'I wish I had been more vocal,' Baroness Stowell tells charities

04 Feb 2021 News

Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission

Baroness Stowell, the outgoing chair of the Charity Commission, said today that she wishes she had been “more vocal” on behalf of people who feel ignored by charities.

Stowell stands down from her role later this month after three years at the regulator.

In her final speech in the job, at an online event hosted by the Social Market Foundation think tank, Stowell also warned charities they risked committing “an act of monumental hubris” if they lost touch with the values and opinions of what she called “decent, respectable people”.

Charities need 'the support of everybody' to succeed

Asked by Civil Society News whether she has any regrets about her time at the Commission, Baroness Stowell said that she had “one regret, which is that I probably wish that I had been more vocal, actually. 

“I wish I would have said more on behalf of people who have felt sometimes not heard, or their views misunderstood. 

“And what I would say to my successor, and to everybody involved in the charity sector who work so hard to make a massive contribution to our society, is that you will only achieve and deliver the full benefit that you exist to deliver with the full support of everybody. 

“Never forget that, and never forget to take account of everybody in the way that you do your work.”

Hubris

Earlier in her speech, Stowell pointed out her own background as someone born and brought up in the East Midlands, “close to what some people now call blue or red wall territory”. 

She said these were areas of the country where people grew up believing that those in power have a responsibility to lead by example and that the rule of law must be applied equally.

She said: “These are not outlandish beliefs. They are held by millions of decent, respectable people up and down the country.

“And nor are the opinions they give rise to fringe or extreme.

“Ignoring these voices, or losing touch with the values that underpin them, seems to be an act of monumental hubris.”

This hubris contributed to crises such as the MPs expenses scandal and the financial crash, Stowell argued. She said that when she applied to chair the regulator: “I could see that same erosion in public trust had begun to reach parts of the charity world too. 

“It was at its lowest level ever. Household names [were] not behaving as they should, putting their own reputations ahead of doing the right thing and not recognising their broader responsibility to charity as a whole.”

Culture war

Answering a question about the legacy of Captain Tom, who raised more than £30m for NHS charities during the first national lockdown and died earlier this week, praised “that charity endeavour, that selflessness, it brings us together. 

“And that is why it is important that we don’t put that at risk. 

“Charity must not become collateral damage in any kind of culture war or anything else that might be happening right now. 

“It is too precious, it is too important, and it belong to everybody.”

Respect

Answering a question posed by NCVO about campaigning on potentially controversial issues like racial equality and transgender rights, Stowell said: “You just have to be respectful that there are a wide range of views out there.” 

She added that charities should “be respectful of those who have no view at all but whose support you are relying on in order to fight the cause you are trying to fight”.

Pushed for more detail on that question, Stowell said: “Clearly racism is a bad thing. Anybody who thinks racism is a good thing is not somebody who is worthy of respect.

“But there are a lot of people who don’t want to get engaged in a big debate about a matter such as that, in the context of charity more generally.” 

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