Speech to launch Charity Commissions new 5-year strategy

From: Charity Commission
Published: Mon Feb 26 2024

In a speeh delivered at an event at Coin Street, in London, Orlando Fraser launches the Charity Commission's new 5-year strategy.

Good morning all .

I'm delighted to welcome you to the launch of the strategy that will guide the Commission's work over the next 5 years.

It's apt, I think, that we're here in Coin Street - a wonderful place, and an admirable undertaking, which would not exist but for the resolve of a group of local people, who back in the 1980s fought to improve the area they called home.

This story of hope and stewardship chimes with the spirit in which we undertook a review of the Commission's strategic direction. A process that has been thorough, considered, and fuelled by an optimism for the sector we regulate.

We naturally wanted to build on, and develop, the good work the organisation has done in recent years that Helen has described, and indeed, throughout the Commission's long history - but we also wanted to underline some key values that we believe needs to underpin the Commission's work over the next 5 years.

Importance of charities

By way of context, we are among the oldest regulators in continuous operation, not just here in the UK, but throughout the world.

We owe that longevity, first and foremost, to the enduring and indeed growing role of charities in our national life.

Over generations, through wars, periods of economic growth and decline, successive changes in governments, and huge cultural and technological transformation, charities have remained at the beating heart of every community across England and Wales, and they have remained central to the cohesion of our society as a whole.

Governments of all stripes have understood this, and recognised that charities' success rests not least on effective regulation, which helps uphold and strengthen the relationship between charities, and the public on whom they ultimately rely.

The Commission, in turn, has earnt ongoing trust and support, by holding firm to our core purpose, while adapting the way we work to the changing context in which we have operated.

We are honouring that legacy today, in launching a new strategy that reaffirms our core purpose, and also responds to the particular challenges and opportunities of the age.

The environment into which we are launching this strategy is challenging, as Helen has described.

We cannot shift that challenging context.

What we can do is meet our objectives in a way that responds to the external environment, mindful that regulation is not an end in itself, but a means to promote public trust, helping charities fulfil their essential work in enhancing the lives of individuals and strengthening society.

And we can be mindful of the uncertainty the sector faces at this time - not by anticipating all future events and trends - but in allowing for flexibility.

Our new strategy

Our new strategy is designed to do just that.

Running through the strategy like a golden thread is a renewed commitment, a clear ambition that we be the expert Charity Commission that is fair, balanced, and independent so that charity can thrive.

These principles matter to me personally. My commitment to them inspired my desire to be Chair of the Commission - I set this out in my pre-appointment hearing before a committee of Parliament - and they have informed everything I have said and done as chair since I took up the role two years ago.

And by making them a central thread through our new strategy, we are showing that we are not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk.

I have set out on previous occasions what these terms mean in the context of our work, but I think it bears repetition .

Fairness - this commitment means that everyone who comes into contact with the Commission can expect to be met with a consistent response that is free from bias or preconception. We may not - indeed almost certainly will not - be able to offer all those who come to us the outcome they wish for. But we should make our processes clear, work with rigor and professionalism, and explain why we do what we do.

Balance - is especially important in the context of our investigatory and enforcement work. We must support trustees to run their charities well, mindful that the best laid plans can go awry, working with charities to make good mistakes where they happen. But, where necessary and appropriate, we will deal robustly with intentional wrongdoers, whose actions risk harming not just one charity, but the trust the public has for charities overall.

And by independence, we mean that while we will listen to all concerns and all views with respect, we will be beholden to no-one, no outside interest, in applying the law. We will not be swayed by fear or favour from Government, the sector, the public or the media.

The values of fairness, balance and independence, woven as they are into our new strategy, are crucial waypoints for the Commission as we navigate the years ahead.

And because they are reflected on our corporate strategy in this way, we can and will be held directly accountable for living up to them.

Our five strategic priorities

To help us deliver on these values, the strategy sets five priorities, which describe our areas of focus, and how, in broad terms, we will work to meet them. You will note, I hope, that these priorities follow directly from the values I have just set out, that they make concrete, and actionable, the responsibilities that follow from committing to being an expert regulator that is fair, balanced and independent.

Priority 1: We will be fair and proportionate in our work, and clear about our role.

This will mean not only that we will offer fair processes for all, but also that, in order to so in a way that serves to increase the trust the public has in charities, and promote the confidence of trustees, we must communicate confidently, clearly and with consistency about our decisions.

This will also involve recognising the reality that our remit, size, and budget limit what we can and should get involved in, and being clear about communicating that. As part of this work, we will therefore work to be more explicit on the standard of evidence we require to be able to consider concerns raised about charities, and the threshold for our action. We will also review our risk operating framework to make clearer our definitions of risk and by extension what we can and cannot be involved in.

Priority 2: We will support charities to get it right but take robust ation where we see wrongdoing and harm.

This means that we will place equal emphasis on being a source of support to trustees, and on being a tough enforcer. This flows directly from our commitment to balance, and is right and proper in itself, in principle.

But there is also an important utilitarian argument for this priority, which I would like to highlight. It is this: In the years ahead, the Commission has an important part of play in ensuring that trusteeship remains an attractive, rewarding role that people from any background can and do aspire to.

Trustees are the bedrock of the charity sector - largely, as you know, volunteers. I am grateful to all those who serve in this role already - society owes you a great debt.

But we must widen the pool. Already, there are many charities whose work is hampered by board vacancies. And we know that many hold several trusteeships, responding generously with their expertise and time.

To ensure the voluntary principle and model is protected into the future, we must, therefore attract people who are currently underrepresented into the fold of trusteeship.

So expect to hear more from us on the wider topic of trusteeship in the months ahead.

Priority 3: We will speak with authority and credibility, free from the influence of others.

We are emphasising our independence so strongly in this strategy, not because this is a new idea, or at particular risk, but because we believe this principle will be increasingly important in the years ahead .

We live in a more and more atomised society, with fewer universally shared values and norms than in past decades, and certainly less trust in institutions.

Charities can bring us together powerfully - we saw that during the pandemic, we've seen it in response to the war in Ukraine - charities have huge unifying potential.

But they can be caught up in fierce public battles for the soul of our nation. These debates help to highlight the crucial work of charities. But there are risks involved, when charities find themselves at the biting edge of what we have come to know as the culture wars.

I will not allow the Commission to be misused or weaponised by any army involved in fighting these wars. Whether it be led by powerful interests in politics, the media, or indeed the sector itself.

We will march consistently, and confidently, to the beat of another drum, namely the law.

Without doubt, we will find ourselves in contested territory - divisive and contentious issues will arise, that is the nature of our work, and inherent in the role charities play in our society.

But where we face such challenges, we will tackle them in a way the seeks to promote respect, tolerance, and kindness.

And we will expect the charities we regulate to do the same, responding with purpose-led magnanimity to attacks they may face along the way.

I want us to make our contribution to upholding a democratic, pluralistic, tolerant culture that allows a broad and diverse charity sector to thrive in the first place.

It's part of the legacy that I want to pass on.

Priority 4: We will embrace technological innovation and strengthen how we use our data.

This priority will come as no surprise, as it follows a path the Commission has been treading for some time now.

We want to ensure that charities can use digital technologies in providing us the information we need to regulate effectively - thus making their experience of doing so smoother and more efficient. In turn we must work to ensure trustees can find easily what they need from us.

As part of this commitment, we will work to evolve our public Register, so that information about charities is easy to find, transparent and helps the public to make informed choices about charity.

Priority 5: We will be the expert Commission, where our people are empowered and enabled to deliver excellence in regulation.

Finally, as much as the strategy is framed to respond to the wider context in which we operate, it looks inward too.

This section of the strategy sets out the kind of organisation and employer we want to be, recognising that the Commission is its people, and that we will achieve nothing without the continuous commitment, and expertise of our staff.

As a Civil Service regulator, with tight budgetary constraints, our offer to our staff has to go beyond the financial - we have to offer an environment that empowers people, and enables them to develop and learn. Our working culture must be inclusive, welcoming excellence and talent in all its forms, and valuing people for the unique package of skills, experience, perspective and talent that they bring.

As such, we are committed to working together in a way that is supportive, collaborative, and innovative to achieve our ambitions. These new corporate values, lived well, will engage not just our existing staff, but help us attract the best people into the future.

As part of this commitment, we will work to develop the capability of our people, including by implementing a career structure that emphasises expertise and excellence, enabling opportunities for progression and continuous development.


I am confident that our new strategy sets the right course for the Commission, and I hope that you agree.

But I know that our success will not be measured in how well our priorities are received today, but in the extent to which we deliver on the promises they entail.

And so while today marks an important moment for the Commission, and for me personally, we are very much at the starting blocks.

I hope that you will support the Commission - our board and staff, as we begin the really hard work of putting our strategy into action.

That you will help us, as we work to ensure charities' enduring place within our society is protected, and secured, into the future.

Company: Charity Commission

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