PROPOSITIONS : There's no charity without security

The Barings crisis shows the need for a safety net, says Peter Stanford PROPOSITIONS
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The Independent Online
Following the takeover of Barings by the Dutch bank ING, organisations whose funds were held in Barings are being told that all their troubles are over. My own organisation - the national spinal injuries charity Aspire - will have its £1.2m deposit at Barings unfrozen. Business as usual is the official message for our work with the estimated 40,000 people with spinal cord injury in the country.

But what do we now do with the £1.2m? How can we have faith in the City, when the regulatory system has so patently failed and yet the authorities refuse to lift a finger? The Chancellor's decision to set up an independent inquiry that will drag on for months is of little help to us in sorting out today a new investment policy for the charity. It is tempting to put the money under a mattress, but then Aspire's trustees could be hauled over the coals by the Charity Commissioners for not getting a decent rate of return, as required by charity law.

It is a far cry from the heady days of the Eighties when we, like many other charities, were directed towards the City. There, we were told, we would get a good rate of return on our money with no risk of losing it. There was, numerous eminent advisers assured us, a regulatory system policed by the Bank of England to ensure that all was above board. Even with such a guarantee, our trustees took a cautious approach. They resisted the temptations of the more fly-by-night banks with their high rates of interest, and plumped for Barings, that venerable blue-chip institution, triple "A" credit-rated and patronised by the Queen. Our money would be safe as houses.

In the wake of Barings' collapse, neither the Chancellor of the Exchequer nor the Governor of the Bank of England has made any attempt to compensate us for the broken promises of the regulatory system. Their silence will not go unnoticed by the many charities that have investments in the City. They are feeling nervous and need some reassurance from the Chancellor.

Once immediate and practical step Mr Clarke could take would be to establish a fund - operated by the Charity Commissioners - to rescue charities caught in the storm that engulfed us last week. With set-up capital from the Treasury, such a fund could operate like the safety net run by the Law Society for solicitors' practices that fail. It would be kept afloat by the charities themselves, who would put in a tiny fraction of their income each year in order to have peace of mind and a guarantee for those vulnerable people who rely on their services.

Even if it does not appeal to the Chancellor on moral grounds - and trying to persuade this government that it has moral obligations is rather like attempting to explain the concept of a single life-long commitment to Zsa Zsa Gabor - it should attract him for practical reasons. If the Government plans to continue handing over chunks of the welfare state to the voluntary sector for funding, there is a resulting cost.

It is no good ministers talking grandly of partnership with charities when they are not prepared to honour that partnership in bad times as well as good. At Aspire we feel as if the Department of Health was happy to be our partner when we were providing the money and they were taking the credit. Last week, when there was a threat that the roles might be reversed, they went ominously silent. Unless action is taken in official circles to prevent a future recurrence of such events, talk of partnership will be exposed as a sham.

The writer is chairman of Aspire, based at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore, Middlesex, HA7 4LP.