There was an intriguing report this morning on civilsociety.co.uk (no, me neither, but stick with me) about a technical, but significant change to the way in which the Charity Commission investigates charities.
According to the report, Kenneth Dibble, the commission’s head of legal services, told an audience of charity lawyers that it would stop carrying out so-called “regulatory compliance investigations” – the type of inquiry that snared Atlantic Bridge, the charity set up by Liam Fox and run by Adam Werritty.
The commission found earlier this year that Atlantic Bridge’s activites were more political than charitable, and rather than face the consequences of that (such as having to pay more tax), the charity shut down.
So is it good news that such investigations are now being ended? It would certainly be worrying if it means that smaller cases such as this could no longer be investigated – and a spokesperson for the commission told civilsociety.co.uk it could not say what type of investigation would now be carried out into Atlantic Bridge.
If however, it means that most, if not all inquiries will now carry full statutory power, this is a good thing. One of the problems for journalists trying to cover the Atlantic Bridge case – especially the blogger Stephen Newton – is that “regulatory compliance investigations” didn’t count as a statutory inquiry. And so when journalists phone to ask, “Is there an inquiry into Atlantic Bridge?”, the commission replied that wasn’t an inquiry, but that it was “in touch” with the charity.
If smaller cases are now dealt with as full inquiries, we might get more transparency from the commission.