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Red Tape...

Small charities burdened by excessive red tape

Small organisations are struggling under the burden of excessive red tape, according to leading voluntary sector representatives. One year on from a report by the Better Regulation Task Force, which recommended reducing administrative and other burdens for charities, the sector says little has changed.

Community groups, run by volunteers or with only one or two members of staff, are particularly hard hit, says David Tyler, chief executive of Community Matters. He says regulation disproportionately affects small groups and ‘distracts them from their core purpose’.

Tyler adds: ‘Our members, in particular, are hit by a double whammy, because they are both small and multi-purpose.’ Such multi-purpose activities can include preparing food, operating children’s services, managing sports facilities, or running a bar at a social event, all of which involve different types of regulation, such as alcohol and music licensing.

Kevin Curley, chief executive of NAVCA, agrees: ‘Ryedale Voluntary Action, in North Yorkshire, spent 15 per cent of its grant for community transport in order to satisfy the County Council’s burdensome audit demands,’ he says.

‘In Sussex, where Impact Initiative provides services for disadvantaged people, the charity faced no less than eight separate audits by statutory funders in a six-week period,’ adds Curley.

Key recommendations in last year’s report, Better Regulation for Civil Society, launched by Sir David Arculus, included reducing the VAT burden for charities; getting the Charity Commission to separate legally binding obligations on trustees from guidance on how trustees should fulfil their role; and lessening the administrative burdens associated with contract funding. Ω

A cutting retort

At the start of November 2006, NCVO, NAVCA and the National Federation of Community Organisations were complaining that, one year on from the Better Regulation for Civil Society report, little had changed. “A wall of red tape remains.”

However, the government’s response in December was substantial. Not only did it finally respond to the Task Force report – accepting most of the recommendations – but it published its “simplification plans”. Massacring a small forest, 19 government departments and agencies outlined proposals promising to cut the administrative burden facing businesses and charities by £2bn a year by the end of the decade – a reduction of at least 25 per cent.

Cartoon of man stifled by red tape