Once upon a time, an energetic new government was elected. It proclaimed a new age of a smaller state and a bigger society. A world in which civil action would be released from burden, and stupid, unnecessary measures wielded by over-zealous bureaucrats would be a thing of the past. We waited to see what this brave new world would look like, and whether the rhetoric would be matched with action.
Certainly, in the early days, things had a real flavour of change. Do you remember the raft of conversations, debates, inquiries and consultations that focused on cutting red tape? The “Red Tape Task Force” and “unshackling good neighbours” were but two initiatives. We were all heartened that, at last, there could be moves afoot which would lead to more efficiency and compliance, and which focused on risk without tying us up in a plethora of meaningless administrative steps. Whilst there have been some noises that seemed to move us in the right direction, such as the setting up of a new form of charity vehicle the charitable incorporated organisation, or CIO, I’m fairly certain many of you will not be feeling “unshackled”.
The language of unburdening charity has not been matched with action. Take the CIOs as an example. On the one hand, the new legislation was billed as being a way in which new charities could be set up easily, yet at the same time the message is often “there are too many charities”, and that people should be dissuaded from forming new charities where ones already exist. Not only will barriers to starting new charities be at odds with the concept of cutting red tape, it also feels mightily inconsistent with the ideology that competition drives up standards. The current Charity Commission consultation on the annual return also appears to be adding to, rather than taking away from, the information that charities are required to manually input when lodging their annual reports and accounts. Remember that most, if not all, of the information that charities have to enter into their return is already contained in their annual reporting. July saw the publication of the Electoral Commission’s guidance on the Lobbying Act.
By not excluding charities from this legislation, parliament left a number of you with a raft of new compliance requirements. You will need to determine whether you are required to register, and if so, work out what you need to report thereafter to the Electoral Commission and what evidence you need to keep. We’re going to work through what support we can offer members who are caught and who need some interpretation of the requirements as soon as possible. In the meantime, do look at a rather useful flow chart the Directory of Social Change has produced if you are not sure if you need to register. So what has happened to this banner the government held aloft proclaiming its desire to free us all from bureaucracy? Perhaps it’s buried somewhere under a pile of red tape!
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