Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Agapao: The Public Accounts Committee has today concluded the Charities Commission is ‘not fit for purpose’

The Public Accounts Committee has today concluded following an inquiry into its operation, that the Charities Commission is ‘not fit for purpose’. The report focuses principally on issues to do with gift aid and tax relief, but it also touches on general governance issues which are relevant to the case of Agapao.

The Commission is not failing because of complacency, but because of the way it is constituted – indeed the majority of the PAC’s recommendations were in fact recommendations for HMRC. It simply does not have the power to do what we would expect a regulator to do.

The majority of businesses and organisations in our country operate within the law and to standards that the public would expect. The same is true of charities, however there is a minority within the sector which do not meet the standards we would expect – we cannot be afraid to say this.

The remarks by the Chair of the PAC that the Charities Commission is simply “buffeted by events” is one that I agree with completely. Despite clear evidence of poor practice by Agapao, the Commission was largely unable to help in a tangible way.

Moreover I completely agree with the following statement made by the PAC – it seems directly applicable to Agapao: “The Commission too willingly accepts what charities tell it when it is investigating alleged abuses. It too often fails to verify or challenge the claims made. Some of the most serious cases of abuse have not been properly investigated. It has been too slow in removing or suspending trustees and in pursuing investigations promptly.”

It speaks volumes that it was public pressure from the community in Haslingden and from myself and staff that led to Agapao doing the right thing – much more effectively than the Charities Commission, who mainly played the role of polite letter-writer in response to complaints made by myself and constituents. Again this is not a criticism of the staff of the Commission, it is simply constituted in a way which restricts what it can do.

I appreciate the Charities Commission for all the help they were able to offer in bringing an amicable resolution to the Agapao situation in Haslingden, however I only wish that they had been able to do more – I suspect they probably agree.