Skip to main content

Regulatory independence

We have advocated for many years for enabling, inclusive and transparent regulation. The importance of independent leadership of the Charity Commission is paramount; it is particularly vital for charities that their regulator is seen to be impartial, politically neutral and equipped with the expertise to properly assess complaints made about charities. We have previously spoken out regarding our concerns that appointments made to the role of the chair of the Charity Commission have lacked political neutrality, resulting in eroded trust between the sector and its regulator. It is vital that this role is filled by someone without significant political ties, but also by someone who can demonstrate strong, independent leadership skills and the capacity to challenge incorrect or damaging narratives about what activities charities can and cannot carry out, as well as clarifying the legal remit of the regulator.

An appointment process for the chair of the Charity Commission is currently open; over the past twelve months we have actively engaged with government to try and ensure the next chair can build trust with the sector and regulate effectively. Alongside other charity sector infrastructure bodies, we have created a checklist of the attributes we want to see in the next Charity Commission chair. 

Alongside NCVO, we have identified key attributes we would like to see in the next Charity Commission chair. Some of these are reflected in the job description released by the government, but others are not. We outlined the differences between the most recent role specification and the one used before in a blog, which you can see at the bottom of this page.

We wrote to the DCMS Select Committee in October 2021 alongside other infrastructure bodies highlighting these attributes, and asking them to be used as a way of framing questions to the preferred candidate in the pre-appointment scrutiny hearing. As soon as a date for this is announced we will share further updates with our members.

Regulation

  • A commitment to the charity sector’s effective, independent, proportionate, and impartial regulation
  • A commitment to building trust between the charity sector and its regulator through transparency, continued sector engagement
  • A clear understanding of the role and remit of the regulator as laid out by Parliament and a commitment to upholding this when responding to political or public grievances against charities, emphasising the regulator’s legal limitations
  • A commitment to building an accountable and transparent regulator to support charities to understand regulatory requirements and to work within them
  • A commitment to the independence of the charity sector and its regulator, and a vision for communicating why this is so important publicly

Personal independence

  • A strong reputation for high levels of personal integrity, resilience and other attitudes consistent with the expectations of senior public office in a high profile role, including a commitment to demonstrating the Nolan Principles of Public Life
  • The ability to make strategic decisions within a complex and shifting external landscape
  • The ability to clearly communicate the priorities and remit of the regulator in the face of pressure from powerful and influential voices
  • Demonstrable experience of demonstrating independence when facing challenges to their approach in past roles
  • The skills to lead a board and support the leadership of a high-profile organisation, including managing the recruitment of new expertise to the board when necessary

Party-political independence

  • Demonstrable party-political independence and an understanding of the specific importance of party-political neutrality for charities and their regulator
  • A clear vision for rebuilding trust between the sector and the regulator in the face of previous accusations of party-political appointments to this role
  • A clear vision of how they will communicate and uphold their own party-political independence, and be transparent in this space

Understanding of charities

  • A commitment to the importance of civil society and the role it plays in communities and democracy, and a willingness to champion the different ways in which charity trustees can work within their charitable objects
  • Understanding of the varied ways charities are constituted and run, and the role of the regulator in overseeing the activities of such a diverse sector
  • A clear vision for how they will be an accessible and engaging ambassador for the Charity Commission and for the sector as a whole, to continue improving public understanding of civil society
  • A commitment to improving public trust in charities through managing public expectations of regulatory processes and the remit of the regulator and ensuring continued transparency from the Commission surrounding investigations

Further references

Starting with our most recent work, other activity surrounding this recruitment process has included:  

11 October 2021

A group of infrastructure bodies wrote to the DCMS Select Committee outlining our commitment to independence of both charities and the chair of the Commission, and the attributes we would like to see in the next chair of the Commission (Please scroll down for the attributes list).

24 September 2021

In partnership with NCVO, we wrote to Nadine Dorries asking for clarification on the recruitment process for the Charity Commission chair, and to confirm that her predecessor’s comments did not indicate undue political involvement in the recruitment process. 

17 September 2021

Nadine Dorries MP is announced as the new Secretary of State for DCMS in the cabinet reshuffle.

14 September 2021

We published a blog in response to this column, outlining our continued commitment to the independence of charities and the chair of the Charity Commission from specific politically partisan views of what charities should do. We also highlighted that Dowden’s assertion of a need for ‘a return to charitable objects’ is unfounded given that the Charity Commission has found no evidence of wrongdoing.

12 September 2021

Oliver Dowden’s column on Getting Britain’s charities back on track is published, implying that mission drift is widespread across the sector due to charity engagement with controversial issues, and stating that the new chair will need to ‘rebalance’ this.

22 July 2021

Peter Riddell wrote to Michael Gove, raising concerns about the vague explanations given for delays to the process for recruiting the Charity Commission chair, and when the interim chair’s tenure would conclude.

18 March 2021

We received a letter from the then Minister for Civil Society, Diana Barran, who had been passed our letter to Oliver Dowden from 1 March, stating that the appointment would be conducted in line with the Governance Code for Public Appointments and that it was not felt a meeting was necessary.

9 March 2021

The appointment process launches for the next chair of the Charity Commission. On 22 March 2021, we published a blog responding to this person specification, highlighting our key concern that the need for independence had been removed.

1 March 2021

We wrote to Oliver Dowden welcoming the appointment of Ian Karet as interim chair of the Charity Commission to allow for a proper recruitment process, and circulated the above blog link outlining key attributes we would like candidates to demonstrate.

26 January 2021

January 2021

ACEVO representatives met with Peter Riddell, the then Commissioner for Public Appointments, to discuss our concerns with the Governance Code for Public Appointments and pre-appointment scrutiny. Peter Riddell has publicly stated his support for a ‘cooling-off’ period if a Select Committee unanimously recommends against the appointment of a preferred candidate, to allow to proper resolution of concerns.

3 December 2020

We wrote to the then Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden, asking him to “work with us to co-design an appointment process that is founded in transparency, accountability and party-political impartiality”, alongside other infrastructure bodies.

30 November 2020

3 November 2020

We wrote to Julian Knight MP, chair of the DCMS Select Committee, outlining the need for an independent, expert and accountable regulator. This letter was published as statement from the infrastructure bodies involved; no response was received.

 

There is other work going on challenging the comments made by Oliver Dowden and their implications for the independence of charities. The Good Law Project has launched legal action against the government and a crowdfunder seeking support for this project. An open letter to Nadine Dorries was signed by many across the sector.

We also challenged the government around the appointment of Baroness Stowell in 2018, after the DCMS Select Committee unanimously recommended against her appointment. Get in touch for a timeline of the work we did around this appointment process.

Not an ACEVO member?

If you have any queries please email info@acevo.org.uk or call 020 7014 4600.