Posts Tagged: Charity Commission

A full-on fortnight for the commission

As a professional commission watcher, it’s been a bit of a full-on fortnight what with all that’s been going on with the Charity Commission.

Headlines have been the release of the National Audit Office report on the commission and its resulting analysis by the sector, the appearance by Paula Sussex, chief executive of the regulator, in front of the Public Accounts Committee to be grilled both on said report, and on its action in the bizarre case of the Durand Academy, a school with a dating agency registered to the same address, and the reappointment of chairman William Shawcross. Read more on A full-on fortnight for the commission…

Check the Green Cross Code before considering a tribunal

The Green Cross code – that’s ‘Stop, Look, Listen, Think’ for the daredevil types among you – has served me pretty well in life. I wonder if the same maxim could stand charity trustees considering a charity tribunal appeal in good stead.

The First-tier Tribunal (Charity) in England and Wales, and its Northern Irish and Scottish counterparts, were created to be a low-cost, accessible, non-legalistic paths to charity justice. Unfortunately, in some cases it seems the option of lodging a tribunal appeal is unjustifiably attractive to charity trustees, whose decision then comes back to bite them.

Read more on Check the Green Cross Code before considering a tribunal…

Transparency and trustworthiness are not the same thing

Apparently there’s some sort of teacake and dog festival starting in Scotland this week – but the big north of the border event as far as I’m concerned has been the publication of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator’s annual report.

Read more on Transparency and trustworthiness are not the same thing…

Late filing: excuses, excuses…

The Charity Commission’s class inquiry into ‘double defaulters’, charities who have failed to submit their annual accounts two or more times in the last five years, rumbles on.

Various reasons were given by the dozen charities whose non-compliant behaviour has been outlined in the reports released so far, in three batches of four; the first in January , the next in March, the most recent last week. And, albeit from a relatively small sample size, a pattern begins to emerge. Read more on Late filing: excuses, excuses……

Paula Sussex and the bed of nails

The Charity Commission offered the job of chief executive to Paula Sussex at the end of February, and finally got around to announcing it yesterday. The delay is officially explained as “normal processes of appointment and resignation.” Being translated, this tends to mean various kinds of horse-trading, to-ing and fro-ing with the Cabinet Office, and sorting out the details of what is known these days as “the package”. Public appointments always seem to be delayed and long drawn-out these days; but at least we’ve finally got there. Read more on Paula Sussex and the bed of nails…

My battle with the Charity Commission

Last September, Third Sector reported how Southwark Council had been forced to write off almost £70,000 awarded to a defunct drug and alcohol charity.

I was struck not only by the council’s lax checking procedures but by the fact that the federation had remained on the Charity Commission register until 2010, some eight years after it appeared to have closed. Wondering if this was just a one-off or if the case was indicative of wider problem, I placed a Freedom of Information request with the commission last September to find out just how many registered charities hadn’t filed their required documents for a significant period. (Late filing of accounts can be one of the first indicators that a charity has closed without informing the commission.) Read more on My battle with the Charity Commission…

Let charities run local newspapers

This week, a group of academics, journalists and charities proposed that charities should run local newspapers.
At the moment, it’s far from clear whether a newspaper can be a charity. Many legal experts think so.

Read more on Let charities run local newspapers…

They’ve all got it in for Dame Suzi

Axe hovers over quango queen,’ squeals the Daily Mail, in response to a Sunday Times piece headlined ‘Quango queen faces sack for attack on private schools.’ It’s unusual for the Telegraph not to be in there too. It’s not the first time the right wing press have had a go at Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the Charity Commission, and it won’t be the last. They’ve all got it in for her.

Read more on They’ve all got it in for Dame Suzi…

Was the Charity Commission right not to publicise the findings of its investigation into the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative?

The long-awaited verdicts from the Charity Commission on the last two of the charities it investigated over political activity during the pre-election period are out.

Both the employment charity Tomorrow’s People, which was probed over the appearance of its chief executive in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto, and the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, which was investigated over claims it emailed supporters asking them to vote for the Labour Party, received “advice and guidance” from the commission about political campaigning, but neither received any further sanctions.

On the face of it, the cases seem quite similar. So why did the commission write a full report and press release on the Tomorrow’s People case, but nothing about the Tony Blair one?

We would never have known about the latter had the complainant, Conservative MP Greg Hands, not leaked the commission’s letter about the case to the Sunday Times.

The commission says it chose to publicise the Tomorrow’s People case because many other charities might find themselves in a similar position and it would be useful for them to understand the rules.

The Tony Blair case, it claims, is so unlikely to be replicated elsewhere that it was not worth publicising.

Granted, very few charities have been set up by former Prime Ministers. But the Blair case was, at its heart, about the sharing of data between affiliated organisations: something that seems likely to affect far more charities than requests to appear in political party election manifestos.

It would be interesting to hear charities’ views on which of the cases they found more relevant.

Read more on Was the Charity Commission right not to publicise the findings of its investigation into the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative?…

Should think tanks be charities at all?

There are some senior figures in the Conservative Party who are not very keen on campaigning charities. Oliver Letwin, now Minister of State at the Cabinet Office with the role of providing policy advice to the Prime Minister, was more vocal than most about this before the election.

There is a certain irony, then, surrounding the case of Atlantic Bridge, an educational charity which was set up by Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for Defence, and has had Conservative luminaries including the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, on its advisory board.

The irony comes because this week’s regulatory report by the Charity Commission on Atlantic Bridge leaves the indelible impression that this is a campaigning organisation. It devotes itself to advancing a version of the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and US that was in the ascendant in the Thatcher-Reagan years.

But the commission’s rap over the knuckles for Atlantic Bridge comes not because it has campaigned – campaigning is permissible for charities if it is pursuit of their charitable objects. The censure comes because it promoted a view of transatlantic relations that was closely aligned with the Conservative Party.

The commission has told Atlantic Bridge that if it wants to conform to its educational charitable purpose it should approach its subject matter in a manner that is less party political, and that to demonstrate its public benefit it should provide more information about its activities.

This time it’s the Tories. But the mind drifts back to the case of the Smith Institute, which was similarly criticised by the commission two years ago for not keeping sufficient distance from the policies of the Labour Party. Some politicians and policy wonks, it seems, just can’t resist trying to use charities for political purposes.

The commission said in 2008 that it was going to produce additional guidance about how how think tanks can conform with the requirement for educational charities to provide public benefit, but this has not yet materialised.

In the meantime some commentators have suggested that the regime for think tanks should be more relaxed than for other charities because their reason for being, and the benefits they bring, are essentially political – and often specifically party political.

This is arguably true. But perhaps the best way of squaring the circle is to veer the other way and be much more careful about granting charitable status to think tanks. Indeed, when you look at the particular focus of Atlantic Bridge and the people involved in it, you have to wonder how it ever got charitable status in the first place.

Read more on Should think tanks be charities at all?…