Future of the Charity Commission in Question

In December 2013 Tom was asked by Third Sector magazine to comment on a highly critical report by the National Audit Office into the work of the Charity Commission. Here is his response:

We need a strong, effective and respected Charity Commission – which the National Audit Office says we have not got.

Regulating the affairs of 160,000 organisations is not easy and the demands made on the Commission are immense. Yet even back in 2006 they told government ‘We can’t deliver everything in the Charities Act with the resources available.’ This was before the 40 per cent cut in its budget.

The reputation of the most trusted sector of British society is at stake, a reputation already shaken by recent careless comments: the red herrings of charity chief executives’ pay and charitable funding of terrorism both came from the Commission.

We need a clear statement of what the Charity Commission thinks its priorities are and what its resources allow. If new resources and improved skill sets cannot be provided then others must take over some roles and some tasks must be publicly downgraded. The NAO recommendations on improving value for money are sensible.

The Cup Trust experience indicates that the Commission is ill-equipped to tackle large scale and deliberate campaigns to exploit charity law. Who can reassure us that no others are waiting to be discovered?

Some will say the Commission is no longer fit for purpose and question its future existence. They are wrong: we need a Commission and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Although much of its routine work was excluded from the scope of the NAO study this is their fifth critical analysis in 26 years. Of course it is difficult to justify spending more on regulation as front line services are cut. But unless the Commission is clear and realistic with both clients and paymasters then the ensuing confusion will damage all concerned.