The Charity Commission should focus its energy on regulating the sector and a separate government-funded body should be set up to provide best practice advice, according to charity sector think tank NPC.
The proposals are included in a provocation paper, The ‘shared society’ needs a strong civil society, published last week. Dan Corry, chief executive of NPC, and Gerry Stoker, a political scientist, suggest separating the regulatory and advice functions of the Commission.
They said: “The truth is that the third sector is wonderfully messy so a bespoke agency to regulate it will have plenty of work to do. But we need a bespoke body to drive innovation and new thinking to match it.”
Corry and Stoker suggest that the new advisory body, which they have given the working title of Civil Society Improvement, should be “mainly funded by the state but be run independently of it by a partnership of the key sector bodies”.
The suggest its role would be to support individual organsiations, support improvement at a sector level by assembling and analysing data, “nudge” the sector to be more “rational around decisions to set up new charities, and around working more closely together”.
‘Protect the rights of the sector’
Corry and Stoker also called for another organisation specifically to “protect the rights of the sector” in light of the Lobbying Act.
“Government may say that restrictions like the Lobbying Act, should not stop this,” they said. “But it has undoubtedly had a chilling effect on the sector. And at local level, small charities are wary of annoying the hand that may feed them—and are self-censoring. This leads to an unhealthy situation where a key part of a pluralistic well-functioning democracy is not working.”
They called for a convention or charter to be policed by a Civil Society Ombudsman which would guarantee “the right for charities to speak out and blocks attempt by governments to stop this”.
Other policy proposals
Other policy proposals in the paper include establish a ‘civil society test’, which a body at the heart of government could use to challenge policies which could damage the sector.
They also called for a £1bn fund to support charities, especially those in deprived areas and a review of existing tax breaks.
NPC also wants there to be a requirement to make new city regions involve charities and an external review of legislation that enables organisations to take over community assets.