About the Panel

About the panel
Independance Panel
January 2012

The  Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector was established in June 2011 to ensure that independence is seen as a top priority by the voluntary sector and those with whom it works and make recommendations to ensure that it is not lost. 

Independence Panel Members

The Panel is made up of authoritative individuals who bring a mix of senior experience, knowledge.  They are acting in an individual capacity and are:

Dame Anne Owers, Chair of Christian Aid and Clinks and former Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Other members:

Nicholas Deakin CBE, Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Birmingham University and Chair of the Commission on the Future of the Voluntary Sector which reported in 1996.

Andrew Hind CB, Editor of Charity Finance and Trustee of the Baring Foundation, formerly Chief Executive of the Charity Commission.

Sir Bert Massie CBE, formerly Commissioner on the Compact and of the Disability Rights Commission.

Julia Unwin CBE, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and an expert on voluntary sector independence.

 Louise Whitfield, Associate Solicitor at Pierce Glynn and an expert in public law and judicial review.

Nick Wilkie, Chief Executive, London Youth.

Matthew Smerdon, Deputy Director, the Baring Foundation.

Lord Hodgson served on the Panel until November 2010 when he was asked by the Government to undertake a separate review of the Charities Act 2006.

Vision and purpose

An independent voluntary sector is essential to a healthy democracy and a good quality of life in Britain. Independence is what makes the voluntary sector special. It gives individuals and communities the freedom to establish and run organisations to address some of the most pressing issues of our day. It enables them to speak up on behalf of sometimes unpopular causes and marginalized groups and make their voices heard, challenging received opinion.  It gives voluntary organisations the freedom of action to innovate and deliver flexible and sensitive solutions to match real needs.  It is the reason the sector adds so much value to people’s lives.

However, with these freedoms comes responsibilities without which true independence cannot exist.  That includes accountability by the voluntary sector to the communities they serve and good governance.  A supportive environment is important too, including freedom from interference and arrangements which promote effective, independent relationships with partners, whether they be central and local government, the private sector, charitable foundations or others.

The impact of independence can be huge.  However, it may come under threat only gradually, almost imperceptibly, with its loss only being noticed once it’s too late.

That’s why the Panel has been set up to ensure that independence is seen as a top priority by the voluntary sector and those with whom it works, to monitor changes and make recommendations affecting all those involved.

The Panel will stimulate reflection, debate and action and aims to:

–    increase understanding of the nature of independence and the factors that promote it;

–    raise awareness of the importance of independence and the benefits it brings; and

–    generate positive changes in practice and  improvements in monitoring.

The main focus of the Panel will be on registered charities but it will draw on lessons from the wider sector where it can and aim to make wide recommendations.  It will be concentrating on England, although it will seek to draw on experience across the UK and some of its observations and recommendations may apply more widely.