'Would I do it again? Of course I would'

Andrew Hind leaves the Charity Commission next month after six eventful years. John Plummer finds him in bullish mood and Stephen Cook examines his record

Andrew Hind
Andrew Hind

Few periods of the Charity Commission's 157-year history can have been more turbulent and full of change than Andrew Hind's six-year term as chief executive, which ends next month.

The commission, regarded for much of the last century as a fusty outpost of the civil service, has changed its structure, adjusted to the 2006 Charities Act and endured political controversy over its assessment of the public benefit of fee-charging schools.

It has also absorbed severe budget cuts, which have led to job losses and strikes: it has 30 per cent fewer staff and 16 per cent less funding than when Hind joined.

But Hind has no regrets and says it has been a successful period. "If you ask anybody in or around the charity sector what they think of the commission, they would almost universally say it is now a force for good in helping us generate positive impact for our beneficiaries," he says. "I think that's as good as I could have hoped for."

He lists five major achievements during his tenure: creating a common mission; revolutionising customer service, largely by the creation of Charity Commission Direct; streamlining and improving compliance activities; better communication; and reducing the regulatory burden on charities.

Charity Commission Direct established a single point of contact for all enquiries. "It could take months to register a new charity," he says. "Now we do it in 28 days. If you wrote to our Liverpool office it might get dealt with in Taunton. Post got lost. There wasn't a sense of professional service."

He says the commission now talks "plain English" and that its revamped online register has raised standards by showing more financial detail about charities and using a red border to highlight those that have filed their accounts late.

"Charities weren't giving due attention to filing their accounts on time - the most simple discipline you would expect," he says.

Hind says public trust and confidence in charities has picked up since the commission first measured it in 2005. "And it has held steadily over the past two or three years despite the drop in trust and confidence we have seen in other areas of public life," says Hind.

One of the most striking changes is the reduction in the number of statutory inquiries: the commission opened 341 in 2004; so far this year it has published 10 statutory inquiry reports, preferring to make wider use of non-statutory powers.

Hind says the reduction is not driven by cost. "We are putting more investment and cost into inquiries where there are serious problems that warrant our attention," he says.

He cites the decline in funding as his biggest disappointment and warns: "Any more significant cuts would lead to a reduction in activities or services. If we are asked to absorb inflation we could do that, but anything remotely approaching the 25 to 30 per cent cuts that are being talked about across the public sector would fundamentally change the shape of the charity regulator."

Hind describes public benefit as "the other major disappointment" because of the preoccupation with independent schools.

"The whole debate has become far, far too polarised and we are in danger of losing sight of the big issue, which is that Parliament decided public benefit had to be demonstrated by all charities," he says. "To reduce this to a stand-off between schools and the commission is to completely miss the point."

His two new part-time jobs include membership of the government's taskforce to cut red tape. Does he feel worn down by the battles he's fought? "I don't think it's wearing, but inevitably it gets difficult to operate at the same level of energy. But would I do it again? Of course I would."

ANALYSIS: DID HE NOT DO WELL?

Management

There is widespread agreement that Hind, building on work done by former commission heads Richard Fries and John Stoker, has modernised the commission. Lawyers who say they used to get different answers from different offices agree that there is now a consistent response. The creation of a single inquiry point, Charity Commission Direct, has demonstrably improved customer service. Use of online technology is growing: the website and register of charities have both been improved and the 'red border' system has prompted more charities to file their accounts on time. Hind concentrated on internal strategy, while the chair, Dame Suzi Leather, had a more public-facing role.

Public benefit

The 2006 Charities Act required the commission to draw up guidance on how charities should fulfil a new requirement to demonstrate that they provide public benefit. Some lawyers think the guidance on fee-charging charities is inconsistent with case law, and conservative newspapers have accused the commission of pursuing a vendetta against private schools, pointing out that its chair, Dame Suzi Leather, is a member of the Labour Party. Hind has from time to time expressed his frustration with the media's treatment of her. The guidance is now set to be challenged in court proceedings brought by the Independent Schools Council.

Inquiries and regulation

Lawyers consider that Hind played a key part in introducing what the commission calls its "proportionate" approach to regulation. This has brought a dramatic reduction in what some of them believe was until recently an informal target of 230 statutory inquiries a year. In general, they approve of the greater use of 'regulatory inquiry reports' - informal investigations that may sometimes be published and cannot be appealed to the charity tribunal or courts because they do not involve the use of statutory powers. Hind is also credited with driving improvements to the commission's internal appeals process before the charity tribunal came into being two years ago.

Public trust and confidence

Surveys carried out by the commission show an appreciation of the improvements it has made to the way it works. Among respondents who deal with the commission, approval has grown. But overall awareness among the public of the commission has grown only from 46 per cent in 2005 to 54 and 53 per cent in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Once respondents are told what the commission does, however, more than 90 per cent say its role is important.

The mean score for public trust and confidence in charities, the increase of which became a statutory objective for the commission under the 2006 Charities Act, has increased from 6.3 to 6.6 out of 10. Within that figure, the percentage of respondents rating their trust as eight or above has grown from 31 in 2005 to 41 in 2010.

Conclusion

By common consent, Hind has rolled up his sleeves, engaged with the sector in an unstuffy, unbureaucratic way and played the key role in bringing the Charity Commission into the 21st century. His 'double act' with Dame Suzi Leather as chair is considered to have worked well.

He has made an excellent job of aspects of the commission's work that have come under his direct control - he has modernised it and made it more efficient, consistent and proactive in its dealings with customers.

Those aspects not under Hind's direct control - legal disputes over public benefit, the behaviour of the media and budget cuts, for example - have sometimes left him disappointed or exasperated.

His close knowledge of and dedication to the voluntary sector, and the wide respect he commands, mean he will be a hard act to follow.

Timeline

June 2004: Hind joins Charity Commission from BBC World Service

April 2005: Strategy launched for "charity at the heart of society"

May 2006: Launch of Charity Commission Direct - a single reception point for inquiries

August 2006: Dame Suzi Leather succeeds Geraldine Peacock as commission chair

April 2007: Commission given £1.2m for Faith and Social Cohesion Unit

August 2007: Commission receives £1m for anti-terrorism work

October 2007: Regulator's budget cut by 5 per cent a year in 2008-11 spending round

Jan and Dec 2008: Final versions issued of general and supplementary public benefit guidance

March 2008: Publication of revised guidance on campaigning

August 2008: Hind signs up for two more years

October 2008: Website introduces red borders around web pages of charities late in filing accounts

May 2010: 60 redundancies announced, bringing job losses to 178 in six years

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