The decision of Baroness Stowell to stand down as Chairman of the Charity Commission in February 2021 has predictably generated a lot of media comment.
Her appointment in 2018 provoked much controversy, partly because of her political connections with the Conservative Party and partly because she had no previous experience in the charity sector.
However, having a Chairman of any organisation without previous experience of the organisation’s business or sector is not necessarily a bad thing. A fresh view from the outside can often be very beneficial and provide insights which those within the organisation have missed or ignored.
During Lady Stowell’s time in the chair, the Commission has investigated a number of charities, big and small, with some concerning results. The public generally assume that people become charity trustees to help those in need and give something back to society. This is frequently the case – but Lady Stowell’s team has uncovered a worrying number of instances where trustees have at best been inefficient and ignorant of their statutory duties as trustees; and at worst have used charities and their funds for their own gain and to the detriment of the charity and its beneficiaries.
Highlighting these cases and taking steps to put matters right has been a hallmark of Lady Stowell’s term in office. Whilst some commentators have accused her of exceeding the Commission’s remit, for the majority of charity trustees throughout England and Wales who perform their duties conscientiously and honestly, her identification and pursuit of the “bad apples” can only have been a good thing.
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