Policy, campaigns & research, Policy

New toolkit revealed to question charity regulator’s political independence

Following regular and widely-held concerns about the party-political bias of the previous Charity Commission Chair William Shawcross, and the subsequent appointment of Conservative Peer Baroness Stowell to replace him...

…against the unanimous advice of a parliamentary scrutiny committee and leading charities – the Directory of Social Change today publishes ‘Three Pillars of Independence’. This new toolkit will help monitor and guard against encroachment on the regulator’s independent decision-making.

The Charity Commission is accountable to Parliament, not the government of the day, and its independence is fundamental to how its legally binding decisions are perceived within the sector it regulates. Charity trustees – almost entirely volunteers – need confidence that decisions made by their regulator are impartial and based on the law, not the views and opinions of whatever party is in power.

But how can independence be monitored in practice? DSC believes there are three key things to consider when it comes to the Charity Commission: independence from party politics, populism and the press. The document published today sets out the principles and context, and gives a list of practical questions which anyone can ask to assess: is the charity regulator acting independently?

This comes against a backdrop of successive governments asserting greater control over independent regulators by appointing people with the ‘right’ political views to govern them. MPs recently noted that the appointment of the Chief Inspector for Ofsted in July 2016 bears many similarities to the case of Baroness Stowell. The 2016 Grimstone Review of the public appointments system also gave ministers further power to override the pre-appointment decisions of select committees.

Launching the document, DSC’s Director of Policy and Research, Jay Kennedy said: ‘Recent governments have sought leverage over the Charity Commission via the appointments process. To anyone paying attention it’s obvious that relevant administrative expertise, experience of charities, or knowledge of charity law has been secondary to other considerations. This is a deeply disturbing trend. Charity trustees need confidence that their regulator is operating in an objective way, based on the law and evidence, not unduly influenced by political rhetoric or press hyperbole. We’ve published this toolkit as a bulwark to support the Commission’s independence and confidence in its legally-binding judgments. We encourage others to use it, and hope it makes the job easier for everybody in the sector and beyond.”

You can download the toolkit here.