Thursday, 14 March 2013

Guardian article: Good Governance (with a Comment piece on Trusteeship from the Charity Commission's Neal Green)

(This article has been copied and pasted for ease)

The Guardian – Good Governance 13 March 2013

Taking the plunge

Being a trustee or a non-executive director (NED) of a public board or charity is increasingly seen as essential for anyone seeking to climb the public sector career ladder, especially the civil service. But many people with relevant expertise and skills don’t put themselves forward for such positions, citing worries about time commitments or a lack of understanding about what these roles involve.

This supplement reveals what it takes to be a trustee or NED and features people who have already taken the plunge. It also looks at where the current opportunities are and whether you can expect to be paid for your time.

Regulatory changes mean housing association boards will have to change the way they operate – we look at the skills they are now looking for in their NEDs. Are those with business and financial acumen still the people in demand?

In the wake of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust inquiry, last month’s Francis report highlighted the need for scrupulous governance and accountability. In this supplement, the Charity Commission explains what constitutes good governance in the voluntary sector and explains how trustees can manage the triple burdens of responsibility, risk and liability.

According to latest figures, 43% of charitable trustees are women, but the figure is lower for public boards. We reveal what is being done to help realise the government’s target of 50% of new NED appointments to public boards being women by 2015. We also talk to a businesswoman who juggles six NED positions, including roles at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The national network of clinical commissioning groups has created new board opportunities for GPs and lay people to help shape the future of primary care health services in their area. One lay member, who does not work in the NHS, explains how his experience as a “punter” brings a valuable perspective to the board and ensures the patient voice is heard.

Debbie Andalo

Get on board and make a difference

Recent high-profile scandals show the vital necessity of holding public bodies and charitable trusts to account – plus, serving on a board is a great way to give back, says Debbie Andalo

Volunteering as a trustee or giving up time to be a non-executive director (NED) on the board of a public sector organisation can bring personal and professional rewards.

The roles do come with responsibility - as highlighted by the recent independent report into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust scandal, which revealed the failings of its board. But charities and organisations that recruit trustees and NEDs are unanimous in their belief that the benefits outweigh the burdens.

Teresa Clarke, governor of Swinfen Hall young offenders institution in Staffordshire, became a trustee for the first time last year, when she joined the board of Leap, a charity that provides conflict resolution training to young people. “For me, the issue was time,” she says. “I had to think about it because I have to juggle work with family life.

“I am still learning, but I feel I can give Leap a different perspective – that insight and clarity about how prisons and the Ministry of Justice work. Trusteeship appealed because I wanted to broaden my understanding of the voluntary sector.  What I have seen are people every bit as committed and dedicated to the work they do as we are.”

Clarke is one of an increasing number of civil servants who are becoming trustees or NEDs. The Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG) – which helps civil servants to find suitable trusteeships as part of its mission to build understanding between the private, public and voluntary sectors - believes the trend will continue.

Being a trustee or NED fits neatly with the civil service reform plan – which expects civil servants to get experience outside of Whitehall if they want to progress their career – and provides those who take part with a fresh perspective and new skills.

WIG’s chief executive and former civil servant, Mark Gibson, says: “We are finding it easier to get civil servants interested. They are looking for a different experience in a different sector – they want to move away from the policy environment and get experience of delivery.

“Civil servants understand about the ‘public good’ and can fit into that charity role a lot easier than others. It offers them a fantastic way of getting cross-sector experience and shows them how Whitehall looks from the outside, which can be extremely enlightening.”

Growing interest in trusteeships and public board roles is matched by demand. The Charity Commission says nearly half of the charities in England and Wales have vacancies. Its annual Trustees’ Week – which this year takes place from 4-10 November – helps to raise the profile of the role and to find new recruits. The commission also uses Twitter and Facebook to keep the campaign alive all year round and to reach a younger audience.

Figures from the commissioner for public appointments show that in the past financial year there were 1,740 appointments made to government boards or committees, most of which were new appointments. NHS reorganisation has brought new opportunities, with the creation of 211 clinical commissioning groups, while England’s 1,245 housing associations also need board members.

Skills and expertise

The Non-Executive Directors Association, the professional membership organisation for NEDs, says public sector boards are popular with those looking for their first appointment. Its chairman, Graham Durgan, says: “People will often use the public sector for their first NED role as all the posts are advertised. They are often looking to give something back to society and one of the ways they can do that is through the public sector.”

There is always a demand for trustees with financial expertise, but, increasingly, charities are looking for people with legal, communications or marketing skills. Public boards sometimes require a NED with a specific interest, but having the ability to hold the executive to account is a fundamental skill required of all board members, says commissioner for public appointments Sir David Normington . “That is a skill which needs to be developed and trained for,” he says, “they [the NEDs] need to learn how to operate so that the executive team doesn’t run rings around them.”

Charity and public sector boards want to attract more women and people with a disability or from a black or minority ethnic (BME) background. According to the commissioner for public appointments statistics for 2011/12, only 33.9% of appointments to public bodies were women – a figure that has hardly changed for the past decade.

The number of successful BME candidates was 7.2% – slightly up on the previous year – while the number of people appointed who disclosed a disability fell from 8.6% in 2010/11 to 5.1%.

Normington has described the figures as “not good enough”. “With all the focus on this [diversity] by the government and in public policy, it’s disappointing that there hasn’t been much progress,” he says. “If you consider what public boards are doing, it seems sensible that they should at least get a bit closer to reflecting what the public is like.”

While the Mid Staffs scandal might deter some people from joining public boards, Normington believes it could be used as an opportunity to reach the best. “The message you could take is, if you want to make a difference –and agree that you need to raise standards of service and stop some of the abuses – then come and join us. There is an opportunity here for serious people to make a difference.”

Feel the fear – and do it anyway

Neal Green - Comment

Running a charity can seem scary – all about responsibility, risk and liability. But by following principles of good governance, you can ensure you have the important things covered, comply with key legal requirements and avoid nasty surprises.

Charity trustees aren’t expected to get it perfect every time; they are expected to do their best. The Code of Good Governance for the voluntary sector, which the Charity Commission supports, offers principles that you can apply to your charity.

First, be clear about your role and the role of the board; understand your legal and governance responsibilities, and use tools such as Charity Commission guidance. Read your governing document and get good management information.

Remember, governance is about delivering your charity’s purpose – it isn’t an end in itself. Be clear about what the mission is and know whether you are delivering it.

Be effective and monitor board performance. Try to get the right mix of skills, experience and diversity on your board, and work as a team. Have robust debate, ask those “awkward” questions, and manage any conflicts of interests.

Exercise control by delegating and supervising effectively, and having clear communications and effective committees. Ensure campaign activities don’t “cross the line” by breaching your charitable aims or the law, or bringing the charity into disrepute.

Behave with integrity. People may not always agree with you, but don’t give them ammunition to criticise the charity or undermine its reputation.

Be open and accountable. You are there for your beneficiaries, but don’t forget other stakeholders – for example, your funders and supporters. It’s important to inform them, listen to them and act on their feedback.

Finally, have fun! Being a trustee should be enjoyable and fulfilling – and an opportunity to meet new friends, as well as to enhance your CV.

Neal Green is senior policy adviser at the Charity Commission

No comments:

Post a Comment