Joe Saxton is talking to WCVA’s conference gofod3 on March 21 in Cardiff, and the thrust of his talk is simple: It’s time to have a separate Welsh charity regulator. Here’s why:
1. Wales is not like England!
Devolution in Wales has developed greatly since the creation of the Welsh government in the late 90s. There are few who would turn the clock back on devolution, with education and health as two examples of where the Welsh government has developed its own path. The geography, economy, culture, and demographics of Wales all combine to mean that the political, regulatory and legal solutions that work for England won’t necessarily be the best for Wales. So why should charity regulation be tied to English needs, and not be able to reflect the Welsh situation? The Welsh Government has ambitious plans to increase the number of Welsh speakers; however, Welsh language information on the Commission website is limited. This is one simple example of where the current regulatory regime doesn’t serve Wales well.
2. The Welsh public prefer to support Welsh charities
nfpSynergy’s research in the devolved nations is clear: Welsh people like to support charities that are spending their money in Wales and that are based in Wales. Data from our Celtic Charity Awareness Monitor shows that over half of the Welsh public prefer to support either a local charity or a Welsh charity, while just 10% prefer to support a UK charity with a Welsh office. That doesn’t mean they want their money to be spent only in Wales – 41% say their donation could be spent anywhere in the UK, while 38% would prefer their donation to be spend in Wales. This makes the regulation of Welsh-based charities all the more important.
3. Other regulators and government bodies tend to be fully devolved or UK wide
Having a Charity Commission that covers both England and Wales is an anomaly. Many regulators in other sectors are stand-alone Welsh specific bodies: Wales Audit Office, Care Inspectorate Wales, Natural Resources Wales, Estyn (their equivalent to Ofsted) and the like. Or there are the UK wide bodies which regulate across all of the UK or GB which is the structure that Ofcom and Ofgem have (though interestingly Ofcom still have a Welsh Advisory committee). I can’t find another regulator which covers both England and Wales; however, some may exist as I haven’t researched every regulator and government body.
4. The Welsh charity sector needs and delivers a separate identity
The lack of any separate regulation matters because the Welsh charity sector has its own needs and challenges (that is why NICVA, WCVA and SCVO are not part of NCVO). The 2015 report from Garfield Weston Foundation set out how the income patterns for Welsh charities are different from English charities. Our own research shows how the perceptions of charities in the devolved nations - and in particular, levels of trust - are different. But while trust levels in Scotland and NI are noticeably higher than the UK as a whole, Wales is not that different. As long as the regulatory regime for Wales is pinned to the coat-tails of England, it’s hard to see the Welsh charity sector flourishing as powerfully as it might.
5. We need to know the size and shape of the Welsh charity sector
The first step in building a separate approach and strategy for charities and community organisations in Wales is to begin to understand the size, shape and changes in the sector. We hear a lot about the largest charities growing faster than the rest, and how voluntary income is falling. Is that true for Wales as it is for England? It’s probably possible to find that information out with some work, but I don’t think even the NCVO UK Almanac produces much Wales specific information. WCVA has done some work in this area (Third Sector Data Hub) but this would be much easier if there was a separate regulator for Wales.
6. The other devolved nations of the UK have their own charity regulator
Scotland has the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) and Northern Ireland has the Charity Commission NI (CCNI). This discrepancy cannot be down to population size as Northern Ireland has about 1.7 million, Wales 3.1 million and Scotland 5.2 million people. Ireland has its own charity regulator now as well. The logic of a devolved charity regulator is strong – the charity sectors in each country are different and require a different style of regulation: that is as true for Wales as it is about Scotland and NI.
7. The public are reassured by knowing about charity regulators
Our focus group research shows that donors are reassured by knowing that there is a charity regulator. The problem is that in Wales, the regulator is hundreds of miles away and as distant as most of the rest of what goes on in London. To make sure that as many people as possible know about Welsh charity regulation, a visible effective presence on the ground is needed, and I would argue that the London-based Charity Commission is unable to do that.
8. The Charity Commission has no strategy for Wales
Although it is the Commission for England and Wales, its treats the geography as one homogenous block. In the document about strategic intent of the Commission published last October, there were no mentions of Wales on its own. The same is true for the most recent annual report published last July: the only mention of Wales is alongside England. The exception to this is the requirement that one member of the board must have special knowledge of Wales. However, the current incumbent of this post doesn’t appear to live in Wales, have any relevant knowledge of Welsh charities, and appears to qualify because they are a non-exec of a Welsh building society. Indeed, I can’t see that any of the Commission board members have any experience of Welsh charities, though website profiles may not tell the whole picture.
9. The Charity Commission delivers no Wales specific reports or content
Alongside the lack of a Welsh strategy and what I perceive to be a token presence on the board is the lack of anything that reports specifically on Wales (that I can find as a ordinary punter looking online). While the Charity Commission reports on the largest charities and other types of analyses, there is nothing about the number of, or income for, charities in Wales. Indeed I can find no Wales specific information putting the search term ‘Wales’ or ‘charity Wales’ to the Commission website (though finding out about my council tax band is on the search findings!). There is an office in Wales, but it covers work across the UK I am told.
10. Charity regulation in Wales should be accountable to the Welsh Government
My final reason is that is based on the simple question – who has the power to make charities and community organisations in Wales flourish; the Westminster government, or the Welsh government? I think, for most people, the answer would be very clear – the Welsh government. And if that is the case, then charity regulation in Wales should be accountable to the Welsh government, not Westminster.