OPINION: Hot Issue - Should councils be given the power to check admin costs?

The Local Government Ombudsman last week wrote to Home Secretary David Blunkett to ask for clarification on local authorities' powers to investigate charities which apply for street collection licences. The move follows Portsmouth City Council refusing a cancer charity a licence because of high admin costs

Andrew Watt, head of policy, the Institute of Fundraising - NO

Charities are already obliged to submit information on those costs to the Charity Commission in their annual report and accounts. Granting local councils this power would lead to a double reporting requirement, which is clearly a waste of charitable resources.

If councils are not satisfied with the existing quality of information available, then the answer is not to grant more power to more bodies, but to strengthen the Commission's requirements. Councils should have confidence in the information already available and this is the real issue.

The institute would recommend that the Commission be more robust in its requirements so that the information available to the public and the councils is reliable enough.

Andrew Nebel, Barnardo's, UK director of marketing - NO

Had the question been "should there be a single regulatory authority for ensuring that all field marketing in public places is managed responsibly?", my answer would be yes.

Street fundraising is regulated by the outmoded Street Collections Act 1916, which applies only to cash collections and therefore recruiting donations through standing orders and direct debits is outside the confines of the act.

The sector has demonstrated its maturity and social responsibility by voluntarily creating the PRFA and ensuring that an anarchic charity fundraising situation does not develop on our streets. Other trade bodies have been much slower at regulating their own field marketing.

What is needed is a single regulatory authority that can work across all categories of street-based field marketing. There is a huge variation in the approach taken by local authorities throughout the country from one authority to the other, and for this reason there should be a single national body.

Until such time as a well managed, objective single national regulatory authority can be created, the PRFA should be allowed to continue it's highly responsible approach to regulating charity-based street collections.

Martin Gomez, national co-ordinator, Caring Cancer Trust - YES

Councils must protect the public within the law. However, unlawful selection of one set of criteria is not the way to do it. Should a council give permits to a charity with more than £500 million in the bank, or another with many years of capital or another that has lost £20 million on the stock market?

If councils want their street collection regulations to include a clause that allows them to take into account administration figures of a charity, then they should apply to the Secretary of State for authorisation.

Portsmouth did not and it was found guilty of maladministration.

The Charity Commission has supported Portsmouth Council in its requirement that all trustees submit to police checks and for them to agree to disclosure of "all spent convictions". Since the Comm-ission is above the law, such assertions go unchallenged.

However, that's not what the High Court, the House of Lords and the Ombudsman think. The latter sums it up "local authorities must act within the law as it is, not as they or the Commission would like it to be".

Simon Gillespie, director of operations, Charity Commission - YES

The decision by the Local Government Ombudsman is wrong in law and councils already have this power.

Portsmouth City Council took its responsibility to its public seriously and we applaud it for this. We encourage and support councils in making appropriate checks to determine whether or not to grant a collection permit.

If councils are not able to check how effectively the charity will use the money collected, how can the public be reassured that their money will be properly spent?

Millions of people across the UK who give to charities in public collections need to have confidence that a permit means the charity is well-run and those handling the cash are above board. Charities and collectors should have nothing to hide and be willing to provide the necessary information.

Rubber stamping licence applications without adequate checks is in no-one's interest, and holds the door open to inefficiency and criminal abuse.

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