Shawcross accuses charities of making 'counter-productive' attacks on the regulator

The soon-to-depart chair of the Charity Commission has drawn ire from the sector after telling The Sunday Times charities have tried to thwart the regulator from doing its job

William Shawcross
William Shawcross

Charity umbrella bodies have criticised William Shawcross, the outgoing chair of the Charity Commission, after he accused them of acting like trade unions and launching "absurd and counter-productive" attacks on the regulator.

In an interview with The Sunday Times newspaper yesterday, Shawcross said charities had used "expensive lawyers to thwart us carrying out our statutory duties".

Referencing the recent safeguarding issues affecting the sector, he said: "I am disappointed also that some of the charities’ umbrella bodies see themselves as trades unions for their members, rather than encouraging their members to see that their conduct may sometimes be imperfect."

He added: "Some attacks on the commission from leaders of charities and umbrella groups are absurd and counter-productive."

Shawcross told the newspaper that some larger charities were very well-funded and "don’t hesitate... using expensive law firms to try to counter and stop the commission, I would say, doing its job properly".

Karl Wilding, policy director at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said Shawcross made a few useful points about charities.

"What a shame that at the same time he undermines the regulator he has led by accusing charities of not wanting to change, or of not working with the regulator he chaired," said Wilding.

"As over so much of his tenure, he's been guided more by saying something tough to the press than actually working constructively.

Wilding said the NCVO’s credibility was "built on our willingness to do what’s right, not what’s easy".

He said: "Far from a defensive approach, whether it’s on fundraising, pay transparency or governance, we have been at the forefront of challenging the status quo and raising standards. If Mr Shawcross hasn’t noticed this, he hasn’t been paying attention."

Vicky Browning, head of the charity chief executives body Acevo, said she was disappointed that Shawcross had chosen to describe the actions of umbrella bodies as "absurd and counter-productive".

She said: "We believe that good regulation is transparent, fair and enabling, and any interventions that we have with the commission are aimed at achieving these goals."

Shawcross, chair of the regulator for the past five years, is due to be replaced by the Conservative peer Tina Stowell, who will appear for a pre-appointment hearing before MPs on the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee tomorrow.

Shawcross said in the interview that, although charities were a "vital part of British life and we should all cherish them, that does not mean charities should be self-regarding and feel they are subject to lesser standards of behaviour than other organisations".

He said: "They cannot have a morally superior attitude because they are charities."

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