Freeman Blog

“If you want to make enemies...."

Posted by Mark Freeman
Mark Freeman
Mark Freeman & Associates was established by Mark Freeman to bring together a number of trusted associates who...
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on Tuesday, 15 October 2013 in Freeman Blog

Woodrow Wilson once said, "If you want to make enemies, try to change something."  You may have seen the recent controversy over William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission and his interview with the Daily Telegraph.  He warned that charitable donations destined for places like Syria could fall into the wrong hands – i.e. extremist groups. This was translated into headline news by the Telegraph as “charity millions going to Syrian terror groups”.

Well we all know that the papers like to sensationalise the news - it sells their papers - but what is interesting is the response from writers and those in the charitable sector some of whom see this “controversy” as a reason why Mr Shawcross is unsuitable for the role of chairing the Commission. 

I recently attended a seminar where William Shawcross was one of the presenters. He spoke not only of the organisational problems that the Charity Commission faces, but also how the regulator has been criticised by the Public Accounts Committee for “not using their legal powers often enough to suspend/remove trustees”.

There are numerous examples of fraud within the sector – charities set up for tax evasion purposes, excesses around executive pay, and stories about failing charities. And no doubt there are people who will use charities as vehicles for crime, money laundering and terrorism, perceiving them as a soft target, having a regulator with no muscle. 

William Shawcross says that he is committed to sorting this out. In his first year at the Commission he has appointed a new board that is going to tighten its approach to serious case work and act more quickly with those charities under investigation.

He is also lobbying to ensure that those who are found to have committed serious wrongdoing will not be able to hold a trustee position again – I didn’t realise that at the moment someone convicted of terrorism or money laundering can still be a trustee!

Mr Shawcross also wants to see a flag against any charity that has its accounts qualified by an external examiner, to highlight those charities where there is something amiss with their financial statements.

So why aren’t we full of praise for these endeavours and supportive of these changes?  They will ensure that the confidence we have in the way our charities are regulated is sound and that charities are governed with the same rigour as we would expect to find in the financial services industry, for example.

My view is that change sometimes brings out the worst in people. When someone puts their head above the parapet to act as an agent of change, those with an axe to grind will use any incident to highlight an inadequacy. 

But, I suspect the real reason behind the criticism in the Telegraph story is that Mr Shawcross is an outspoken conservative supporter, now operating in an environment that has a heavy social bias. So instead of looking at the big picture, some are more focused on gaining political points.

Very sad, when what we actually need is Mr Shawcross and his team to continue rolling their sleeves up and deliver a regulator that has teeth.


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