Helen Stephenson on competitive baking and making the Charity Commission a more effective regulator

Written by Civil Service World on 26 December 2019 in Feature

As 2020 approaches, senior figures from across government reflect on their highlights and challenges of 2019, look ahead to the next 12 months and share their favourite festive memories

Photo: Pixabay

What was your highlight of 2019?

This has been a busy year for us at the commission with the implementation of our ambitious new strategy and some important and sensitive cases, notably our inquiry into Oxfam GB. I’m proud of many things my teams have achieved, but the work that has gone towards strengthening our frontline services to ensure we are delivering the customer service that charities and the public have a right to expect is definitely up there.

This year has seen the launch of a free and confidential whistleblowing helpline, making it easier for charity workers and volunteers to take what is often a brave decision to draw serious concerns about charities to our attention. We have also developed our digital tools, allowing for smoother registration and easier ways for trustees to report serious incidents – ultimately allowing us to analyse and process them faster. We want to see charities thrive and inspire trust, and these are just a few examples of how we are equipping charities with the tools they need to succeed.

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?

There’s been a lot of change happening at the commission, but our new risk operating model has changed our approach to casework, ensuring we focus more resource on the most serious risks; we now take time to phone whistleblowers to discuss their concerns; we are working to make sure that no complaint is ignored, and where it isn’t proportionate for us to get involved, we now use information contained in complaints to develop our picture of the risks facing charities. This has allowed us to be a more effective regulator, enabling us to be more agile and responding to what matters to people, rather than doing things because they have always been done a certain way. It’s brought about some really positive results so far, so I’m looking forward to seeing the long-term impact.

What will be the biggest challenge of 2020 – and how are you preparing to meet it?

A lot of great work has gone into getting ourselves match-fit for the benefit of those we regulate and the public in whose interest we regulate and there is more to do in the year ahead. I want to make it easier for the public and for trustees who are trying to do the right thing to make contact with us and to know that we are listening and responding to their concerns. I also want to make sure we are more agile, data driven and proactive in our casework so that we can be better at detecting, deterring and preventing wrongdoing.

Tell us a favourite festive memory from your youth...

At school we used to do Christmas charity bake sales on the last day of term – at the time I was focused on how far my pocket money would go, but looking back it really did a lot of good for the local charity we raised money for. It’s something we do every year at the commission – but of course now with a Bake Off competitive edge.

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