What kind of a year are we expecting?
We expect the environment for charities to continue to be challenging, with tight budgets and continued media interest in charities and their activities. We will work to have an open dialogue with charities and their leaders. We will be working hard to increase awareness of key trustee duties and ensure we communicate effectively with trustees. And we will continue to promote increased trust and confidence in charities – something we blogged about this month.
So, what will we be doing?
Priority 1: Protecting charities from abuse or mismanagement
The recently passed Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016 gives us new powers to tackle abuse more effectively. Over the coming year we will be working hard to ensure staff are trained to use these powers and to communicate these changes to trustees.
We will be developing and improving our risk-based assessment of new cases. We will also intensify our proactive work (mainly through our visits, monitoring and accountancy casework and thematic work) with a view to a longer-term goal of shifting away from reactive casework to identifying new issues and risks. We will continue to inform charities about emerging threats and risks through our programme of regulatory alerts.
We look forward to a productive working relationship with the new Fundraising Regulator, which has just launched. We expect our caseload relating to fundraising complaints to rise. We have published revised fundraising guidance to help trustees understand what they need to know and will continue to communicate this.
Safeguarding will also be a priority. The work of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is likely to have significant implications for all charities working with children and vulnerable adults, and for public authorities including the Commission. We will be communicating safeguarding lessons to trustees and staff in charities and at the same time we will be refreshing our strategy on safeguarding through our expanded Safeguarding Advisory Group.
Fraud continues to be a major concern. We will jointly host the second national fraud conference in October 2016, at the end of a charity fraud awareness week. We will be providing more online information to charities about fraud through case studies, fraud alerts, and examples of good practice building on the work we did in 2015-16.
Priority 2: Enabling Trustees to run their charities effectively
This year we are turning our focus to how we enable charities – be it through more effective communication, efficient means of providing permissions, or working better through or in partnership with third parties. In pursuit of our statutory objective to enable charities to maximise the use of their resources, we need to provide a modern and efficient service. So we are already working on improving digital self-servicing for charities, for example by enabling them to carry out simple transactions, such as changing the charity’s name, in a fully automated way. This will result in a better service for the customer and allows us to redeploy our expert staff to our higher risk and more complex work. We will develop an assisted digital service to help charities use our online services.
We will use digital communications to target our guidance to trustees and increase its reach. Last year, this included doubling the views of our core piece of guidance, The Essential Trustee, and we will continue to build on this.
We will also support and contribute to a number of initiatives looking at improving the quality of trusteeship. We will work with Cass Business School Centre for Charity Effectiveness and Cranfield Trust on a major piece of research in 2016 looking at trustee awareness and capability, to baseline the current standard and identify priority areas for improvement. We will also support the review of the charity sector’s Governance Code. This initiative will be owned and led by the sector but as regulator we are keen to engage with the debate about setting the standards for governance the sector needs to meet and should aim to exceed.
We will continue to work with the Wales Good Governance Group to promote good governance in Wales, especially on the theme of financial controls and resilience.
Priority 3: Encouraging greater transparency and accountability
Our public trust and confidence research showed great interest from the public in what charities do with their money and what impact they have. We will be making the best use of our data and improving how we present it with a new Online Search function and display to better inform the public about what charities do and what they spend their money on Charities will be able to see updates they have given to us go live sooner.
We will put additional resources into ensuring the Register remains accurate and meets regulatory needs.
We will be working with auditors and professional accountancy bodies to improve the quality of charity accounting and reporting, and taking forward the outcome of the consultation on recommended practice in charity accounting.
Priority 4: Operating as an efficient, expert regulator with sustainable funding
In our two largest directorates, we expect to be able to increase efficiency and value for money through the redesign of our business processes and better technology. This will lead to more focus on outcomes and shorter cases. We will prioritise the highest risk cases.
We do not think that our digital transformation will continue to compensate for the increase in workload we’ve seen over the past year: we are under-resourced and demand is increasing. We will continue to explore how to ensure we are funded sustainably.
Investing in skills
We will invest more heavily in our staff, assessing the gaps in their skills and helping them to develop the technical skills they need to use the new systems, technology and business processes resulting from our transformation programme. We will also help high-potential staff to develop their leadership abilities.
I’d be very interested to hear your feedback on our plan of work for 2016-17.