The House of Lords report on Charities: The beginning of the journey, not the end

Yesterday the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities released its long awaited report on sustainability and governance in the charity sector. The report is comprehensive; comprising over 150 pages with 100 conclusions that contain 42 recommendations. It is therefore too broad and detailed a document to be covered in one blog, so in the first of a series of pieces from ACEVO’s policy team I will give an overview of the tone and focus of the report. Over the coming weeks the team will post more detailed blogs on specific topics discussed in the report including leadership, governance, commissioning and regulation.

The report is titled Stronger charities for a stronger society, and from the beginning the Committee members are explicit in their praise for the sector as the ‘eyes, ears and conscience of society.’ Further to this the report contains a robust defence of a charity’s right to campaign and acknowledges that despite recent ‘high profile failures’, the majority of the sector does excellent work. This is much needed welcome recognition of the value of charity following a tough few years in which charities have often felt the need to justify their unique role in British society.

The report focuses on small and medium sized charities that work primarily in the UK but many of its recommendations apply to the entire sector, especially those around governance, campaigning and digital. It is also important to remember that large charities are key partners in achieving our shared aim of a stronger society. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, only one sector working collaboratively.

The Committee makes recommendations for all the key political and regulatory actors within the sector but thankfully avoids the trap that has been all too common in recent years of recommending that charities be subject to new legislation, regulation or reporting requirements.

However the Committee does have recommendations for existing regulators, including asking the Fundraising Regulator to regularly review the impact of its levy. It further cautions the Charity Commission that mishandling of the upcoming consultation on charging could risk weakening the sector and undermining public trust and confidence, although stops short of recommending against charging.

The Committee further makes recommendations for the Office of Civil Society (OCS), public sector commissioners and the government more broadly on topics ranging from Brexit to Gift Aid. A full list of the report’s recommendations can be found in our member briefing.

Also included in the report are a number of recommendations for infrastructure bodies like ACEVO. These include: reviewing existing training opportunities and taking action to address holes in provision; working with government and other partners to identify opportunities to support leadership programmes; considering collaborative working models with other infrastructure bodies.

It is absolutely right that a report of this depth and scope should call on the sector’s infrastructure bodies to work together to ensure that they are doing all they can to help charities not only survive but thrive. I look forward to continuing to build relationships with infrastructure partners including Bond, CFG, DSC, Locality, NAVCA, NCVO and the Small Charities Coalition in order to action the Committee’s recommendations.

And, just as the umbrella bodies have a responsibility to ensure they heed the advice of the Committee, so must every other organisation named in the report. This is not the end of the journey but the beginning. The change the report calls for will not happen by accident or happenstance; it requires the commitment of those named within it.

There is a risk with such a weighty document containing so many recommendations that key action points get lost and change never comes. One of my first thoughts on receipt of the Committee report was why so many recommendations? Surely a better approach would have been to prioritise a shorter list of game-changer recommendations with key deliverables? But then I read the umbrella sector’s response to the report and noted its own breadth and diversity. ACEVO unsurprising focused on leadership, CFG highlighted Charity Commission charging, whilst NAVCA called for a more ambitious response to dealing with systemic problems in public sector commissioning.

This is then where I modestly add my own recommendation to the Committee’s report. The infrastructure sector should take collective responsibility for critically analysing each recommendation and for holding all those named in the report, including each other, to account. The Committee report is a roadmap to change but there will undoubtedly need to be some pushing along the way.

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