The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has backed a proposal by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator to publish charities’ accounts on its website, but says it sees "little benefit" in the proposal that the website should also publish the names of charities’ trustees.
The umbrella body has submitted its response to the OSCR’s 13-question consultation Targeted Regulation of Scottish Charities, which closes today.
Unlike the Charity Commission, the OSCR does not at present make accounts submitted to it available online, although individual charities are legally obliged to provide their latest accounts to the public on request.
On whether the OSCR should follow the commission’s lead, the SCVO said: "We support the publication of accounts for all charities. This will improve transparency, reduce the burden on charities, and aid research."
But the umbrella body disagreed with the suggestion that the OSCR would remove the names of independent examiners or auditors from these accounts for reasons of data protection. The SCVO did, however, agree that it was right to remove details of charity trustees.
The regulator also proposed to develop a database of charity trustees to allow it to scrutinise charities better and contact them more easily. The SCVO agreed that the database could be useful, but said it could be expensive to construct. It also said that if names were published online, it might deter would-be trustees from taking up posts. "We support the principle of openness and transparency for charity trustees, but see little benefit to be gained by the publication of trustees’ names on the charity register," it said.
Various additional questions to be added to Scottish charities’ annual returns were proposed. All charities would be asked for trustees’ contact details, and whether they received any money from investments.
Charities with annual incomes of more than £25,000 would be asked new questions including when a charity’s trustees last reviewed its governing document; how many meetings the trustees have a year; and whether they have various financial and trustee training procedures in place.
The SCVO said that the proposed new questions were generally straightforward, but questioned their purpose. It said: "The purpose of OSCR collecting this information and how it will use the data are unclear. We question how gathering this data will improve the public accountability and transparency of charities."
The introduction of a serious incident reporting system is supported by the SCVO, although the organisation says it has some concerns around how this work.
The Scottish law firm Turcan Connell said in its response that it supported the proposal of publishing accounts online and the creation of an SIR regime, but said the OSCR should create guidelines on what constituted a serious incident.
Turcan Connell also said it was concerned about the new annual return questions, in particular those about reviewing governing documents and the frequency of trustee meetings, as it was not clear exactly what OSCR hoped to achieve from the answers provided. "It would be unfair of OSCR to draw a negative inference from a statement that the last review was several years ago," it said, noting that there was no legal duty to regularly review constitutions.
The firm also said many charities "can operate very effectively on a single meeting of the charity trustees per year", while others conduct trustee business entirely by email or other means.