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Commission clears Runnymede Trust after Conservative MPs complained about its work

02 Sep 2021 News

The Runnymede Trust, a charitable think tank focused on race equity, did not breach charity law, the regulator has found.

The Charity Commission opened a case in April 2021 after a group of backbench Conservative MPs complained about the charity's work.

​​Runnymede Trust previously dubbed this a “politically motivated” attack.

MPs complained about the charity’s response to the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED), the Sewell report, and questioned whether it was engaging in lawful political activity. 

The regulator also looked into whether the trustees acted in line with their duties and responsibilities by working with the Good Law Project “to challenge certain public appointments”.

Trustees did not breach their legal duties

The Commission found that the trustees did not breach their legal duties and responsibilities when they made the decision to work with the Good Law Project.

Charities are permitted in law to campaign and undertake political activity, “and to take up positions that not everyone agrees with”, the regulator states, “but that this must always be done in furtherance of a charity’s purposes”.

“It was within the charity’s purposes to engage with and take a position on the CRED report and has found no breach of its guidance,” a statement from the Commission said. 

The Commission also examined issues relating to party political neutrality and “noted the appearance of a senior executive of the Runnymede Trust at an event organised by a political party”, alongside several elected representatives and affiliated speakers.

A charity can work with elected representatives, where doing so furthers its charitable purpose.

The trustees at the Runnymede Trust  “have given assurances” to the regulator that they endeavour to engage with a range of viewpoints. 

Clive Jones, chair of the Runnymede Trust, said the charity has met with every prime minister since Ted Heath in 1970.

“We look forward to continuing our relationship with parties across the political spectrum and with stakeholders across our communities – and to meeting with Boris Johnson when the opportunity presents itself,” he said.

Jones added that the charity was thankful for the “earnest work” of the Commission and reassured that it has upheld the “substance and independence” of its work around race equity.

‘It is not for us as regulator to tell trustees how best to further their charity’s purposes’

Helen Earner, director of regulatory services at the Commission, said: “We have found no breach of our guidance. However, we have told the trustees of the Runnymede Trust that they must ensure the charity’s engagement with political parties and politicians is balanced.

“It is not for us as regulator to tell trustees how best to further their charity’s purposes. Charities are free to take up positions that are controversial, if the trustees come to a reasoned decision that doing so furthers the charity’s cause.”

‘Our commitment to the cause of racial equity remains undimmed’

Runnymede Trust thanked people for their support and said it would continue with its work.  

Jones, chair of the Runnymede Trust, said: “The Runnymede Trust’s commitment to equality in all its forms has been steadfast since 1968, and we will not waver. We will continue our endeavours with care and compassion, making room for all voices, and working to build bridges in those inevitable instances of disagreement. We would like to thank the countless people across the country who have supported our work, as well as our chief executive and staff for their courage and dedication. 

“Our commitment to the cause of racial equity remains undimmed.”

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