OPINION: Open Commission roles to all

LISA HARKER, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

Becoming a charity commissioner is not your run-of-the-mill career aspiration. But the fact that several hundred people have enquired about a recently advertised post reflects the importance that is now attached to this role.

The Charity Commission is no longer perceived as a stuffy bureaucracy policing the integrity of charitable activity. It has started the transformation to becoming a dynamic state-of-the-art regulatory body.

The commissioner post will become vacant when Julia Unwin's five-year term comes to an end in the first half of next year. Had I applied, I fear my application would have been rejected on many grounds. But I hope my gender, or the fact that my existing day job is in a charity, would have been viewed positively by the selectors. Since women make up two-thirds of the sector's workforce and men hold three of the four commissioner posts, you would hope that the panel is minded to appoint a woman.

Charities are experiencing rapid change as the relationship between the sector and the state is redefined, as the social enterprise sector grows and as the public desire for scrutiny of charitable activity increases.

Commissioners will be under increasing pressure, not only to keep up with these changes, but in many ways to keep ahead of them. In the past there has been a tradition of appointing commissioners who are in the swan song of their careers, retired from day-to-day work in the sector.

Yet as the pace of change quickens, the generational differences in the charity world grow wider. There is now a strong case for commissioners to have first-hand knowledge of today's charity sector.

As a two day a week post, it would be possible for someone working part-time in the sector to fulfil the role of commissioner. Inevitably there will be worries about any possible conflict of interest. But Julia Unwin has shown it is possible to combine a job in the sector with the commissioner role and the benefits of being able to do so speak for themselves.

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