With friends like these …


I have a problem. Baroness Tina Stowell*, the Chair of the Charity Commission!

My heart sinks whenever I see a headline saying “Baroness Stowell says …”

My most recent Stowell related heartsink was when she delivered a speech at the leadership forum Charity2020 saying “It is the job of the Commission to represent the interests of the public to charities”. Actually, the Charity Commission’s role is “To ensure charity can thrive and inspire trust so that people can improve lives and strengthen society." Under this there are five objectives, none of which are to represent the interests of the public to charities.

Another recent corker from La Stowell came with the Charity Commission’s report on the Garden Bridge Trust. She pronounced that the debacle “represents a failure for charity”.

An alternative interpretation of the Garden Bridge Trust disaster is that it represents a failure of politicians who abused the charity ‘brand’ for a vanity project.

As DSC write in their excellent article, the blame should be squarely laid at the feet of Boris Johnson, George Osborne and TfL.

I could go on! Initially I ascribed Baroness Stowell’s pronouncements to a lack of knowledge about the voluntary sector (see below*) but I’m starting to realise that she is gradually redefining the Charity Commission’s direction of travel. They state that the public want “charities to be held to a higher standard of behaviour, conduct and integrity” than everyone else including apparently schools, hospitals and government and are acting accordingly. And to top it off, the Commission may now disclose information to the press (without telling you) which your charity reports as a ‘serious incident’.

Needless to say, I was delighted to see that Sir Stuart Etherington (outgoing Chief Executive of NCVO) has written to the Charity Commission with concerns about its direction of travel.

Medium sir stuart etherington

I will be watching with interest to see the outcome of this letter. Stuart Etherington is not a man to be ignored!

*Baronness Stowell was appointed as Chair of the Charity Commission, despite concerns and objections being raised by many in the voluntary sector. Indeed, she was appointed despite the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee formally rejecting her as a candidate, saying “We were forced to conclude that Lady Stowell’s experience in the charity sector is, to put it bluntly, negligible. Her only exposure to the sector comes from her role as trustee, a role which she has held for no more than eight months. Highlighting this stark absence of relevant experience, Andrew Hind, former chief executive of the Charity Commission, told us that ‘her fit with the published person specification is poor’.” One is led to wonder whether her leadership of the House of Lords and membership of the Conservative Parliamentary Party might perhaps have had some bearing on her appointment.