Charity Commission ‘should be abolished’, says former Theresa May adviser

03 Jan 2020 News

Nick Timothy, who was Theresa May’s chief of staff until 2017, has accused the Charity Commission of being “ineffective” and said it “should be abolished”, in his latest article for the Telegraph. 

His weekly column, published on Sunday evenings, was headlined “It’s time for Boris Johnson to take on Britain’s cult of liberal technocrats”. Timothy said the charity regulator was part of the problem and wrote: “The ineffective Charity Commission should be abolished.”

He also called for the Electoral Commission to be “wound up” and called for more accountability across different bodies and complained of  a “remarkable uniformity of opinion that has shaped our country and the decisions of our governments for the past few decades” in “the civil service, the media, business, courts, quangos and universities”. 

In response the Commission’s chair, Baroness Stowell, had a letter published in the paper saying it was unfair to include the Commission in his list of examples. 

Timothy, who campaigned to leave the European Union, became May’s joint chief of staff when she became prime minister in 2016 but resigned after the 2017 general election. He had previously been May’s adviser at the Home Office and was unsuccessful in a bid to become the Conservative candidate for the Meriden constituency in the West Midlands for the 2019 election. 

In his article condemning “liberal technocrats” he concludes that: “Brexit was the first time in decades they tasted defeat. Then came the election, and now comes Boris. But their writ continues to run large.  If ministers want to restore democratic government to Britain, they face a long fight ahead.” 

‘Putting the public front and centre of what we do’

This week the Commission defended itself against Timothy's criticism with a letter to the Telegraph

On 1 January Stowell wrote a letter to the editor, which said: “Nick Timothy makes an important point in demanding that quangos and institutions become more democratic and address the things that matter to people.

“But he’s wrong to include the Charity Commission among those he criticises for not doing so. Putting the public front and centre of what we do is central to how the Charity Commission is changing and how we are seeking to drive change in the sector we regulate.” 

She added that the regulator is becoming more efficient and effective and that it has closed more of serious cases at a faster rate during 2019 than in previous years and explained the regulator’s plans to make it “quicker and easier for people to reach us and seek what they need from us”. 

Stowell became chair of the regulator in 2018 but before that was a Conservative peer and had been leader of the House of Lords during David Cameron's government. On joining the Charity Commission she resigned the Conservative whip and her party membership. 

Before and shortly after the referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union, several charity leaders expressed concerns that Commission's referendum guidance discouraged charities from making their voices known. There were also concerns that a board member at the time had links to eurosceptic organisations while being involved in the committee that was setting the guidance. 

In 2017, Sir Stuart Etherington, then chief executive of NCVO, said that even though the regulator withdrew the controversial guidance “the damage had been done” and that “our regulator has a cross to carry”. 

Reader response 

Yesterday the Telegraph published two letters from readers responding to Stowell. One letter criticised the regulatory burden on charities. The second called for legislation to ban aggressive fundraisers, and said charities should be forced to be more transparent about costs. 

Julian Gall, from Surrey, wrote: “Baroness Stowell makes Nick Timothy’s point for him (Comment, December 29) that the Charity Commission is another quango that is increasing its remit, creating jobs for itself and burdening charities with excessive paperwork. If I had a vote in the matter, I would want its aims to include continually reducing the number of guidelines it publishes, not producing ever more.” 

Nick Rose, from West Sussex, wrote: “If Baroness Stowell wishes to help the Charity Commission meet the public interest better, she could first of all lobby for legislation to ban “chuggers”, those over-aggressive fundraisers on our high streets.”

He added that charities should “display prominently on literature how many pennies in those pounds raised go to the good cause itself rather than being spent on admin fees” and suggested “naming and shaming the worst 100”. 

Rose also said the Commission should “publicly list individuals employed by charities who earn more than our MPs”.  

A Commission spokeswoman said: “The Commission is determined to serve all parts of the public better in the way in which we regulate charities. We are already changing the way we regulate in order to better hold charities to account – for example, later this year we’ll publish a report on executive pay in charities. And we’re doing more to ensure volunteer trustees who want to do the right thing have the tools they need to thrive and succeed. That won’t see us producing ever more rules and guidance – it means improving our guidance to make it more relevant, targeted and accessible.”

Civil Society Media’s Trustee Exchange conference takes place on 28 April 2020, and this year’s theme is ‘effective decision-making in a complicated world’. View the programme and book online here.


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