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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

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Same old same old - Annie Gunner Logan on charity law reform

This opinion piece is over 2 years old

“It’s time for change” says the age-old political mantra, but is that improvement, redesign, reform, transformation - or just a bit of a tinker?

Doing more of the same won’t work” proclaimed the Changing Lives review of social work in (checks notes) 2006.

Those in charge of commissioning such reviews signally failed to accept this simple truth, because five years and one financial crash later the Christie Commission came along with an almost identical message, and it was by no means the last to do so.

Yet here we are, reviewers and reviewed alike, still doing more of the same. Where we get stuck, I think, is in figuring out what we should be doing instead, and how.

It’s arguably nowhere near radical enough to deal with the big ticket issue relating to public trust, which is (and always has been) who gets charitable status, who doesn’t, and on what grounds

Annie Gunner Logan
Annie Gunner Logan

We could focus on improvement (which suggests that what we’re doing is broadly along the right lines, but we need to get better at it); on redesign (which suggests that we need new processes); on reform (which suggests structural change); or on transformation (which suggests we should just give up, and start again).

That these terms are used interchangeably only adds to the collective paralysis. One of our improvement agencies, for example, has recently created a unit for transformational redesign, which has caused my head to explode.

For there is a continuum of possibilities here. At one end, we could revolutionise an entire system; at the other, we could make minor incremental changes without altering the fundamental premise. We might, unkindly perhaps, refer to this option as tinkering.

Which brings me to the current consultation on charity law.

Wisely, our government colleagues have not billed this as being about reform, because it is not.

No, the introductory spiel talks about the opportunity to review, improve and maintain.

All important of course, but relatively modest and arguably nowhere near radical enough to deal with the big-ticket issue relating to public trust, which is (and always has been) who gets charitable status, who doesn’t, and on what grounds.

Okay, full disclosure: I was on the board of OSCR when it first grappled with the application of the charity test to private schools, and I have always been of the view that Section 8(2)(b) of the legislation (look it up) was a monumental exercise in buck-passery by a parliament that, having failed to achieve consensus on this critical issue, wriggled out of its responsibility by re-casting the decision as regulatory, rather than political.

There’s nothing in the current proposals that would allow us to revisit any of that, let alone take on even more difficult stuff (Oxfam, safeguarding, anyone?).

It all sticks to much safer territory and in that sense it’s doing more of the same, which – need I remind you – won’t work.

Still, I’ve had a good look at all the information online and a couple of things stood out.

First, being in possession of a sense of humour that is no more sophisticated than it was when I was 12, I love the typo on OSCR’s website to the effect that it is seeking clarification on its powers of “regorganisation”, which will surely scare witless any trustee thinking of pochling the proceeds of the fundraising raffle.

Second, the consultation paper says that whilst most of the proposals have come from OSCR, the government will “remain open” to suggestions from others. Curiously though, there’s no space on the response form to put any forward.

Clearly, a case for urgent redesign.

Annie Gunner Logan has been working in and around the Scottish voluntary sector for longer than she cares to remember. Currently director of CCPS (Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland) with various non-exec roles thrown in.




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