OPINION: The future is a framework for self regulation

Geraldine Peacock, a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner

"For what is man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught, To say the things he truly feels ..." Frank Sinatra's My Way ran through my head during the summing up at a joint Audit Commission and Charity Commission Conference on Good Governance last week. It seemed to have a relevance, as did Alfred Tennyson's "Self reverence, self-knowledge, self control, these three alone lead life to sovereign power."

What they relate to is that good self-regulation is a key part of good governance and that, in turn, leads to good quality services. And well run organisations.

The keynote speakers all emphasised that with the burgeoning not-for-profit sector comes the need for a clearer, simpler, accessible framework for strategic regulation - less is more. The Commission is beginning to focus its attention on the larger, more complex organisations, while finding ways to move all charities towards peer review and self-evaluation.

There is growing evidence that where there are charities that share 'communities of interest' they are beginning to work together to provide peer support and monitoring. Such schemes also have high levels of user involvement because charities are born out of spontaneous civil engagement.

Both the Audit and Charity Commissions believe in clear frameworks for regulation, set at a strategic level, to focus on outcomes. It is more important to know what impact we make on society than just noting on what we have spent our money.

But, just as there are too many charities, we are in danger of an excess of regulators. We should avoid duplication of regulatory activity, acknowledge things as read if others are already monitoring them, and form strategic alliances between regulators.

Now is the time when, with the legislative framework for the sector, the role of the Charity Commission and other related agencies changing, we should look to capitalise on our assets and experience - the sector's unique characteristic is its natural inclination to be open and honest.

Good regulation earns trust, autonomy and respect. It builds public confidence.

It is part of a culture change which highlights that the not-for-profit sector is at the very heart of civil society and can lead the way. Our time has come!

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