Amidst the balderdash, bureaucracy and blocking that passes for government these days, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and its Chair, Margaret Hodge MP, have become something of the nation’s conscience.
This follows an utterly damning report by the National Audit Office which said the Commission is failing to regulate charities properly . Which means it’s failing to provide the main service for which it is given £23 Million of taxpayers money every year.
Having had experience of shutting down a renegade charity, I tend to agree with Margaret Hodge.
The sight of thousands of unopened donor letters piled from floor to ceiling in an empty office, the supercomputer in the corner with its flashing LCD lights and screens churning out lists of names for direct mailing, the threatening and aggressive way in which its founders stoutly defended their despicable operation. This is not made up I assure you.
Then there was the Charity Commission: slow, unresponsive, reluctant to advise. There were times when it felt as though they were not sure whose behalf they were acting. More often than not it felt like they were protecting themselves.
That was ten years ago. Too late to be of any relevance you might say. You might very well be right.
However, they said the same sort of things then in response to criticism as they have this week: they have a new strategy; they are putting things right; they have insufficient money and; need more time. It’s an old tune which wears thin on the ears. So I have little belief that they will ‘up their game’ .
Fact is it’s pretty easy to set-up a charity. It’s very difficult to do something about the ones that go off the rails. Unfortunately the Commission has become part of the problem rather than the solution. It doesn’t think like a regulator, more like the civil service of old. And worryingly, as an organisation, it has gone awol in the eyes of policy-makers, stakeholders and perhaps members of the public who come into contact with it.
I do understand why many charity commentators and thought-leaders have been less blunt than Margaret Hodge in their criticism of the Commission. But I don’t agree with them. Nor do I agree with the argument that it has a lot on its plate the pressure is on to deliver it with less money. That may very well be an argument for re-focusing the Commission on one or two key tasks and hiving the others off to those who are better equipped to do them. There is nothing to say they might not do a better job either.
But these days I am just a donor, so what do I know.