How charities can build a better Britain
Early ideas to maximise the role of charities in the Covid-19 recovery and the government’s levelling up agenda.
We believe charities are uniquely placed to rebuild our society post-covid. We also believe there are three big things the government can do to unlock this potential; namely, improving how government works with charities directly, effective infrastructure, and targeted regulation.
In this note, a version of which was submitted in response to Boris Johnson’s invitation to Danny Kruger to investigate the role of charities in the coronavirus recovery, we share how we think the government can encourage a more impactful charity sector, better equipped to help people through the covid-19 crisis, bolster the levelling up agenda and play a leading role in making Britain a stronger and fairer society.
At NPC our approach centres on improving the impact of charity, an aim which we know the government shares. Read all our recommendations below, or use the links to jump straight to the ones you’re interested in.
- Put charities at the heart of government thinking
- Make government data more easily available to charities
- Involve civil society in local government and public services
- Strengthen the social in the Social Value Act
- Use the Shared Prosperity Fund to build up communities via charities
- Don’t let the Lobbying Act silence charities
- Understand the upswell in volunteering and mutual aid during the crisis so far, so as to sustain it.
- Use digital and data to enable more volunteering where it is needed
- Appoint a grassroots national commission to learn from our experiences tackling the virus
- Create a Civil Society Improvement Agency to support pioneers in the sector
- Enable better use of Charity Commission data
- Encourage more transparency from grant makers
- Require charity trustees to report publicly on mission and impact
- Make it simpler for charities to pay trustees
Charities need the confidence speak out on causes and controversies that affect their users and they are experts in, while avoiding the danger of being overtly political. The public and policymakers need the information charities gather through their research and frontline experience. The government may say that restrictions like the Lobbying Act should not stop this, whatever the legal rights and wrongs, it has undoubtedly had a chilling effect on the sector.
Meanwhile, at the local level, small charities are wary of biting the hand that may feed them. Self-censoring creates an unhealthy situation where a key component of a pluralistic well-functioning democracy is not working. At the very least, we need a convention or charter, enforced by a new Civil Society Ombudsman, which guarantees the right for charities to speak out and blocks attempt by governments to stop this.
Charity Commission data needs to be much better used and made available in a far timelier manner than at present. It is very hard currently to use charity commission data to understand how many charities are doing what, where. The categories that charities are put into, the way they describe the groups they serve, and their area of operations all need to be looked at urgently so we can do better analysis. The Charity Commission should be properly resourced to do this.
Charities are currently only permitted to pay trustees for their work as a trustee in specific circumstances and with the permission of the Charity Commission. We do not have data on the proportion of charities that take up this option, but we expect the number to be very low. Due to the complexity of the rules we would expect the charities that do exercise their option to be the larger and better resourced ones, and there seems to be some evidence to support this.
All charities should have easier access to this option. Paying trustees will increase the range of professional skills available in charity governance and is likely to increase the diversity of backgrounds that people enter the world of trusteeship from. We therefore call for the Charity Commission to drop the requirement that charities must seek permission before paying trustees.
(Edit – 24 July 2020: We recognise that paying trustees would not be the right option for every charity, but we think that those who do want to explore this option should be able to do so without a complex process which favours those with greater resources.)