As I have written previously, the Conservative Party in Parliament, largely at odds with the rest of the Party in local Council settings seems to mistrust and even dislike the charitable sector. They fully understand the benefit of being associated with high profile charity supporters and founders such as Joanna Lumley, Debbie Scott and Camilla Batmanghelidjh to name just three from a very long list, but they are just as quick to disassociate themselves from the same people when the charity or its priorities come into conflict with the policies of the Government, or indeed when the charity is judged to have made mistakes. Beyond the glitz and glamour of such high profile names, on a day to day level the Party is just as two faced. The Prime Minister often refers to the need for the Big Society (with charities at the core) to deal with issues that the state is no longer willing to address, and the importance for each of us to volunteer our time for good causes. However when these same charities want to point out inconsistencies in political strategies, or when their very existence is shown to illuminate the failings of the government, the response is silence at best or more disturbing an attempt to discredit the charities concerned. A classic example of this is the failure of the Government to engage with the Trussell Trust which represents a large number of foodbanks. When pressed to explain why key Ministers have not met with Trussel, it is the charity that gets blamed, not the failure of these political leaders.
On a policy level, this Government is no better. As part of the coalition they previously attached disgraceful threats and challenges to charities actions as part of their appalling Lobbying Bill, when there was no reason to do so, apart from preventing criticism of their own actions in the run up to elections. They are now embarking on another foray into Charity bashing. It is important to understand that all institutions including charities do make mistakes and sometimes these mistakes can be very damaging. A recent series of failures in a small number of high profile charities has come to light in terms of the way in which they have been fundraising. Of some 163,000 charities a mere handful have been involved. Their failure was to pay businesses to fund raise for them, and these businesses have behaved in an unethical manner, misusing data and following aggressive cold calling strategies. It is vital that this approach is addressed and the charities and their trustees are held to account for their failure to manage the data involved and the damage done to individuals who have been subjected to this treatment. The common factor is the misuse of data and methods of contacting people. It is a problem that exists within many other areas of business such as PPI repayments, accident compensation, funeral plans and even fundraising for political parties as well as questionable investment opportunities. However rather than deal with the problem in a holistic manner and address all cold calling and direct sales, an approach that would bring the Party into conflict with some of their funders and supporters, the Government has announced it will introduce “tough” amendments to the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, currently going through parliament, to require all new contracts between charities and fundraising agencies to state how the vulnerable are protected. I fully support the Government as it seeks to protect all of us from unwanted and unscrupulous sales strategies. However simply focusing on charities, just because the arbiter of what is good in Society, the Daily Mail has formed a campaign is a knee jerk reaction to populism, the opposite of what Governments should do.