Lightening the load - Sir Stuart Etherington on the Civil Society Red Tape Task Force

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO

Lightening the load - Sir Stuart Etherington on the Civil Society Red Tape Task Force

Sir Stuart Etherington applauds the ideas from the Red Tape Task Force, but worries about delivery.

When last summer the government announced the creation of a task force aimed at reducing the regulatory and bureaucratic burden faced by voluntary organisations, the most common reaction was an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Although this latest effort was presented as part of building the ‘Big Society’, and the focus was to make it easier for civil society organisations (CSOs) to provide public services, deregulation has been a policy objective of government since 1979. So many of us fought back to the similar attempts previously made by both Labour and Conservative administrations.

New impetus

However, the Red Tape Task Force represents a new impetus in the drive towards greater efficiency and reducing the countless rules that put people off giving their time and money to good causes, and stifle the work of CSOs. The resulting report is to be applauded for making an important contribution to the debate on how we balance appropriate risk-taking with the government’s duty to regulate. For too long, onerous requirements have diverted charitable resources into bureaucracy and away from delivery.

This initiative gives us an important new opportunity to improve the system, by streamlining and modernising the regulatory framework while maintaining or even improving its outcomes.

Many of the recommendations build on earlier work, such as those highlighting the need to eliminate regulatory duplication and repeated requests for the same information in slightly different formats. If implemented, these reforms would cut a swathe through the disproportionate, often duplicatory bureaucracy that causes so many problems in the day-to-day work of our CSOs. They would significantly lighten the load, especially for smaller charities.

I am particularly keen on the idea of establishing a Store committee (see Lord Hodgson’s article). It can be easy to give in to short-term political or public pressure to address an individual event, without considering whether existing legislation is already sufficient. This mechanism would be key in the development of strategicallyminded, proportionate regulation.

Lord Hodgson has also considered very carefully how the recommendations can help charities respond most effectively to the challenges and opportunities ahead. The call to government to address the issue of charities being unable to recover VAT on shared services is particularly welcome, as this currently presents a sizeable obstacle to effective collaboration. Giving charities the incentive to work together would really help many organisations to maximise their resources in these tough economic times.

I am also very supportive of the recommendations aimed at making it easier for people to give their time to the causes they believe in.

Clarifying liability

The British public have an admirable and deep-seated appetite for dedicating themselves to helping others, but having to jump through multiple regulatory hoops in order to volunteer can often put paid to the best of intentions. Steps to clarify the extent of charity trustee and volunteer liability are timely and will play a great part in encouraging more involvement and participation.

However, many within the sector have given a rather lukewarm reaction to the task force report. They argue that past experience suggests that any further action will limit itself to ‘tinkering at the edges’, because there is never enough political will and parliamentary time to push through the legislative changes that are necessary to really make a difference.

I agree that many of the recommendations will require continuing commitment to reform, not only from government but also the private and the voluntary and community sector. Government has already given a strong indication that this is an agenda which it is determined to deliver, and it has responsibility to drive the necessary action in order to implement the recommendations. For our part, we must all continue to provide the drive for change, and make sure history does not repeat itself. 

Sir Stuart Etherington is chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO)

>>Back to top<<


[Cancel] | Reply to:

Close »

Community Standards

The community and comments board is intended as a platform for informed and civilised debate.

We hope to encourage a broad range of views, however, there are standards that we expect commentators to uphold. We reserve the right to delete or amend any comments that do not adhere to these standards.

We welcome:

  • Robust but respectful debate
  • Strongly held opinions
  • Intelligent relevant discussion
  • The sharing of relevant experiences
  • New participants

We will not publish:

  • Rude, threatening, offensive, obscene or abusive language, or links to such material
  • Links to commercial organisations or spam postings. The comments board is not an advertising platform
  • The posting of contact details for yourself or others
  • Comments intended for malicious purpose or mindless abuse
  • Comments purporting to be from another person or organisation under false pretences
  • Gratuitous criticism, commentary or self-promotion
  • Any material which breaches copyright or privacy laws, or could be considered libellous
  • The use of the comments board for the pursuit or extension of personal disputes

Be aware:

  • Views expressed on the comments board are left at users’ discretion and are in no way views held or supported by Civil Society Media
  • Comments left by others may not be accurate, do not rely on them as fact
  • You may be misunderstood - sarcasm and humour can easily be taken out of context, try to be clear


  • Enjoy the opportunity to express your opinion and respect the right of others to express theirs
  • Confine your remarks to issues rather than personalities

Together we can keep our community a polite, respectful and intelligent platform for discussion.

Sir Stuart  Etherington

Sir Stuart Etherington has been chief executive of NCVO since 1994. He was knighted in the 2010 Queen's Birthday honours.

Ian Allsop (66) John Tate (59) David Davison (51) Robert Ashton (40) Andrew Hind CB (24) Tania Mason (23) Gordon Hunter (17) Daniel Phelan (15) David Ainsworth (15) Vibeka Mair (12)
David Philpott (10) Niki May Young (8) Rui Domingues (8) Celina Ribeiro (7) Andrew Chaggar (5) James Brooke Turner (4) Sir Stuart Etherington (4) Kate Sayer (3) Jeremy Swain (3) Garreth Spillane (3) Alistair Gibbons (3) Ian Clark (3) Claris D'cruz (2) Stephen Lloyd (2) Richard Maitland (2) Adrian Beney (2) Iain Pritchard (2) Pauline Broomhead (2) Martin Brookes (2) Tesse Akpeki (2) Nick Brooks (2) Stephen Hammersley (2) Rosie Chapman (2) Geetha Rabindrakumar (2) June O'Sullivan (2) Kirsty Weakley (2) Dan Corry (2) Peter Holbrook (2) Belinda Pratten (2) Simon Steeden (2) Jonathan Bruck (2) Dan Gregory (2) Carolyn Sims (2) Making Good: The Future of the Voluntary Sector (2) Mark Astarita (1) Don Bawtree (1) Sir Stephen Bubb (1) Victoria Cook (1) Lindsay Gray (1) Rachel Holmes (1) Nick Ivey (1) Iona Joy (1) John Kelly (1) Michael King (1) Heather Lamont (1) Lucy McLynn (1) Chris Oulton (1) Julian Rathbone (1) Socrates Socratous (1) Richard Weaver (1) Karl Wilding (1) Richard Williams (1) Roger Chester (1) Matthew Bowcock (1) Joe Saxton (1) Reuben Turner (1) Martin Farrell (1) Paul Gibson (1) Jonathon Grapsas (1) Andrew Scadding (1) Simon Hebditch (1) Su Sayer (1) Debra Allcock Tyler (1) Martin Birch (1) Mark Hallam (1) Jonathan Lewis (1) Sara Llewellin (1) John Low (1) Dame Mary Marsh (1) Ruth Murphy (1) Colin Nee (1) Julia Unwin (1) Kate Rogers (1) Malcolm Hayday (1) Filippo Addarii (1) Kimberley Scharf (1) Jakes Ferguson (1) Jessica Sklair (1) Joe Turner (1) John May (1) Julian Blake (1) Andy Williamson (1) Malcolm Hurlston (1) Andrew Samuel (1) Chester Mojay-Sinclare (1) Paul Amadi (1) Luke Fletcher (1) Peter Mitchell (1) Billy Dove (1) Andrew Ketteringham (1) Jackie Turpin (1) Lynne Robb (1) Jonathan Crown (1) Paul Emery (1) Ruchir Shah (1) Pesh Framjee (1) Sukhvinder Kaur-Stubbs (1) Moira Protani (1) Vicki Prout (1) Michael O'Toole (1) Dawn Austwick (1) Lisa Clavering (1) Paul Farmer (1) Neelam Makhijani (1) Logan Anderson (1) Andy Rich (1) Sharon Martin (1) Asheem Singh (1) Leigh Daynes (1) Abdurahman Sharif (1) Lynne McMahon (1) Richard Caulfield (1) Ashley Horsey (1) Andrew O'Brien (1)
Less +++ More +++

Social Charity Spy: Scope launches spoof video for charity shop donation drive

3 Jul 2015

Both Scope and Terrence Higgins Trust have produced eye-catching videos to highlight their current campaigns...

Social Charity Spy: St Gemma's Hospice's wedding dress appeal goes viral

12 Jun 2015

This week a social media call-out leads to an unexpected windfall for St Gemma’s Hospice, Plan UK launch...

Could charities be hoodwinked by technology?

1 Jun 2015

Polling errors at the general election show that human judgement is still critical in using digital technology,...

Society is changing in ways that have specific consequences for volunteering

22 Jun 2015

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, explains why charities need to respond to changes in...

Society Diary: Miley Cyrus takes off her clothes, cuddles a pig and talks about charity

12 Jun 2015

Our weekly round-up of interesting and outlandish information, collected from the corners of the charity...

Is it time for charities to fight back on chief executive pay?

10 Jun 2015

The charity sector has suffered in silence through repeated attacks on its leaders over their pay, but...