At the 2008 AGM, members voted that the Campaign should apply for Charitable status, under a new constitution.
The document below was made available to members considering the motion.
Obviously, charitable status quite rightly would bring in external regulation into what have previously been purely our own affairs. Our operations would become more formalised and rule-governed. Primarily this would be in the areas of accounting, governance and reporting. However, we see more formal openness as a benefit, despite the increased responsibility it would place on the elected Trustees.
This is a briefing note which outlines the main changes that these changes would involve.
What benefits would charitable status have?
In the view of the Committee, the benefits would primarily be:
- To enhance our reputation as the leading cycling advocacy organisation in the area, and to improve our ability to argue for better cycling conditions;
- To emphasise that our focus is the public benefit and not a narrow sectional interest;
- To enable us to claim Gift Aid on donations;
- To improve our ability to obtain grants or matched funding;
- To improve the likelihood of being able to run a Direct Debit facility;
- To clarify our responsibility in the event of someone suing the Campaign;
- To enhance our systems of governance through the external regulation that being a charity would bring;
- To provide members with further reassurance of the security of their membership subscriptions and personal details.
- To make it potentially more straightforward to consider recruiting someone as a consultant or an employee.
The new Constitution is based on the model produced by the Charity Commission. We feel that the model is a high quality document that is a good basis for our new constitution. Using this model also increases the likelihood that the Charity Commission would accept our application.
The new document addresses many of the identified weaknesses of the old constitution and provides many useful safeguards.
We have made some changes to the model, and these are shown in red. Notes in the side column provide justification for these changes. Please be clear that the changes are the differences from the model constitution provided by the Charity Commission, NOT changes from our current constitution.
The Objects of the Charity, as set out in section 3 of the proposed new Constitution, have been based on those of London Cycling Campaign, which is also now a charity. We felt these were a useful starting point.
Committee members would have more clearly defined formal responsibilities than at present, because of their new status as Trustees of a Charity. Trustees have and must accept ultimate responsibility for directing the affairs of a charity, and ensuring that it is solvent, well-run, and delivering the charitable outcomes for the benefit of the public for which it has been set up. They have a duty to ensure compliance with the requirements of charity law and of the Charity Commission. They also have a duty of prudence and a duty of care. The Charity Commission provides guidance notes for those considering becoming Trustees.
There would be three new positions of Chair, Secretary and Treasurer. These are as set out in the model constitution provided by the Charity Commission, and we have not sought to alter these.
The current constitution specifies 15 specific posts. In the new constitution, there would be a maximum of 15 posts in total (i.e. the above three plus twelve others), and the Committee would agree in advance of each AGM the exact make-up. This provides flexibility from year-to-year. Members would receive notice of the list of posts in the invitation to the AGM each year, and the voting would take place in the normal way.
Members would need to declare their intention to stand in advance of the start of the AGM and to be proposed by another member. Whilst this does add some additional administrative burden, it acts as a sensible safeguard over the property and governance of the organisation.
Probably the key change would be the removal of formal powers from the Monthly Meeting, because it is ultimately Trustees who have responsibility in law for the activities of a Charity. However, these powers have rarely been used, as the Monthly Meeting has always acted as a consultative and informative event. In fact, its current vagueness could be said to be a potential source of a lack of accountability.
All members would naturally retain their voting rights.
It is definitely appropriate and part of our remit to encourage children and young people to learn to cycle. The Model Constitution, however, gives a membership age of 18. We have proposed to set this at 12 instead. The age of 12 was considered the best age, as it avoids giving very young children a vote, and secondly because Sustrans specify an unaccompanied 12-year-old as the age of a design user in their guidelines for the National Cycle Network. (We may need to create operational guidance in terms of supervision of young people, though that is not a Constitutional matter.)
Group/corporate members would be asked to specify a representative for voting purposes.
Subgroups would, formally speaking, become advisory, as decisions must be exercised through a Trustee. However, this is already de facto our practice, as all Subgroups have Committee members on them and they are the ones who sign letters.
It is not thought that we would need to change our campaigning tactics.
We are not a partisan body and have never been associated with or promoted any political party. Charitable status would act as a further guarantee of this. Naturally, though, our work involves contact with Councillors, as they make the local decisions highly relevant for our aims.
If our gross income exceeds £10,000 (which is likely if grant funding of projects continues to increase):
- We would have to produce an Annual Report each year, which we consider to be a useful development in its own right.
- Our accounts would need to be submitted to the Charity Commission in line with their Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP).
- We would have to produce an Annual Return to the Charity Commission.