Lord Phillips warns against minister becoming regulator of education charities

Charity lawyer says the proposal threatens charities' independence and would involve conflicts of interests

Lord Phillips
Lord Phillips

Proposals before parliament to make the education secretary the principal regulator of many education charities could threaten their independence, the charity lawyer Lord Phillips of Sudbury has warned.

A new statutory instrument proposed by the government would render academies, sixth-form colleges and foundation and voluntary schools exempt charities under the regulation of the Department for Education, from 1 August this year.

It forms part of a wider movement to ensure that charities outside the supervision of the Charity Commission have their own principal regulator.

In a House of Lords committee hearing on the proposed instrument, Phillips said there was "growing anxiety" in the charity sector about the preservation of its independence.

He said having a minister as a charity regulator would inevitably "involve conflicts of interest" in the management of the charities concerned.

He said that whoever was in government would have their own opinions about how education should be conducted, and that the department might find it difficult to remain an impartial regulator.

The NCVO president, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, told the committee he was concerned that the Department for Education lacked sufficient knowledge of charity law to be an effective regulator.

After the debate, government whip Baroness Verma wrote to both peers to say that if there were a conflict of interest in the role of the education secretary, it could be managed with the help of the Charity Commission.

She said the commission could also advise the Department for Education on technical issues regarding public benefit or trustee responsibilities.

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