Some charities risk becoming too dependent on the state, the new chair of the Charity Commission has warned, saying there needs to be debate on whether the charity register should make clear how an organisation is funded.
In William Shawcross' first speech to charity sector at Acevo's annual conference, he said that "charities should not become junior partners in the welfare state", stressing that the independence of the sector is vital.
"Charities which get state grants or contracts from government must be independent and focused on their mission," he warned.
"Independence is about making decisions only on the basis of the best interests of the charity and its beneficiaries. Not the interests of funders - including government. Charities operate in a complex environment and are in ever fiercer competition for funding and contracts to deliver services. This competition is not a problem in and of itself. It may help drive innovation and keep charity trustees on their toes. But I wonder whether this development also places great strain on trustees to make decisions on behalf of their charities. These decision must be independent and reflect the interests of the charity only - not the interest of funders."
He suggested that some charities risk becoming too dependent on the state, adding that most members of the public would say a charity was an organisation funded by private donations not public funds.
Shawcross referred to a recent speech by the chief executive of the Charity Commission, Sam Younger, who warned that the charity brand was becoming "diluted". He said there needed to be a debate on whether the register of charities should make clearer what an organisation does and how it is funded.
In his speech, Shawcross also defended charities' right to campaign, saying such activity had a long tradition in the UK.
Christians have 'formed the backbone of civil society'
The new chair also addressed recent political attention on the Charity Commission and the registration of religious charities. He said an MP had asked him if the Charity Commission had a plot to secularise British society. "This is not the case," he said.
"People of faith - particularly Christians - have formed the backbone of civil society and charitable giving in this country for at least a thousand years," he said. "The suggestion some have put forward that the Commission is seeking to overturn centuries of law and culture by questioning the charitable status of religious charities is, quite simply, wrong."
He also said that the Charity Commission had to know the limits of its role, agreeing with Lord Hodgson's view that the Commission is a regulator, not a friend. "The Charity Commission should be a friendly policeman," he said.