Charity Commission chief executive Helen Stephenson has warned trustees they must ensure their decisions are not driven “by their world view and outlook”.
Stephenson delivered the warning during her speech at the regulator’s annual public meeting and following criticism from government and Conservative MPs over charities’ attempts to address their historic links with racism and slavery.
Over the last year the Charity Commission has investigated the National Trust after it addressed the colonial roots and links to slavery of many of its properties.
In addition, the regulator investigated anti-racism charity the Runnymede Trust following complaints from Conservative MPs over its criticism of a report claiming there is no institutional racism in the UK.
Both charities were cleared of breaching charity law.
She told the meeting: “As you may be aware, some of our recent compliance work has involved controversial, sensitive issues. Issues that might broadly be described as relating to the ‘culture wars’.
“Some have criticised us for opening cases into these matters. They have questioned the motives of those who raised concerns.
“Let me use this opportunity be absolutely clear: the Commission does not, and must not, examine people’s world views or ideologies before deciding whether they have a right to have their concerns examined by us.
“We will always take concerns raised with us seriously. And we will assess every concern fairly and consistently. Where we find no problems, we will say so. And where we are concerned about trustees’ oversight of their charities, we will take action to help them back on course.”
But she added: “It’s also important that charities themselves are alive to the wide range of legitimate views and sensibilities that exist within the public on whose support they ultimately rely.
“This doesn’t mean avoiding controversy or difficult issues. But trustees must ensure their decisions and priorities are driven by their charity’s aims. Not by their own world view and outlook.”
Thanks to everyone who joined our Annual Public Meeting today! #CCAPM— Charity Commission (@ChtyCommission) September 30, 2021
You can now read Helen Stephenson’s speech in full, in which she highlights the impact of the pandemic, how we’ve responded to support charities and our ambitious plans looking ahead: https://t.co/XLhumqGMsP pic.twitter.com/wnRVyFCQI5
Her comments follow concerns raised by then Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden last month that charities have been “hijacked by a vocal minority seeking to burnish their woke credentials”.
The Charity Commission is currently recruiting for a new chair. Dowden, who has been moved to the role of Conservative Party co-chair and replaced by Nadine Dorries, said he had instructed recruiters to “to ensure that the new leader of the Commission will restore charities’ focus to their central purpose”.
Dowden’s comments have sparked a legal challenge by the Good Law Project over concerns that the government is looking to force the Commission to push ministers’ ‘anti-woke’ agenda.