Interview: David Robb

The new chief executive of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator says he has a fresh approach

David Robb
David Robb

David Robb's 20-year civil service career has been a varied one, including a stint in the Scottish Highlands to set up the Cairngorms Partnership and, most recently, taking charge of public service reform and efficiency for the Scottish Government. Now he is excited about his latest move to the world of charity regulation.

"It will be good to have a break from the distractions inside central government," he says. "That political froth is stimulating and rewarding, but you can sometimes find yourself being blown about by the political wind.

"In a body such as the OSCR, you are a step removed. You get a chance to work with a board that sets an agenda and you can stick with that, which is something I'm looking forward to."

Robb started work at the OSCR in October and hopes the new job will allow him to work closely with members of the public and with charities.

"Sometimes in central government you can feel a long way from the public," he says. "I find that my motivation comes from engaging with the people who are using your services."

The idea is central to Robb's vision of how the OSCR should work. "There are all sorts of jargon-like words for the way I think things should be," he says. "You could call it user-focused or customer-centred - but, basically, things should work well from the outside in, not from the inside out.

"Inside the public sector, it is too easy to forget about the impact of your activities on the public. My priority at the OSCR is to make sure that what we do feels right and proportionate for the public and for charities themselves."

Robb acknowledges that he does not have a "solid CV from the charity sector" and says some people might question why he was chosen for the role. But he believes the fresh approach he brings could be a strength.

"The perspective I bring is that of the public, the end user," he says. "If charities and the public think we are not easy to deal with or that our guidance is impenetrable, I want to do something about that."

Like most public bodies, the OSCR is facing a significant budget reduction - it is expecting a cut of 8 or 9 per cent - but Robb is not daunted by the prospect of taking the helm at such a time.

"From my efficiency work in the Scottish government, I am well used to having to make sure the quality of services is sustained against declining levels of funding. It's about everybody having to work a little harder. There will be some of that here."

Robb says it is vital that funding cuts do not affect the way the OSCR regulates charities.

"You can picture a situation where it is tempting to cut back on investigations work because resources are limited, and I hope we never get there," he says. "Our decision about whether to investigate a charity should never be based on our resources."

The OSCR will not follow the Charity Commission and carry out a fundamental restructure, he says. "That wouldn't be appropriate for the OSCR," he says. "We are too newly established to be going back to square one."

In fact, he thinks the Charity Commission's restructure could leave it operating in a similar way to the OSCR.

"The commission is cutting back on one-to-one advice, and that is not something we've ever majored on," he says. "It is also working more through intermediaries such as lawyers, accountants and umbrella bodies, and that has always been the OSCR's way of reaching charities and influencing practice.

"It may be that where the commission ends up is not too dissimilar to where we are now."

Robb's appointment comes only seven months after the regulator's new chair, the Very Reverend Dr Graham Forbes, took up his role. Robb downplays suggestions, though, that the double change at the top will result in an overhaul of the OSCR's work.

"I don't think either Graham or I would want to send out the message that people should brace themselves for radical change," he says.

"I'm certainly not coming in with the intention of turning things upside down, because the OSCR is held in good standing and I don't want to put that in jeopardy.

"But five years into the OSCR's existence, it is probably time to take stock and to see whether we're getting it right."

CV

2010: Head of public services reform and efficiency, Scottish government

2007: Director of policy and development, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

2006: Head of performance and improvement division, Scottish Executive

2004: Head of public bodies and relocation division, Public Service Reform Group

2002: Head of the national workforce unit, Department of Health.

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