Culture secretary

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has issued an opinion on the recruitment of the new chairman of the Charity Commission

The British people are a proud nation of donors, with the majority of us saying they have donated to charity at some point in the last year. Whether it’s improving our local communities, funding medical research, or protecting animals and wildlife, we want to do our part to support others, near and far. Charities are part of the rich fabric of our national life. They bring fun, purpose and essential services to millions of people. The pandemic has been tough on charities. But in many cases, the Third Sector has managed to continually support and support others during an incredibly difficult time. This is to be commended and encouraged.

The importance of charities and their help in reaching people the government cannot reach is precisely why the third sector, alongside others, has benefited from government programs designed to offer hope to organizations otherwise facing a very difficult future. In fact, we have created an additional £750m dedicated program for frontline charities precisely because of the value we place on them.

Earlier this week, one such charity, the Churchill Fellowship, sparked a debate with a controversial name change that appeared to remove Sir Winston Churchill from its public profile. The Churchill Fellowship has now said that it does not seek to deny the reason for their existence, which is welcome. But I found it quite extraordinary that he got to where this clarification was needed.

This is unfortunately not an isolated case. Just last week Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation overturned legal advice to move a statue of Thomas Guy from its main forecourt. A public consultation had been conducted on the matter, with statements from the foundation citing Guy’s shares in the South Sea Company, which had a major role in the ills of the slave trade. His role in founding one of the best hospitals in the world was seen as entirely secondary to that shareholding. Three-quarters of those who responded said the statue should remain in place, yet they announced they would move it anyway.

This is just another example of a disturbing trend in some charities that seem to have been hijacked by a vocal minority seeking to restore their awakened image. In doing so, they not only divert charities from their core missions, but they also waste a lot of time and money. I am quite sure that is not what the millions of Britons who donate to charity every year intended to spend their hard-earned and wisely donated money on. Also, as we work as a country to emerge from the pandemic, we need our charities to focus totally on their important work. We don’t need them chasing divisions in a way that serves neither their benefactors nor the country.

Public trust depends on charities staying true to their founding missions. The recruitment of a new chairman of the Charity Commission is an opportunity for this refocusing and rebalancing.

I have asked those leading the search to ensure that the new head of the Commission refocuses charities on their core purpose and empowers trustees to be robust. With interviews starting next week, candidates will be tested on how they will use the Commission’s oversight powers to begin this rebalancing. And the ministers will only select a candidate capable of convincing on these criteria. This is an important first step that will benefit not only the public, but also the charities themselves. I am convinced that the most successful charities of the next century will be those that focus on their primary goal of bringing about positive change.

The new chairman of the Charity Commission will have to ensure that these organizations are on a sustainable financial footing. The government rightly supports charities, but rather than develop a dependency on government grants in the years to come, they should refocus their efforts on public giving.

The British people understand the importance of philanthropy and giving. We understand the importance of the vital work done by charities. But in return for this support, charities must recognize that there is a larger group to which they owe their existence. The taxpayer has made no demands on those who receive these lifelines, but those who have accessed this funding must give due consideration to the entire constituency that now has a stake in their work.

We do our part when we donate to charities; they must do their part by ensuring that every penny is spent for real impact.

This editorial was originally published in the Sunday Telegraph on September 12, 2021.