Charity Commission chief Helen Stephenson: “Leading the commission through the safeguarding concerns in the sector that surfaced in February was challenging.”
With the end of 2018 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top civil servants to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2019 – and tell us who they’d choose to turn on their town’s Christmas lights. The links on this list will go live as the articles are published in the run up to 2019.
What was your highlight of 2018?
2018 has been a significant year for the commission. We have published a five-year strategy setting out a new purpose for the organisation, to ensure charity can thrive and inspire trust so that people can improve lives and strengthen society. After our research found most people only trust charities as much as the average stranger on the street, our strategy will ensure we hold charities to account, deal with wrongdoing and harm, give charities the tools they need to succeed, use our data to inform public choice and help to keep charity relevant.
Earlier in the year we welcomed an additional £5m of funding to meet the increased demands on our services. This vote of confidence in the commission and our work has enabled us to build our frontline resources, and will help us deal with the rise in cases coming in. It was also great to welcome His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge to our annual public meeting in January. The prince gave his first major speech about charities and spoke movingly about the importance of charity to him and his whole family.
What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2018?
Leading the commission through the safeguarding concerns in the sector that surfaced in February was challenging. It was important to ensure that our response to these allegations was robust, and at the same time that colleagues were supported as we worked our way through the huge number of safeguarding incident reports we received as a result of the media spotlight. Whilst the allegations caused alarm and damaged the trust that the public place in charity, safeguarding has rightly been put in the spotlight for all charities, wherever they work, and this will remain a key focus of the commission’s work over the next year.
What are the main challenges facing your organisation in the coming year?
Delivering our strategy will be a key priority for the year ahead, and it’s my job to work with our staff to make this happen. In the meantime, I don’t see the demand for our core services declining. Government departments depend on charities to deliver their essential services in education, housing, social care, community work and so much more. Ensuring we are resourced to support all these departments to be able to deliver on their statutory responsibilities will continue to be a challenge.
And increasing our digital services will continue to be a priority for me. We have just launched our new digital service, allowing charities to submit information to us more much straightforwardly. Next year we will continue this work, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the commission.
Which celebrity or historical figure would you choose to turn on the Christmas lights in your town, and why?
I’m a secret fan of Doctor Who and I watch it whenever I can, so I’d be thrilled if Jodie Whittaker turned on the Christmas lights this year in London. In the year that we are celebrating 100 years since the first votes for women, it feels fitting that we’ve finally cracked the Timelord glass ceiling.
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