Comment: We should pay trustees for services

The Charities Act 2006 has been fairly controversial in areas such as the public benefit test, where it appears to have brought more confusion than clarity.

Nick Seddon
Nick Seddon

But it's not all bad. Indeed, here's some welcome good news: sections 36 and 37, which are due to come into force this month, will allow trustees to be paid for providing services - legal work, accountancy, building and maintenance - to their charities (Third Sector, 20 February).

Such arrangements were previously possible only with the Charity Commission's consent. But the commission is busy enough without having to make case-by-case decisions about whether or not Mrs Rules should be remunerated for her legal advice or Mr Pots for painting the walls. Sure, there needs to be a firm framework for transparency to prevent conflicts of interest. But as things stand, according to Rosie Chapman, executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission, such guidance already exists.

She recently said that the trustee in question could not be involved in decision-making, that there must be written agreement and that the board must be clear about the benefit that this arrangement brings.

There is a small but vocal lobby calling for the remuneration of trustees. Personally, I don't think trustees should be paid for being trustees. As well as efficiency, part of a board's efficacy lies in its being a symbol of voluntarism. If civil society wants to affirm its distinctiveness, it shouldn't import features that would alter its own ethos. The whole private sector model, for instance, with shareholders as a form of accountability, with profit as the bottom line rather than donations and beneficiary satisfaction, uses different checks and balances. And civil society shouldn't conspire with the assumption that good work can only be bought.

But it's important to make distinctions where they can be made. There's a difference between paying Mrs Rules to be a trustee and paying her to spend a week offering legal advice to the campaigns department. Trustees take on exceptional duties and responsibilities as it is; they shouldn't also be exploited for their professional services. Far from mangling incentives, this will leave trustees clearer about where they stand.

- Nick Seddon is an author and journalist: nptseddon@hotmail.com.

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