Minister moots idea of an aid sector watchdog

Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, will discuss the suggestion with aid charities and the Charity Commission today

Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary
Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary

Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, will discuss the possibility of creating an aid sector watchdog with the Charity Commission and representatives from aid charities at a safeguarding summit today.  

In her speech opening the summit this morning, Mordaunt also said that the Department for International Development would be introducing new standards that all aid organisations would have to comply with in order to receive government funds.

The summit was called after accusations of sexual misconduct at Oxfam and a number of other large aid organisations.

In a statement made before the summit, Mordaunt said it was "a crucial moment to learn lessons from the past and drive up standards across the sector".

A statement from DfID said some of the ideas to be discussed at the summit included creating an independent body to promote external scrutiny of the sector, introducing new vetting and referencing standards, and ensuring whistleblowers and survivors of exploitation get the necessary counselling and support.

Delegates will also discuss how to change organisational culture to tackle power imbalances, encourage reporting, take allegations seriously and hold people to account, the statement said.

The charities and NGOs in attendance will also sign a joint statement setting out the key principles they will adhere to, and agree a set of practical actions to take forward, the statement said.

In her speech, Mordaunt said: "From today, DfID will put in place new, enhanced and specific safeguarding standards for the organisations we work with.

"These standards will include an assessment of codes of conduct, how organisations identify and respond to incidents, and how their risk management places safeguarding and beneficiaries at the very core."

She said the new standards would be "world-leading, tough and exacting".

"Organisations should not bid for new funding unless they are prepared to meet these tough new standards," she said.

"We will not approve funds to them unless they pass our new standards."

The new standards would also apply to organisations with which DfID was already working and would apply to large and small charities alike, she said.

When the news of the Oxfam scandal broke in mid-February, Mordaunt wrote to all UK aid charities asking for details of their safeguarding policies and guarantees that they had reported all safeguarding concerns to the relevant authorities.

In her speech she said all 179 organisations had given her statements of assurance, along with additional details on reporting and allegations. She said DfID was following up with 37 organisations "to gain further clarity" and would publish a summary of its analysis when it was finished.

"Across the returns, we saw important examples of good practice," she said. "But overall there was too little evidence in the areas of robust risk management, comprehensive reporting, responsibility being taken at the highest level for safeguarding and of beneficiaries always being put first."

Baroness Stowell, the new chair of the Charity Commission, also spoke at the summit, saying the commission had set up a special taskforce to look into safeguarding incidents that had led to the rate of reporting doubling.

She said: "This summit will be a failure in my eyes if one of the action points is ‘helping the public understand better what it is aid agencies and charities do’.

"The public don’t need to understand better. We need to show we understand what the public expects of us. Today marks the beginning of getting that right."

The commission will hold its own summit tomorrow, bringing together organisations that work in the UK.

Today’s summit comes as an investigation by BBC Radio's 5 Live Investigates programme revealed that 230 sexual misconduct allegations had been made against staff and volunteers in UK charity shops over the past five years. 

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