What is happening when the major umbrella organisations for charities can do little to remind the public about the huge value that charities bring to millions of people in the UK? Sir Stephen Bubb, who has been Chief Executive of ACEVO since 2000, was interviewed this morning on the BBC about Kids Company and based on what he said, it would have been easy to mistakenly imagine that the whole of the sector was uncontrolled and in disarray.
I absolutely agree with him on the importance of leadership in charities and that the public could have a better understanding of the need for charities to spend resources on back office functions including governance. However, Sir Stephen omitted to talk about how the sector provides crucial and invaluable services which fill the gaps in our welfare provision and provide a voice for the vulnerable and marginalised groups of society.
The majority of charities across the country are doing excellent work providing a lifeline to millions of people. However, this risks being overshadowed by the understandable focus on what the House of Commons Public Administration Committee has rightly called "an extraordinary catalogue of failures of governance and control at every level: trustees, auditors, inspectors, regulators and government" at Kids Company.
Charities should absolutely face scrutiny, leadership is fundamental and it is essential we learn from failings. However, the debacle surrounding Kids Company must not be allowed to create a backlash against the whole of the charity sector. I greatly fear there will be a knee jerk reaction creating even more bureaucracy than exists already and making it even harder for charities to spend public money on the front line.
Having listened to Sir Stephen Bubb, the level of regulation and control and oversight that already exists in relation to charities might come as a surprise to many people. Charity Commission, HMRC, Companies House, Fundraising Standards Board and external auditors all ensure that charity business is more accountable and transparent than many for profit companies. Funding bodies, including local and central government usually have very onerous reporting mechanisms in relation to any grants or commissioning partnerships. This reporting is not only about money but crucially about the difference the work is making to those in need. Most of us in the sector could never get away without gathering this evidence. That's why it's so disappointing that time and time again warning signs about Kids Company were ignored, including at the highest levels.
Charity Commission guidance has for a long-time recommended that Trustees sitting on the Boards of charities should have a fixed tenure. As Chief Executive of one charity and chair of another I absolutely agree with this guidance. Perhaps too there is something to be said for limited terms of office for Chief Executives, to encourage fresh thinking and avoid complacency. Either way, the work we need to do as a sector to learn lessons from what went wrong with Kids Company should be harnessed as a force for the good and not as a way of undermining work which makes a massive difference to some of the most disadvantaged people in the country.