Here’s my piece today for The Spectator on Charity lobbying.
Like everywhere else, the overwhelming majority of workers in my constituency of Falkirk work in the private sector. Most of them feel that as well as looking after their families, they’re doing their bit for society at large – building buses, refining oil, serving the public in shops, fixing cars, looking after toddlers. Far fewer constituents, but still quite a few, work for the council, central government and other pubic bodies. They feel they’re doing their bit for the commonweal too. Teaching, community planning, helping write national policy, managing forests. Then there are those people who make their living in the ‘third sector’ – charities, NGOs and the rest. Many of them, in addition to earning their daily bread, do stuff which benefits us all.
There’s a problem with professionals in the third sector, though, and it’s that they have a vested in interest in bidding-up their moral importance in order to give them and their organisations greater clout and income; but unlike the private sector, which is regulated through profit and loss, and the public sector – which reflects democratically accountable public policy prioritisation – the aims and effectiveness of third sector is pretty much wholly un-regulated. It therefore contains good causes, terrible ones; effective organisations and hopeless ones. Where we blindly accept from executives with a personal interest that third sector organisations have some superior status per se, we risk embedding bad practice and poor outcomes, enabling rogues and worse.
Third sector organisations are encouraged by all governments because they often plug gaps in provision and do good things governments overlook; so governments support them through tax breaks. On the other hand, they are often hobby-horses for people with extra cash, vehicles promoting commercial interests on the quiet, the means by which well-meaning people distort pubic policy to fit their own world views. So If the third sector is to work properly and in everyone’s interest it’s essential, surely, to reject the idea that a venture is somehow worthwhile simply because of its charitable status, and instead look at what specific organisations aim to and actually achieve?
Here’s a super book which you might find handy if you’re interested in effective charitable giving.