NACVS backs dual role regulator

Small local charities are keen for the Charity Commission to retain its advice-giving role but would like to see the quality of the advice improved.

These are the conclusions of a member survey conducted by the National Association of Councils of Voluntary Service, contained in a written submission to the Joint Committee scrutinising the draft Charities Bill.

The message conflicts with the position of the NCVO, which argues that the regulatory and advice-giving roles of the commission are incompatible.

Kevin Curley, chief executive of the NACVS, said local organisations did not have a problem with the commission's dual role.

"They are able to present hypothetical situations to the commission without saying which groups they are talking about, without putting anyone at risk," he told Third Sector.

The NACVS wrote to more than 300 member councils of voluntary service across England asking for views about the commission's advisory role.

Some 87 per cent said they valued it, while 13 per cent said they did not.

But the proportion saying the commission provided consistently good advice was 65 per cent, with one-third saying the advice was variable or poor.

The submission to the committee contains sample responses from councils of voluntary service.

Runnymede Association of Voluntary Service said: "In general terms, I have found the commission helpful when telephoning for quick guidance when there is no time to wade through documents.

"It was particularly helpful when we were seeking guidance on the accounting requirements for charities according to their level of income."

Voluntary Action Kirklees said: "Our CVS development worker uses it regularly for advice about groups he is supporting and usually gets positive support."

But Warwick District Council of Voluntary Service said: "The commission gave us poor advice which caused a great deal of extra time and trouble."

Stevenage CVS said it thought the commission had a shortage of trained staff: "At one local commission surgery a couple of years ago, it sent new recruits who were unable to answer even the most basic questions."

The submission concludes that it hopes the joint committee will support its call for the Bill to reinforce the Charity Commission's general advisory role.

It adds that it would be pleased to work with the commission to improve the quality of its advice to local charities.

Research shows that the average CVS has more than 150 members, and is in contact with more than 400 local organisations.

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