I was puzzled by the recent experience of Frank Sodden of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who was told that employing a Conservative-minded candidate for his deputy would cost him £20,000 more. In fact, I am horrified. Does this imply that staff who don’t support the government of the day are automatically cheaper, or if your party is in power you automatically add value in your role? This is illogical and, frankly, shows a complete lack of understanding on the part of those who advised Frank.
As a leader of policy, public affairs and campaigns teams across my career, I have never found it a barrier that those whom I employ have political persuasions that are different from those of the government of the day. Just because you are in the same mind-set as the government doesn’t mean you are going to be any more valuable to your charity. Quite apart from the simple fact that there is never one mind-set in a party – I give you Brexit as the prime example – what matters when employing people is their experience and skills.
The context for Frank’s comment was, of course, a wider and much more important debate. Is this Conservative government ready to do business with our sector, and is our sector ready to do business with them? I would like to say yes on both counts, but I am worried that both sides are still stuck in the trenches of their own prejudice. It is up to charities to make the first move. It is our job to engage with government in order to make a difference for our beneficiaries. We can’t complain when decisions we don't like are made if we haven’t even attempted to engage with those in power.
Of course, it would help if the government understood the vital role charities have in delivering a better society. That is where our dialogue should begin. It is encouraging that Theresa May has appointed Charlotte Lawson to her new role in Number 10. This is a key opportunity for us to forge a new relationship. This government has enough on its plate, so we should be seeking to make its life easier. We should welcome Lawson with open arms. If she gets the ear of the Prime Minister even occasionally, that has to be very good news. We should also, collectively, develop a shared message about the value of charities in a post-Brexit world as a route to uniting society and delivering change alongside the state, public and private sectors.
This suggests to me that what matters isn’t our politics but our purpose and our place in society. As charities we should be apolitical. Indeed, we are required by law to be. We need to drop any individual bias from whatever side of the fence it comes and act professionally for our purpose. I suggest that if someone, perhaps your recruitment agency, is trying to sell you someone on the basis of their political leanings rather than their experience and suitability for the role, you need to seriously reconsider your relationship with them and their understanding of what you need.
Mark Flannagan @MarkFlannCEO is chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer