Should we now become a charity?

This article was published in 2008, in Newsletter 80.

As a result of changes in the law governing which organisations can become charities, the Campaign is now in a position to apply for charitable status. This is exciting news, as it could bring many benefits for our work to improve cycling in the Cambridge area, as we outline below.

At our AGM this year the Committee will therefore be asking members to consider, and vote on, a proposal to apply for charitable status.

Background

At last year’s AGM, it was reported that money was likely to be available from a funding source to pay a Campaign worker for three years. A paid worker would ease the workload of the Committee and Subgroups by assisting with much of the basic legwork that comes with the range of issues we face. However, the Committee took the clear view that hiring someone would be an unacceptable burden on volunteer Committee members, and an unacceptable risk to the Campaign as a whole, whilst we remain as an unincorporated body.

This has led the Committee over the past year to consider in more depth the question of incorporation of the Campaign as a charity or company, as we have long been aware of other potential benefits. The exploratory work we have done suggests that the more appropriate route of these two is as a charity, but that a company could be an option in future.

Charitable status is now more likely to be practicable following the changes to charity law over the last few years which now allow charities to ‘campaign’ amongst a range of other activities. Our nearest equivalent body, London Cycling Campaign, has already converted to charitable status.

We have also met and taken advice from Cambridge Council for Voluntary Services (CCVS), of which the Campaign has long been a subscribing organisation. Initial enquiries on our behalf by CCVS suggest we are eligible for charitable status, though obviously the final decision on any such application, if members decide we should proceed with this, will rest with the Charity Commission.

Paul Robison and Shirley Fieldhouse have provided useful help and research into this, and I would like to thank them for their time.

Our forthcoming cycle parking guide is an attempt to encourage widespread new cycle parking and inform people about the best way to achieve this.
Image as described adjacent

Are our aims charitable?

Yes, in our view, absolutely. Our aims for the promotion of cycling are quite clearly for the public benefit. Our existing constitution, adopted in 1995 at the formation of the Campaign, defines our aims as:

  • to encourage bicycle usage in Cambridge and its environs by making it a safer, more convenient and generally more attractive proposition than it currently is.
  • to promote cycling as a solution to local transport problems, road traffic casualties and urban air pollution. Cycling is beneficial to the public health and applicable to all social classes and age groups, notwithstanding the hazards and disincentives imposed by national and local policies.
  • to increase the influence that cyclists have on local transport policy and planning
  • to address the wider issues of transport planning and motoring culture as they affect the condition of cycling

The many benefits of cycling will be so familiar to members of the Campaign that they barely need mentioning. Health, environmental, accessibility, economic and personal efficiency, and personal independence are amongst them.

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.

What outreach and cycling promotional work do we do?

Taking as a lead our slogan of ‘better, safer and more cycling’:

Better cycling:

  • Cycling 2020, New Developments – for developers and decision-makers to help them improve the design of cycling infrastructure
  • Commenting on planning applications
  • Commenting on transport schemes
  • Advocacy of changes which would improve the cycling environment and levels of investment in cycling
  • Cycle parking guide, to encourage developers to include optimal cycle parking
  • Liaison/lobbying and networking with councillors, local authority cycling officers and other stakeholders to improve the quality of their decisions on cycling issues
  • Study tours (most recently to Assen in the Netherlands)
  • Photomap (as it is often used to highlight problems with the cycling infrastructure)
  • Commenting/campaigning on national developments (e.g. our work to improve the wording of the Highway Code)
  • Our general consultative role

Safer cycling:

  • Work to promote responsible cycling, e.g. cycle lighting poster, city centre cycling map
  • Scrutinising schemes for possible problems
  • Promotion of cycle safety
  • Work and liaison with police

More cycling:

Our City Centre Cycling Map is widely distributed to help foster responsible and legal cycling.
Image as described adjacent
  • Annual ride to Reach Fair, which attracts people of all ages and cycling abilities
  • Bike Week (currently in abeyance!)
  • Online journey planner facility (which has also attracted keen national interest)
  • Work on the development of Adult Cycle training which has now become part of the County Council’s work.
  • Cambridge cycle map, which we originally created

…and also:

  • Promotion of cycle security
  • Open monthly meetings which provide a forum for discussion, information relay, and lively debate
  • Discussion lists and Subgroups
  • Our Newsletter, not only for members but read around the world online and distributed to local authorities, to schools and doctors’ surgeries and to a wide range of transport organisations
  • Providing advice and resources (where possible) to enquirers and via the website
  • Creation of all kinds of information resources

What changes will we have to make?

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.

We have held events to promote cycle security. Here, a small electronic tag identifies the bike.
Image as described adjacent

So it would mean that Committee members would have more clearly defined formal responsibilities than at present.

We would need to change our constitution. We propose to base this on the model constitution provided by the Charity Commission. More information on this is given below.

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. This is a theme which the October monthly meeting and AGM will discuss in more depth.

The other key change is that 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, although obviously our work involves contact with Councillors, as they make the local decisions highly relevant for our aims.

Constitution

As noted above, we propose to use the model constitution provided by the Charity Commission as the basis for our new constitution. This appears to be a very well-worded and well-thought-through document.

Replacement of the constitution towards this model would also resolve concerns that some Committee members have had about the current document.

The new constitution would incorporate the changes to working practices noted above.

The formal governing documents will not contain details about custom and practice of how we run the Campaign except where these affect accountability and responsibility. Such details are appropriate instead for supplementary documents.

Board of Trustees

Cambridge Cycling Campaign as a charity would be governed by a Board of Trustees. This would have the same make-up of posts as the current Committee but would include a Chair, Treasurer and Secretary. These are posts required of every charity. Details of these posts will be in the letter to members with the AGM documents.

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.

Guidance notes are on the Charities Commission website (www.charity-commission.gov.uk/registration/mgds.asp), and we will do our best in the run-up to the AGM to ensure that those standing for election are aware of the relevant responsibilities.

Where do we go from here?

The Committee have been working to draw up a formal set of proposals, following the steer given at the April monthly meeting. These should be on the website by the time you read this.

The October monthly meeting will give members an opportunity to discuss the proposals in a less formal setting than the AGM. This will also be an opportunity for the Committee to resolve issues which arise.

We also invite members with concerns or suggestions after reading this article to contact us.

We will include the formal proposals in our letter to all members notifying them of the AGM. This will go out by mid-October.

At the AGM, these proposals will be discussed and voted on. Specifically, this will include a motion on the principle of becoming a charity, followed by a motion on the constitutional changes that would be required, and election of Officers (a Board of Trustees). Details of the AGM are elsewhere in this Newsletter.

If approved by members, we will then apply for charitable status to the Charity Commission in line with the documents that would be approved at the AGM. We would then await their decision. There is of course always the possibility that they could refuse our application, or require amendments, in which case members would need to take more decisions at an EGM or AGM.

Your views

The Committee hopes that members will enthusiastically embrace the proposals that we are putting forward, as a new phase in the effectiveness of our organisation and thus the prospects for better, safer and more cycling in and around Cambridge.

The Committee is anxious to seek views from members on these proposals. If you have any questions or comments, please do get in touch via our usual contact details, and please do come to the October monthly meeting and, in particular, to the AGM if you can.

Martin Lucas-Smith, Co-ordinator