The year in governance: 2010

Third Sector reporter Kaye Wiggins reviews the main developments of the past twelve months

2010 was a difficult year for the Charity Commission. In October it was announced that the commission’s budget would fall by more than a quarter over four years. The following month, its chief executive, Sam Younger, said all of its staff had been offered voluntary redundancy. Later in November the Public and Commercial Services Union warned that the cuts could lead to an increase in charity fraud.

In September the Attorney General referred the commission’s public benefit guidance for independent schools to the Upper Tribunal (Tax and Chancery), which will determine whether the guidance is in line with the law. In October the Independent Schools Council won the right to a judicial review of the guidance.

In November Alison McKenna, the principal judge of the charity tribunal, criticised the commission for shifting towards "light touch" regulation by using regulatory case reports rather than statutory inquiries. The shift had made the commission less accountable by making it more difficult for charities to challenge its decisions in the charity tribunal, she said.

The Charity Commission published the result of its long-running inquiry into the charity African Aids Action in August. The report criticised the charity for using charitable funds to pay a string of personal expenses, including more than £800 on clothing and a trip on the London Eye. In March Third Sector had received a leaked copy of a draft of the report, which criticised the charity in much stronger terms than the final version.

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland appointed its first chief executive, Frances McCandless, in February. But its set-up was delayed when the 2008 Northern Ireland Charities Act had to be partially rewritten because it contained a hybrid of English and Welsh, and Scottish, law. This month a new version, which omitted the Scottish provisions, was put before the Northern Ireland Executive.

In October Catholic Care, a social care charity that had been refused permission by the Charity Commission to restrict its adoption service to heterosexual couples, lodged an appeal with the charity tribunal about the commission’s decision.

In the build-up to the general election in May, complaints were made about 16 charities taking part in party political activity. Tomorrow’s People, Atlantic Bridge, and the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative were all warned by the Charity Commission not to engage in party political activities.

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