Mark Flannagan: The attitude that it's not fair if charities are 'attacked' is deeply frustrating

The Charity Commission is not our friend; it is the regulator working to fix the problems some charities have created for the rest of the sector

Mark Flannagan
Mark Flannagan

It is difficult to know whether to be annoyed or simply depressed about the Directory of Social Change’s attack on the Charity Commission. The standout opinion for me is the idea that the regulator has become overly concerned about public confidence. God forbid that the commission looks to public trust and confidence as a foundation stone of its work.

The attitude that it’s not fair if charities are "attacked", a word used frequently by those who don’t like any criticism, is deeply frustrating. Have we learned nothing from the scandals of recent years? The first response of charities in the spotlight was always defend first, understand later. Too often there was a high-handed corporatist response worthy of the most secretive state institutions.

As I have said many times before, the Charity Commission isn’t our friend; it is our regulator. It doesn’t have to ask if it’s ok with us before it takes a long hard look at charity practices and responds to public alarm about those practices.

Too many in the sector have a knee-jerk response to scrutiny and see it as, in the words of the DSC blog, "hectoring" or "moralising". This attitude is hardly a considered, adult response to a commission whose job is to fix the problems that some charities have created for the rest of the sector.

As to the idea of "trial by media", it was good old-fashioned investigative journalism that uncovered the dreadful and real scandal of abuse by Oxfam staff. Sadly, and typically, the first response of many in the sector at that time was to blame the messenger and to cry foul. Woe betide anyone who suggested that large, institutional charities can be as likely to contain appalling practices as any business or other complex organisation.

Yes, charities exist to do good, but it is perfectly ok not to simply assume that everything is rosy in the do-good garden. The commission deserves better than the DSC’s response.

Mark Flannagan (@MarkFlann) is a former charity chief executive who now works in the NHS

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