Orlando Fraser's inaugural speech as Charity Commission chair for England & Wales

New Charity Commission chair Orlando Fraser QC delivered his first speech as chair to the Trustee Exchange Conference on 4 May, setting out his priorities and goals.

Alongside general ‘big picture’ comments about the values he will use as a framework when managing the Commission, commitments to improving the use of data and the online services and guidance, Mr Fraser specifically referenced the personal sacrifices given by charity trustees and the challenges all charities – as well as wider society – are likely to face in the coming months, specifically with reference to the cost of living crisis.

Mr Fraser described his priorities as ensuring that the Commission is “fair, balanced and independent”. In particular, his comments on the Commission needing to act robustly against “the intentional wrongdoers, the fraudsters, the extremists, the aggressors, and the grossly negligent – all of whom, in their own way, are poisoning charitable status for everyone else” while remembering that the sector involves many volunteers, “trying overall to do great things”, and where honest mistakes are made, the Commission will appreciate this and respond accordingly.

Mr Fraser also strongly emphasized his value of independence, and that the Commission will respect the important stakeholders of government, beneficiaries, and the sector, but will act “without fear or favour from any entity”.

In terms of how the Commission operates, Mr Fraser specifically referred to the increased role that data plays in the Commission’s work, both gathering and effectively using the data to quickly identify wrongdoing as much as using it to share successes and better understand the sector. More detail on how data will inform the Commission’s work is set out in the Commission 2022-23 business plan.

Interestingly – although perhaps not surprisingly, considering his audience – Mr Fraser concluded by speaking specifically about the value of, and challenges faced by, charity trustees. Particularly following the 2021 high court judgement regarding the Kids Company trustees, the reassurance from the new Charity Commission chair that trustees are “the guardians of charity” was welcome encouragement.

However, following increasing reports of economic difficulties on the horizon, Mr Fraser did not shy away from anticipating that in the coming months charities will face significant challenges: firstly, increased pressure on charities’ services as more people turn to charities for help and support, and secondly that this increased demand will impact how far charity funding (including donations) can go. In light of this, Mr Fraser finished by urging trustees to manage their charity’s resources responsibly in times of crisis (reminding trustees that they are custodians, and not owners, of charity assets) and to ensure that ongoing trustee recruitment is as diverse as possible.

For the full text of Mr Fraser’s inaugural speech, see here..