resourced, he warned, saying cuts made since 2008 to the settlement the commission receives from the Treasury had had a "devastating effect" on its ability to deliver key regulatory activities.

"Charities must be prepared to pay something towards the costs of their own regulation, so long as this is clearly additional to the Treasury funding, not a replacement," said Morgan.

If the commission was not properly resourced, he said, charitable status would become "nonsensical".

Despite his predictions and concerns, he concluded that the sector could begin to address them all if it remembered its true purpose of public benefit.

"If that is our focus, both in our fundraising and in our operational work, and if that can be the focus of charity regulation, then we cannot go astray," he said.

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