I've spent my first year in charge fighting fires, says William Shawcross

Charity Commission chair tells meeting of parliamentarians and sector representatives that he hopes the regulator can stop the fires breaking out this year

William Shawcross
William Shawcross

William Shawcross has said that his first year as chair of the Charity Commission was spent "fire-fighting".

Speaking to parliamentarians and sector representatives at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering in the House of Commons yesterday, he said his first year in the job, having been appointed in October 2012, had "been a very full year".

Shawcross told the APPG: "My first year was a lot of fire-fighting. I hope this year will be less of that and we will be able to prevent fires breaking out in the first place."

He said that the biggest issues the commission faced in 2013 included the tax-avoidance vehicle the Cup Trust and the application for charitable status by the Plymouth Brethren group the Preston Down Trust. He also mentioned the damning report on the commission by the National Audit Office and the lobbying bill.

Shawcross explained why the commission wrote to peers to raise concerns about an amendment that would have given charities an exemption from measures in the lobbying bill.

Two sector bodies criticised the commission for writing the letter, which said that the amendment would have created difficulties for the regulator.

Shawcross said the commission initially "took the position that it was not for us to get closely involved", but it thought Lord Phillips’s amendment to remove charities from it "was a mistake". He said that if the amendment, which was subsequently withdrawn, had gone through "it would have been very difficult for us", but said: "That's not really up to us; that's the decision of parliament."

He raised concerns about how budgetary pressures could affect the regulator’s work. "I don’t intend to whinge about money," said Shawcross, "but we’ve got to lose 25 staff this year, and there are certain things we will not be able to carry out so swiftly."

He also repeated a suggestion for the commission’s register to indicate when a charity is heavily reliant on public money.

Baroness Jill Pitkeathley, chairing the meeting, said she had sympathy for Shawcross. She said she was sure that many of those present "have felt for you and your commission in this difficult year".

But Shawcross later questioned whether it had been a difficult year for the sector as a whole. Responding to a question about threats to the sector outlined in the latest Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector from Karl Wilding, director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, he asked Wilding: "Do you really think it’s been a difficult year?"

Wilding said he thought it had been.

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