Regulator's chair 'heartened' by charity leaders' reception of new strategy

Baroness Stowell tells Navca conference that some leaders say they've recognised the disconnect between them and the communities they serve

Baroness Stowell
Baroness Stowell

The chair of the Charity Commission has said she has been pleased by the number of charity sector leaders who have welcomed the commission’s new strategic approach.

Speaking at the annual conference of the local infrastructure body Navca on Friday, Baroness Stowell said: "I have been really heartened by the number of leaders in the sector who say they welcome the commission’s new approach and that they’ve recognised that disconnect between them or their peers and the communities they serve."

In October, the commission launched its new strategic approach, which includes raising levels of public trust in charities. However, the commission’s focus on improving public trust has been heavily criticised by some voluntary sector representative organisations.

Writing in the latest issue of Third Sector magazine, Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, said she was frustrated by the commission’s "persistently negative narrative about public trust and confidence", adding that "basing policy or messaging primarily on people’s opinions is, in my view, weak science".

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group, said in October that she wondered if the Charity Commission might have given "public trust and confidence in the sector too much focus".

Baroness Stowell did not elaborate during her speech about which sector leaders had said they supported her approach.

She said the recent Civil Society Futures inquiry, chaired by Julia Unwin, echoed some of the commission’s findings "namely that change is needed if civil society is to reach its potential and counter the forces of division and disaffection".

She also acknowledged the role of smaller charities and community groups. She said: "I am convinced that your leadership and your influence is every bit as important as that of chief executives of London-based charitable institutions.

"Working behind the scenes in your local communities, you can have an enormous impact on helping charities develop and grow in such a way as to inspire public trust and respect."

Stowell added: "Now, I don’t live in cloud cuckoo land. I know you don’t have spare time and resources to develop grand plans and initiate new projects.

"I realise that financial worries, worries about demand and how your local voluntary sector can possibly meet that demand with the resources available to them are what keep you awake at night."

She said that the commission could not resolve those issues, but added: "What I can do is help to ensure the commission meets its purpose and supports you in making small changes that amount to a big difference."

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