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Lords Call For a More Diverse Charity Commission Board

Lords Call For a More Diverse Charity Commission Board

Charity Commission and Diversity

The House of Lords Select Committee on Charities has said the next round of appointments to the Charity Commission‘s board should “actively seek to recruit people from a wide range of demographic characteristics.”

In its wide-ranging report, Stronger Charities For A Stronger Society, published at the end of a year-long inquiry into the UK charity sector, the committee says appointing a diverse board presents difficulties, but it “cannot expect to hold the sector to a higher standard than it is able to achieve itself.”

The report states: “When filling future vacancies it [should] explicitly seek to recruit individuals with a range of skills, charity experiences and demographic characteristics, such as age, gender, ethnicity and geography . . . We expect to see the results of this approach in the next set of board appointments.”

A spokesperson for the Charity Commission said it was committed to continuing to improving diversity and noted that until recently the board had included women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Other recommendations to improve governance include the carrying out of regular skills audits, access to training for trustees and induction training for all trainees, a suggestion that the government should launch a public consultation on introducing a statutory duty to allow employees time off work to attend board meetings, time limits for trusteeships with some exemptions, and trusteeships should continue to be primarily voluntary.

‘Grave concerns’ about charging proposals

Other key themes in the report include the accessibility of funding and reform of the regulatory environment.

The committee urged the Treasury to “maintain adequate funding” of the Charity Commission, noting it has “grave concerns” about Commission proposals to charge charities for its services. In its report, the committee warns that if funding were to be sourced directly from charities it would fundamentally change their relationship with the regulator. The Commission’s status would change from that of being an independent overseer to an agency in which charities would have a financial stake and might therefore wish to influence, peers said.

The report lauds attempts by the Commission to improve regulatory efficacy in a time of continuing budgetary constraint, but cautions that much remains to be achieved before it can be considered fully effective. It says the regulator needs to offer greater encouragement to charity staff and trustees who want to raise issues, be clearer about what it can offer within its reduced budget and offer assistance to charities to find support elsewhere if required.

Peers says ministers should bring forward at the earliest opportunity a parliamentary bill to address some of the technical and legal hurdles charities face when wanting to merge. They say that the Charity Commission should enhance the support and guidance it offers to charities that want to merge, and assist in removing any barriers to merger that may exist, particularly regarding liabilities such as pension arrangements.

Peers urge transparency

Elsewhere, the committee urges greater transparency in the charitable sector, noting that “In order to respond to the greater expectations upon them, charities need to operate with a presumption of openness.”

It says all but the very smallest organisations should have a website or social media presence, all charities should seek independent evaluation of their work, and charities should publish data that allows stakeholders to assess performance.

The committee’s report also notes that “the commissioning landscape is skewed against smaller charities” and recommends the government provides support for voluntary sector bidding consortia and encourages more commissioning based on social value, rather than cost.

Charities play a vital role

While the report contains 100 conclusions and recommendations, it underscores that charities are vital and will continue to be so in the years ahead: “Charities play a fundamental role in our civil life and do so despite facing a multitude of challenges. They are often in the front line of support for the most vulnerable and are therefore in the best place to assess their needs.”

Contact IBB’s charity lawyers for expert advice

IBB Solicitors’ specialist Charities team has over 50 years’ combined experience in delivering practical commercial advice to charities, social enterprises and not for profit organisations and those who work with them. For advice, contact a member of the team, call us on 01895 207862 or email charities@ibblaw.co.uk.

Photo credit: Howard Lake