He was speaking at the Charity Commission’s annual public meeting in London yesterday in a debate on whether charities deserve the public trust they enjoy.
He talked about a new strategy paper by his organisation, Building trust and confidence in charities: what should the sector do and what should charities do. It calls for a sector-wide steering group, led by the commission and made up of 10 or 12 organisations, that could "take the lead in coordinating the activities and work needed to keep trust in charities high".
Saxton said that while charities largely deserved public confidence, there was no clear strategy on how to maintain it. "The Charity Commission needs to work harder in fulfilling its statutory role in building trust and confidence in charity," he said."To that end, we need a strategy that does that: at the moment, it’s not clear who is doing what to build and maintain trust."
The strategy paper says the sector needs to tackle "pinch points" that are likely to undermine trust in charities, such as perceived high salaries in charities and concerns over the level of administration costs. These are "known irritants to the public", it says, "but no effective action has been developed to explain and justify them".
"There is considerable merit in looking at some kind of grading system to turn complex accounts into easy-to-understand metrics that the public can grasp," it says. "Up to now, the sector’s response to low levels of public understanding in how modern charities work is to keep its head down and hope for the best. This is how problems build up."
Saxton said that the commission needed to raise awareness of its role as a charity regulator among the public. The regulator also needs to make it easier for the public to access information on charities, he said.
Sam Younger, chief executive of the Charity Commission, told the audience earlier that increasing and maintaining public trust in charities remains a key priority for itself and the sector. He said that improving accountability was a key part of this, and that the commission was determined to make information it received from charities more accessible to the public.
Younger said the commission had begun to take a proactive approach to charity compliance, attempting to prevent problems from occurring in the first place: "Now we’re moving towards spot-checking accounts, whether targeted or random: this is partly to say to charities that they cannot be sure their accounts will not be scrutinised," he said.