Dorothy Dalton asks if the time has come for the Charity Commission to change the way it works and for the sector to accept the changes?
In 2009 the UK recorded a deficit of £159.2bn. At the end of December 2009 national debt stood at £950.4bn, equivalent to 68.1 per cent of gross domestic product. Huge cuts, impacting on every organisation and every citizen, are inevitable. Our regulator, the Charity Commission, will be no exception to the rule.
Yet for our sector to maintain and grow in public trust and confidence, we need a strong and adequately resourced regulator. Perhaps the time has come for the Commission to work in a radically different way and for the sector to accept these changes. For example, subject to the condition that the Commission is allowed to keep all fees, should the Commission not charge an annual return processing fee of £30 for all charities on the register as Companies House does? Maybe a fee can be charged for registering new charities? Again, fee levels could be kept in line with company registration fees.
To avoid becoming a tick-box regulator, should the Commission not carry out regular inspections? Earlier cutbacks have seen the virtual disappearance of random charity visits (a softer version of an inspection). Conceivably the time has come for the large charities division of the Commission to carry out regular (every six years or so) inspections of charities with incomes in excess of £5m?
In line with other regulators (eg Ofsted) the Commission should be able to charge a fee that covers the cost of the inspection. Again like school inspections, inspectors can be selected from current or recently retired experienced senior charity managers and experienced trustees. Inspection reports could be available on the Commission website thus allowing donors and beneficiaries to make more informed choices. Admittedly there are other costs to running an inspection regime but with the task of increasing trust and confidence in the sector being a core part of the Commission’s remit, it will be appropriate use of core funding.
While difficult financial times call upon all organisations to work and think differently, the Commission needs to concentrate its energies on its regulator role and evolve strategic alliances with both for-profit and not-for-profit organisations to help deliver some of its support role. To do this it will need to develop criteria for working with voluntary and for-profit organisations so that it cannot be accused of showing favouritism.