The regulator’s job is to ‘have an eye on public expectations’, says Commission policy lead

16 Oct 2020 News

Paul Latham, director of communications and policy at the Charity Commission

The Charity Commission’s policy and communication director was unapologetic about the regulator’s focus on public expectations of charities during a discussion yesterday, despite criticism from the sector. 

Paul Latham, who joined the Commission as director of policy and communication in March, was challenged about negative reaction to his chair’s speech at the regulator's annual public meeting two weeks ago. 

Greg Hurst, social affairs editor at the Times was chairing the event, which took place as part of the NPC Ignites virtual conference. He asked Latham if it was time for the regulator to change its messaging. 

Latham defended the speech, which he said did acknowledge the difficulties facing the sector. 

“If you read through the speech that the chair gave, she was effusive about the skills, tenacity and commitment of people right across the sector and how they have responded to the pandemic,” he said. 

However, he said the regulator’s role means it should “always have an eye on public expectations of charities”. 

He said that the response from the public to various virtual or socially-distanced fundraising events throughout the pandemic had been a “really important reminder for the long term that without the public, charities can do nothing”.

Latham added: “We are bowled over by just how the sector has responded to this crisis to support all their beneficiaries.” But he said: “If you don’t have an eye on the expectations of the public [that are] funding charities, you do risk losing that long-term support.” 

RSPCA chief executive: Commission ‘could be more interesting’ 

Chris Sherwood, chief executive of the RSPCA, was also part of the panel. He agreed that meeting public expectations is important, but said there were other “more interesting” things Baroness Stowell could have used her speech to address. 

He said: “It would have been much more interesting if Baroness Stowell had talked about how we plan for systemic shocks.”

Sherwood emphasised the scale of the challenge facing sector leaders at the moment. He highlighted how many were still dealing with the aftermath of the credit crunch and planning for Brexit, as well as addressing the pandemic response and the climate crisis. 

He suggested that the issue of trust and confidence should be considered “as part of the larger challenge that we face”, along with what kind of sector will “emerge from this crisis”. 

Sherwood said there are issues in charities around funding models, governance and decision making. 

For example, RSPCA has over 150 branches, so “when we make a decision, we are a bit of a tanker and it takes some time”, he explained. 

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