The chief executive of the think tank NPC has reiterated calls for the creation of an independent Civil Society Improvement Agency to help drive improvement across the charity sector.
In a paper called Being Better – Doing Better, published yesterday, Dan Corry says that improving civil society should be a priority and the sector should be encouraged to strive to be better.
"We clearly do not want some kind of top-down target or inspection-driven approach," the paper says. "We know that this has produced mixed results in the public sector and, in any case, is totally inappropriate in the voluntary sector.
"But we do believe there is a ‘halfway house’, where the sector takes more collective responsibility and challenges itself to improve, to learn and to innovate to be the best that it can be.
"This needs to go beyond rallying cries for better behaviours, important though these are for inspiring action and clearing some space for action."
Corry says the Charity Commission should not be tasked with performing the role of the proposed new body, because the role of supporting and helping the sector to improve "should not be confused with the task of effective regulation".
He says it would be "a very big challenge and a stretch" for umbrella bodies to take on this role, given that their "lack of independence will make them pull their punches, and their remit naturally focuses on those who pay their membership fees".
The paper says a Civil Society Improvement Agency should be set up to support improvement and share best practice through research and training courses, and it should be sufficiently independent of the charity sector.
The agency would also support "peer reviews" of charities, whereby executives and trustees for other charities visit an organisation and provide feedback on their work, Corry says in the paper.
Funding could be provided by both the government and the sector, the paper says, or it could be entirely self-funded.
Umbrella bodies could be represented in the agency, the paper says, but with mostly independent governance and led by someone with "cross-sector credibility, including from charities, funders, infrastructure bodies or organisations representing beneficiaries".
Corry previously raised the idea of a Civil Society Improvement Agency at NPC’s annual conference last year, where he said that such an agency would act as "an instigator, a depository of knowledge and an advocate for change".
Corry’s paper suggests the Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government was an example of how a similar body had flourished in a public sector context.