Mark Flannagan: Lords report - a mix of the irksome and the vital

For our correspondent, the recommendation that the government consult on a statutory duty to allow employees time off to serve as trustees is the key issue

Mark Flannagan
Mark Flannagan

The House of Lords Select Committee report Stronger Charities For A Stronger Society will be pored over and, as the NCVO’s Karl Wilding says in his blog (The House of Lords report on charities: what you need to know) it needs "a fair bit of time" to take forward the 42 recommendations. The NCVO’s edited list is a helpful starting point. I look forward to seeing how the NCVO and others plan to make the report a living a document that helps charities to flourish.

I am drawn to the statements the committee makes about trustee skills and board diversity. Recommendation 2, that smaller charities would benefit from a template induction process seems sensible enough, but will trustees at smaller charities even have the headspace to find and go through such documents? Hasn’t this been a long-standing problem and won’t a call for grant-making bodies to fund template production simply get lost among the other pressures? How much of a priority can this be for funding?

I was irked by recommendation 3, that there is potential for charities to benefit from better connections to the business community, and vice versa. Well, that was earth-shattering and worth waiting for wasn’t it? Isn’t this what many charities try to do? I have written before that we woefully lack the proper charity experience on charity boards, and this leads to many problems (Why aren't more fundraisers on our boards?). So it is a shame that the committee still sees business experience as a panacea and does not call for experienced charity staff to be appointed as trustees of other charities.

It is gratifying to have the committee call out the Charity Commission for failing to appoint experienced charity staff to its own board. We will all watch and see whether the commission acts on recommendation 7 and recruit individuals with real charity experiences in its next set of board appointments. I declare an interest here: The new Charity Commission board appointments are disappointing, 1 December 2016.

For me the most important recommendation is number 5. This calls for the possibility of a statutory duty to allow employees time off to perform trustee roles. The committee calls only for a public consultation on the issue, but it is a start. I hope that we can build on this and develop a consensus to make it a reality. Boards will never be diverse if they can include only those with the time to give. It is a simple truth that those with spare time will be the better off, the retired and those more in control of their own work-life balance. These people are of course fantastic and highly valuable, and many boards could not survive without them. But how do you get diversity of the young, the economically disadvantaged and so on if you do not build into our work culture the idea that giving time off for charity leadership is a public duty? I would go further and argue that this duty should be extended to public sector non-executive positions as well. The NHS ought to be able to draw upon wider experience for its non-executive director roles than those who can afford to give up 30 days a year without their employers penalising them.

Our society has to "get" charity and other similar forms of service as being essential and not a perk for the financially wealthy and time-rich. Doing so is part of the jigsaw puzzle of social cohesion that we need to put together if we are to ensure charities don’t just carry on existing, but thrive and drive the shape of our shared future.

Mark Flannagan is chief executive Beating Bowel Cancer. @MarkFlannCEO

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