Charity law consultation responses: is that all there is?

Scales of justice

The Scottish Government’s latest update on the charity law consultation is welcome, but there is more to be done, writes David Dunsire

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16th July 2019 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

When the Scottish Government launched its charity law consultation earlier this year, it said the time was right to consider updates to Scotland’s charity legislation – legislation that is now over 13 years old.

The sector widely agreed. Charities operate in a landscape that’s completely different to that of the early 2000s – due to factors such as the financial environment, digitisation and changing funding models and public expectations. We’ve also seen developments in charity law in the rest of the UK create some discrepancies in regulatory approaches.

Against that background, January’s consultation document was disappointingly narrow in scope, as my colleagues and I said at the time. Now the Scottish Government has published its analysis of the 307 consultation responses it received, and it seems that many people agreed with us.

On the one hand, the responses show support for the suggested changes to increase transparency and accountability. On the other, there are many organisations and individuals calling for wider change. Among this group, there appears to be a feeling of anti-climax that the consultation focused on making tweaks to the existing 2005 legislation, rather than taking a fresh look at governance.

David Dunsire

David Dunsire

The original consultation document stated that while the issues it highlighted mainly derived from OSCR’s input, the Scottish Government remained ‘open as to what if any changes are required to the statutory framework and will be guided by the consultation responses’. This avowed openness continues in the Scottish Government’s analysis, with Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell saying it will fully consider all the points raised and engage with those who called for wider changes.

This commitment to engage further is very welcome. Yet, there are less welcome elements to the analysis too. For example, OSCR has said it is disappointed at the lack of any indication that the consultation will result in a reform bill for charity law in this session of Parliament. Many other third sector stakeholders will share OSCR’s sense of let-down on that.

That aside, I applaud the intent of the Scottish Government to promote transparency, accountability and trust in the charity sector, and I also applaud OSCR’s work to regulate the sector. But when the charity law consultation was first published in January, I, and many other professionals who work with the charity sector, perhaps had Peggy Lee’s song ‘Is That All There Is?’ playing in our heads. This latest Scottish Government report has not yet silenced it.

Therefore, my own view will continue to be that charities should go beyond mere compliance. Yes, charities need to comply with the current law and any updated legislation, but they should go further. Sustainability and public trust will also be determined by the wider culture and standards of behaviour put in place by a charity’s management and trustees.

If new legislation isn’t in place to cover off all the issues around establishing good governance, then charities and their advisers will just have to make sure we address them ourselves.

David Dunsire is a consultant in the charities and third sector team at Lindsays.