The role of CSR in supporting UK charities

A think piece by Shaylesh Patel, Director of ASTOP Limited

Around a decade ago I was asked to write a “left field” piece for my Accountancy Institute’s magazine for members about doing things differently.

Being an accountant, I was always conflicted and inspired by a quote attributed to Einstein:

“’Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted'”

My article paid tribute to Bhutan’s 9 components of their Gross National Happiness Index and their restrictions on the number of tourists that can enter in a year.  

Fast forward a few years and the western world’s shocks of COVID-19, accepting climate change, uncivil elections in the USA and over Brexit have made us more aware of things that cannot be counted or reported in a single news headline easily.  There is no way to have a contract between nature and mankind to negotiate away storms, extreme temperatures and tornadoes landing in new parts of the world.

Fortunately, the inner moral compass of the humans in businesses and consumers have a new voice in the form of non-financial measures and actions that broadly fall under CSR/ESG.  The Triple Bottom Line (people, planet and prosperity) scoops up social and environmental goals as well as the headline grabbing economic statistics.

Recently the editor of the Estates Gazette, the learned Samantha McClary, asked if the sector (which by its very nature older than retail, leisure, hospitality, healthcare, education) is able to drop outdated ways of operating as quickly as other sectors, or like the Met Police are there some areas of deep rooted concern that are harder to address.  

There is now a chance for the property sector to step up and have faith that its actions, if done properly and promptly, will benefit them by putting planet and people matters first, even though it may not add profit in the next quarterly report.  CSR/ESG typically have an unmeasured and longer timeline benefit than anything else mankind can do by focusing on profit alone. I can confidently say that enlightened professional advisers (accountants, lawyers, surveyors, etc) can and will work with asset managers because it is impossible to completely remove the risk of increasing incidents of property damage caused by nature (force majeure) or the social damage caused by decision makers prioritising short-term financial gains. 

There are some parts of the property sector that massage and manipulate rules, and cut corners in residential and commercial real estate.  

Space is the BIGGEST problem for the charity sector after funding.  Some landlords are leading the way in helping charities whilst looking after their own purse-strings and paying their fair share of empty property related taxes.  The carrot of soul-filling action that saves money or paying fair taxes is working for many.  However, for some, the stick approach is needed.  The Welsh government have cleverly introduced a change that only penalises landlords/agents abusing the tax concession on empty rates by box-shifting. 

I believe it’s about time that the English government does the same.

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