Mark Flannagan: The new Charity Commission board appointments are disappointing

Instead of bringing in at least one person with deep and profound knowledge of the sector, the regulator has turned again to the establishment, writes the CEO

Mark Flannagan
Mark Flannagan

The government has appointed three new Charity Commission board members. Now, I am sure that each is a fit and proper person with lots of experience to bring, but why are none of them serving charity professionals? In fact, why do the latest appointees look like they are members of the "establishment". 

Before I continue, I should declare an interest. I applied to be a board member at the commission. I did so after the chief executive of the commission urged me and other charity chief executives to consider applying. Our experience was just what the board needed, she said, and there would be no conflict of interest because we would bring a valuable perspective that could only enhance the commission’s deliberations. 

I hoped I wasn’t the only charity chief executive to apply. Indeed, I encouraged others to do so. I was not selected, even for the long-list interview. I wasn’t bothered: our sector is full of people who would, I anticipated, make brilliant new board members. 

I am not particularly happy now because our sector experience does not appear to have been seen as relevant for the board, leaving us with no serving charity executive on the commission’s board.

This year, we have been through a profound shock in politics. Voters apparently turned against what they perceived as the establishment and voted to leave the EU. This was a significant signal of distrust of the so-called "elite", which had been advising them against voting for Brexit.

The charity sector has also been shocked by questions about our honesty and integrity. I have argued that we must, as a sector, listen to the voices of such disaffected individuals, and we must not appear to be part of the establishment.

I have also strongly argued that the Charity Commission is not our friend, but our regulator. It has a duty to take a highly critical approach when it sees the need. 

I had hoped that it had itself recognised the need to have on its board at least one individual who could tell it like it is about charities in this country. By that I don’t mean defending but, from significant experience, challenging some of the myths about our operations; someone who is prepared to tell a lot of truths – warts and all – informed by a career in our sector. This could only have improved the board’s discussions.

It is profoundly disappointing that the government has not taken this opportunity to put a charity leader on the Charity Commission board. Instead, at first sight at least, it is a case of the usual, well-connected people being appointed. This does not give me much faith or even hope that the commission will take a tough but realistic approach based on real experience of what is actually happening day to day within charities.

Our sector delivers a better society. We enrich the lives of millions of people and change the world every day. Those who work within it are diverse, talented and dedicated. The vast majority can be relied upon to take an honest view about how to "fix" our sector. It is galling that our own regulatory body does not see fit to have on its governing board at least one person who actually works in our sector, and who would bring a unique perspective.

Mark Flannagan (@MarkFlannCEO) is chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer

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