Navca has slammed the Charity Commission’s plans to roll back its advice function and expect charities to instead rely on umbrella bodies for advice, while other umbrella charities have also voiced concerns about the move.
Last week, the Charity Commission, which is facing a cut to its budget of a third, announced that it would expect charities to join an umbrella body and go to them for advice, instead of the Charity Commission. Announcing the move, chief executive of the Commission Sam Younger said it could not give umbrella bodies financial support, but could increase their income by encouraging membership.
Navca, which is an umbrella organisation for local charities, has severely criticised the move. Its policy and communications director Neil Cleeveley told civilsociety.co.uk that the Charity Commission idea was crazy:
“Navca members already provide substantial advice and guidance to local charities and are well placed to expand this support. But the Charity Commission is living in cloud cuckoo land if they think that local umbrella bodies can take on further work for free or that all local charities can afford to pay for all the advice and support they need,” he said.
He continued: “I am surprised that the Commission is unaware of the financial challenges facing local charities. It is unbelievable that the Commission believes this work should be done by Navca members for free, seemingly oblivious to the fact that many Navca members are trying to cope with proportionately bigger cuts than the Commission faces.
“Before making these sorts of suggestions, the Charity Commission should speak to Navca to ensure they fully understand the implications.”
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, gave a cautious response to the move, saying “regulation is not the job of umbrella organisations”:
“They are there to provide advice, and good practice information and to act as a voice for their constituency,” he said.
However, he did say that NCVO welcomed the idea of encouraging charities to join relevant umbrella bodies in order to improve their practices.
“We will be talking with the Charity Commission about the ways in which they intend to encourage charities to join NCVO.”
Children England response
Kathy Evans, Children England deputy chief executive, also said it was right for the Charity Commission to promote umbrella bodies, but added:
“While welcoming the idea in principle that all charities should be required to be members of at least one umbrella body, we are also cautious about its potential to significantly alter the nature of our relationship with members, and the risk that we become viewed as a regulatory body. We would be keen to explore both the benefits and other impacts of such a measure with the Charity Commission, before seeing it implemented.”
Meanwhile, Louise Richards, director of policy and campaigns at the Institute of Fundraising, said it had carried out an advice function on behalf of the Charity Commission for some time:
She told civilsociety.co.uk: “If the Charity Commission gets queries about fundraising and best practice they refer these calls to us. Such advice is best from us as we are the professional body for fundraising in the UK.”
She said that the IOF had asked the Commission to encourage people to sign up to the body as this would encourage best practice, leading in turn to public trust.
She added that it was good for charities to join an umbrella body most appropriate to them to give them a collective voice and a united voice to government.
But she did warn that the Charity Commission and government could not abdicate responsibility: “The Charity Commission needs to continue to have a clear and defined role,” she said. “And government needs to ensure this.”
Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Directors' Group, said there needed to be clarity on roles:
"CFDG plays an important role in raising the standards of charity finance, not just for our members but for all charities. This move to encourage greater self-regulation and support by the sector for the sector could help create a stronger operating environment for charities.
“However, greater consideration needs to be given to how this would work in practice. It’s important that charities are clear about where to turn to for advice, that the Commission is clear about its relationship with sector bodies and that those charities that aren’t active members of infrastructure organisations don’t get left behind."
As reported on Friday, Alistair McLean, chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board, has welcomed the plans. He told chair of the Charity Commission Dame Suzi Leather, at the meeting where the move was announced, that the growth of FRSB was in the Commission's hands and asked it to promote the FRSB a little more aggressively.
“We are the advance party of self-regulation in the sector,” he said.