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Governance, regulation and compliance

The Commission: A damsel in distress?

 We’re not long into the new year, but already it is looking as though the increased (and sometimes hostile) scrutiny being applied to the charity sector is set to continue. This time, it’s the Charity Commission that is back in the spotlight, with the Public Accounts Committee giving a damning indictment of its performance.

Post byCaron Bradshaw

Last month I urged us to come together as a sector in order to respond to new pressures and change the narrative around charities. In light of these latest developments, and at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, I’ll say it again.

In recent months, the Commission has increasingly taken on the persona of a damsel in distress. It appears to be desperately in need of a knight on a white charger to alleviate the impact of low resources and vicious attacks from multiple predators. Now, I am not suggesting that we, the sector, should have donned the armour and ridden to the rescue at each gasp and sigh. Some of the attacks have been warranted. There are key areas of the Commission’s work that could benefit from attention, such as how it registers and investigates charities. But equally, we shouldn’t be taking advantage of its distress and plunging in the sword.

It is too easy to make sweeping criticisms and declare wholesale failure. We need to back the regulator and support its continuation – albeit with changes and modifications. To join the attack could be disastrous, and we should be careful what we wish for. After all, what are the alternatives? Do you fancy HMRC as the sector’s regulator? I certainly don’t!

We want a regulator which champions the sector’s reputation by protecting it from threats, such as those who abuse charitable tax status or squander charity funds. By ‘champion’, I do not mean a regulator which defends us at all costs or in all circumstances – elements of the sector sometimes need to be reminded of the privilege that is ‘charitable’ status.

Whether we like it or not, our reputation as charities and our stakeholders’ trust in us is inextricably linked with that of our regulator. If the Commission is seen as weak and ineffective, then confidence in the work we do will be undermined. I, for one, do not wish to see tabloid or political attacks inflicting a mortal wound upon it.

To come back to my metaphor, let’s help the Commission throw off the ‘damsel in distress’ guise and get back on the horse. Let’s back its role and help strike a balance between scrutinising and supporting the sector. Let’s challenge the unwarranted attacks and guard against abuse, because if we don’t, the demise of the Commission may not be such a fanciful notion. And that would certainly not be a fairytale ending.

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