A few months ago I wrote about the abject failure by William Shawcross, Chair of the Charity Commission and Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society to offer Claire Dove, at that time a board member of the Charity Commission a second term as a board member. Claire was the only member of the Commission with any personal experience of running or governing a charity of any significance and also as a Black women from Liverpool offered a meaningful contrast to the other white, Southern and mostly male Board. I was not alone in my frustration at this poor decision, bearing in mind the Charity Commission board is not a toy for Shawcross or even the Government to treat as their own. Nevertheless despite many calls for change, no U turns were carried out.
We now know the outcome from the process to appoint a replacement for Claire and Peter Clarke, an ex Police Officer who also stepped down this Summer. The Charity Commission has made 3 appointments so extending the size of the board, yet as Lord Foulkes of Cumnock pointed out in a sitting of the House of Lords select committee on charities the board is now “a fairly right-wing, upper middle class, white, middle-aged group of people from the south east of England” William Shawcross responded suggesting that this was “grossly unfair” and said it was “not an accurate picture of how the organisation was run”. In a heated exchange, Foulkes pointed out that none of the members of the board were under 50, from the north of England or from black or minority ethnic communities. The age of board members aside (I suspect Claire Dove is over 50) none of the new intake have any charitable experience to speak of beyond a few years as Trustees on high profile large charities. This means that we have a board made up of people with an entire disconnect from most of the sector they are meant to regulate (The charitable sector is made up of 165,000 charities, of which a mere 10,000 have incomes of more than £500,000) and as George Foulkes has observed, whose perspective is deeply out of touch with many parts of the UK. The one positive is that two of the three appointments are of women, so at least in terms of gender balance, things have improved.
We need a complete refresh of the way in which this regulator of charities is governed. One of the major issues for the commission is to oversee the governance of the 165,000 charities. A great deal of the best advice and recommendations on this topic from a range of sources argue that wherever possible the boards of charities should reflect the community they serve. If the Charity Commission itself cannot get that right, why should any of the 165,000 charities pay them much attention on any matter they speak out about?