We'd need more resources to encourage mergers, says regulator's policy director

The Charity Commission's Sarah Atkinson tells an event that if the regulator had the resources of ten years ago it would be better placed

Sarah Atkinson
Sarah Atkinson

The Charity Commission would play a more active role in encouraging charities to merge if it had more resources, according to Sarah Atkinson, the regulator’s director of policy, planning and communications.

Speaking last night at the launch event for the think tank NPC’s report on mergers in the charity sector, Atkinson said that although the commission had the data capability to encourage more mergers in the charity sector, it did not have the resources to take a more active role.

"If we had the resources we had 10 years ago and the data capability we have now, we would have a lot of tools at our disposal to share with others in the sector," she said.

The NPC report, Let’s Talk Mission and Merger, calls on the Charity Commission to force trustees to consider mergers more seriously.

But the Charity Commission’s annual funding from central government has been reduced by £8m since 2010 to £20.3m, although it recently received £5m in interim funding to deal with significant increases in demand on its core regulatory functions.

The commission has repeatedly pressed for more resources and has proposed introducing a levy paid by the largest charities to provide a further £7.5m for the regulator’s engagement work.

A new strategy for the commission is expected to be completed later this year, and any consultation on a levy will be postponed until after that strategy is published, Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission, told the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ annual conference earlier this week.

Atkinson also told yesterday’s event that it would be difficult to force boards to have productive conversations about mergers if they did not wish to, and questioned whether forcing boards to have these conversations would lead to a "profound strategic discussion" on the issue.

She added that having more diverse boards might lead to mergers being discussed more frequently, because they would bring different perspectives and greater loyalty to a charity’s cause rather than the organisation itself.

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