On the 8th October Tina Stowell, the Chair of the Charity Commission made an online speech to the Charity Law Association Annual Conference which is reproduced on this website. The outline title states “In the wake of COVID-19, Baroness Stowell outlines how the legal profession can support charities to build a stronger sector for the future and become more resilient” Now one of the challenges that lies behind the role that Tina has is the way that Matt Hancock who was the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Minister at the time appointed her back in March 2018 which I wrote about here at that time. Although he was clearly in favour of the appointment, perhaps partly because she had been a Conservative member of the House of Lords, the DCMS Select Committee were very concerned because she had no experience of working with charities. One of her positive decisions when she was appointed was to resign from the Conservative Party although she is still a member of the House of Lords and she continues to vote with the Conservatives. Indeed some of her speeches indicate she has not really changed her views or willingness to support the Government run by the Conservatives. This question from her came on 24th March this year.
I refer noble Lords to my entry in the register. I commend the Government for the steps they have already taken in support of charities. I particularly support the charities on the front line and the dedicated volunteers who are doing such important work at this time. The Charity Commission is taking a flexible and pragmatic approach to regulation where relevant and appropriate, and will continue to do so. Will the Minister assure me that, as the commission continues to explore regulatory opportunities to make life easier for those charities doing such important work on the front line, we will be able to seek government support for that aim should we need it?
It is clear to most people that the Conservative Government has been very critical of Charities going back to the early part of their coalition Government in 2010. Clearly Tina has a different perspective to many of us! So going back to her speech on to the 8th October, she began by her explaining to the lawyers that Charities are all facing a significant challenge as a result of COVID-19. She then said the following
My concern is that too big a proportion of trustees believe that, when people feel their expectations have not been met, it is because they haven’t understood the complexities of running a charity. That position needs to change if charities are to retain people’s confidence. Before seeking any kind of hearing, charities need first to understand public expectations, take them seriously, and show they are by trying to meet them. This is important, because the key challenge facing the sector into the future, is that the public support it relies upon cannot be taken for granted. So today I want to talk about how all of us working with charities – including your own profession – can address this challenge and make the charity sector more resilient.
So my question is does Tina Stowell really understand what lies behind the concerns of a large number of Charitable Trustees? After all they could be simply moaning about what is a trivial set of challenges or perhaps they are facing complexities that have been caused by the Government or the Charity Commission and that are not easily understood by people who benefit from charities. As Chair of the Commission perhaps she should be asking the Lawyers along with the Trustees to unpack some of the complexities to see if there are changes the Commission could introduce or perhaps challenge the Government about. If this is not the case perhaps she could be speaking on behalf of charities to the public to help to justify the complex elements that are required for them to run charities!