By Tony Okotie, Chief Executive, Community and Voluntary Action Tameside

Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of media interest in, and criticism of, charities. The Panorama programme last night into the investment practices of Comic Relief and an ‘expose’ of Save the Children’s work with corporate donors was just the latest. Last week the Charity Commission got a ‘mauling’ in a report by the National Audit Office, who concluded that they weren’t an effective regulator.

As well as Panorama, there is the Lobbying Bill (the latest blog by NCVO is available here) currently going through Parliament, which would make it almost impossible for charities, particularly smaller ones, to undertake their legitimate campaigning role. The criticism of charity chief executive pay has also been high profile – and will continue to be so. The reality of this is that there are very very few chief executives in the sector, particularly running local or sub-regional organisations, where their pay is out of step with the responsibilities that the size of organisation requires.

What point am I trying to make, you may be asking? It is this: it is vital that charities are, and should continue to be, open to public scrutiny. It is important to maintain public trust in charity. The Charity Commission is central to this, and I agree that they need to do more, particularly in cases where concerns are raised about individual charities. It also has an important function in ensuring that charities file their accounts, for example. Legitimate questions about CEO pay, investment strategies and the like are therefore ‘fair game’, in that they are fundamental questions that relate to public trust. That said, the way many of these stories have been covered by the media has not been, again in my personal opinion, objective and unbiased.

Therefore, all of us working in, for, and with charities, whether as a paid member of staff, trustee or volunteer, must do our best to uphold and protect the high regard that the great British public hold charity in. We must do all we can to be open and transparent. But we must also respond to what seems like a sustained attack on charities at present. One thing that we can all do (and something I have encouraged before) is to sign up to Back Britain’s Charities campaign.

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