Peter Cardy says prepare well when facing the Public Accounts Committee

The sector veteran offers answers to your workplace dilemmas

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. I have been asked to give evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, which has a reputation for mauling witnesses. Do you have any advice?

A. The PAC's reputation is justified, but at least you're not a banker. It is very adversarial and can make the best people look like fools. So prepare, prepare and prepare more. If you have time, find out if Civil Service Learning, which has taken over some of the roles of the now closed National School of Government, has any courses that can help you. Get colleagues to give you marathon sessions of tough questioning, video them and then do it better. Watch select committees on BBC Parliament. And go to the toilet just before you're called. You could be there for some time.

Q. Our board is, in effect, a self-perpetuating body, selecting new members by tapping their mates on the shoulder. As a result, we have a board of grandees – bankers or lawyers – who all went to the top public schools and share the same social networks. They are powerful, so it's surprising that they have allowed the chair to run the charity as his own fiefdom. He is turning out to be quite a bully; we have had a few unpleasant run-ins and his behaviour has led to at least one of the staff leaving. Should I stand up to him?

A. You can make your views clear in a civil manner even when he loses his temper; you can present your position to the board; you can insist on a right of reply to his outbursts; and you can amend or even countermand his instructions to your direct reports if they are wrong-headed. But if he has the support of the board, don't expect to win in the long term; he is one of them and, as chief executive, by definition you are not. Plan for the worst: record what takes place, file emails and meet him only when accompanied by colleagues. If you are dumped by the board, your constructive dismissal case will be ready for use in negotiations. Talk to Acevo, if you're a member, or talk to your own insurer's lawyer.

Q. What do think of zero-hours contracts?

A. Of course they can be exploitative and an excuse for poor planning and lousy people-management. But they can be ideal for people who want to do other jobs, such as running their own businesses, working when other people are on holiday and so on. For some people on low pay, they can make the difference between penury and getting by. I would resist any doctrinaire attempt to get rid of them without careful thought about the effects on employment and the income of your workers and contractors. It is far from straightforward.

Q. I work for a charity that helps children with critical illnesses. One of our groups is going out of its way to flout the charity's rules by buying minibuses and expensive equipment, funding the same parents for respite year after year and jumping in where the NHS would provide. It's impossible to have dialogue with the committee: they retreat behind our charitable objects, disregarding current strategy. Should we expel the group?

A. The history of branch-based charities is marked by battles between local groups that regarded themselves as autonomous and central bodies that set the strategy and carry the can. The MS Society, the Alzheimer's Society, Parkinson's UK and Age UK have all been through similar struggles. It's easy for groups to depict their central body as heartless and bureaucratic (correctly, sometimes), so you have to pick your fights carefully. Identify the groups that pose a real threat, not those that are just untidy. Then get them on side or expel them quietly, one by one.

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas. Contact him at

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