Baroness Stowell must go further in her comments about charities

Garden BridgeA few days ago Baroness Tina Stowell who was previously a member of the Tory Party and who resigned from the party when they appointed her as Chairman of the Charity Commission (which was a good response) made a speech about charities as part of  an event set up by a group known as Charity 2020. The speech which took place on the 29th May is published here and opens with some very positive comments. As follows:

“There are 168,000 charities on the Commission’s register over all. Just under 5,000 new charities joined the register last year. Together, registered charities attracted over £77 billion in income over the past year. And they are overseen by 700,000 trustees of registered charities, most of whom are volunteers, many of whom serve more than one charity. Beyond that, over 11 million people in England and Wales volunteer at least once a month for charitable causes. Charities are both present at the micro level, embedded in local communities and often largely under the radar, doing important work well: running village halls, supporting schools, hospitals, improving the places in which we live and work. And at the other end of the spectrum in terms of size and visibility, charities are making an ever more crucial contribution to our national life. Charities are providing essential, literally vital services: emergency response work, support for people in crisis, life-changing and life-saving health and social support. And charities also curate much of what makes life worth living:

The arts and culture, care for the natural environment and wildlife, the preservation of our national heritage for future generations, and so on. Not to mention of course the work charities based in England and Wales do to support and promote the interests of people in need around the world. Across the board, charities are doing work and offering services that the public and private sectors either cannot or will not.”

However Tina then went on to explain how public confidence in charities has dropped significantly and so we all have to work hard to regain this. She used as examples the public dissatisfaction over charities which were not named but one could assume were Oxfam and Save The Children in recent time. She also mentioned The Garden Bridge Trust which the Commission produced a report on and to be fair she did state “And we drew some hard lessons that will have made uncomfortable reading for many involved in some way in the project, beyond the confines of the registered charity.” 

My concern is that in making this statement she failed to point out who the people were who are beyond the confines of the charity. I have however pasted some of the words from the Charity Commission report below which make it clear that it is the Government and Boris Johnson that were to blame, and one can argue as I did in this blog that the Charity Commission itself must take some blame for what went wrong. Indeed the Charity Commission is a Government body and so it must acknowledge this connection. Tina also failed to refer to the way in which the Tory coalition Ministers acted so incompetently in the last five years of Kids Co and led to its failure becoming so much more significant. She failed to remind us that one of the reasons why charities have a low public reputation is due to the way the coalition Government linked charities into part 2 of the Lobbying Bill when there was clearly no need for them to do so. She also failed to acknowledge how deeply damaging Priti Patel’s criticism was of charities that work overseas and pay their senior people more than £100,000. Tina could also have referred to a recent case of an ex Tory Minister who registered his annual £24,000 payment (for 18 days work) from a charity, 109  days before they actually became a charity, even though they had been claiming to be a charity for several years earlier. The fact that the organisation was founded and run by a major Tory donor is one of the concerns expressed by a number of people. This all seems to me to suggest that Tina’s speech should have gone a lot further and that the Commission needs to take a much more robust approach when it comes to political interference in the charitable sector. Here is the excerpt from their Garden Bridge Trust report:

“In the case of the Garden Bridge Trust, Lord Davies, the charity’s first Chairman, stated that he was approached by Transport for London (TfL) to establish a new charity in order to build the bridge. This approach is unusual, and a distinction should be drawn between this scenario and the more usual instance whereby local and national government contract with existing charities with expertise and experience in the area or issue in question. The charity remained heavily reliant on continuing financial support from TfL and political support from the Mayor to be able to deliver on its reason for existing and its main charitable objective – to build a Garden Bridge. In other words, the charity held very serious responsibility and carried considerable risk but, having been established specifically to undertake a particular publicly funded project, did not have the usual flexibility and discretion that allows trustees of charities with broader charitable purposes contracting with national or local government to continually assess whether doing so is the best way to deliver on those purposes for the public benefit.”

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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