Readers' Letters: high pay is not the right answer in the voluntary sector

Plus: the culture of the Charity Commission, business rates and the lobbying act

Sector pay
Sector pay

Six-figures salaries are not right in the current climate

Valerie Morton thinks Jimmy James's remarks about highly paid charity staff are "insulting" – but I find incredible her suggestion that the absence of high pay would lead to charities being run by "people with inherited wealth, assets from previous careers or high-earning spouses".

I started a small charity in the early 1980s and built it up until I retired at the end of the 1990s. In 2014, it had an income in excess of £2.5m, but I and my successors were never paid salaries near £60,000, let alone the figures quoted in your study. Nonetheless, I was able to recruit high-quality, dedicated staff who were prepared to work for less than they would have got in the private sector – and we could devote most of our income to our beneficiaries.

I believe the average of £78,839 quoted in your article is a realistic reward for a charity chief executive – but the six-figure sums you also mention are inappropriate in today's financial climate. Like Morton, I have been a non-executive director in the NHS. The trust where I worked did not attract a higher calibre of staff than my charity, even though it paid better. If, as Morton seems to think, money is the key motivator, it is a wonder that charities are able to attract so many unpaid volunteers.

I do not agree with all James said, but it's sad Morton has substituted rational argument with an emotional attack.

Sylvia Smith, Rushden, Northamptonshire

Has the culture at the Charity Commission really changed?

The piece on the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust raises a number of issues. The Charity Commission's focus on regulatory performance – influenced, perhaps, by the drubbing it received from the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee over the Cup Trust – may have provoked its extraordinary intervention in the funding of Cage, the human rights organisation. The observation of Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the charity chief executives body Acevo, that the commission's actions went beyond the "proper scope of a regulator", appears to sum up the many views expressed.

Do the commission's approach and actions in the JRCT case matter? That 15 trusts and foundations either declined to comment to Third Sector or did not respond brings to mind the Edmund Burke quote "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". On the broader issue of the commission's approach, the jury is out. How far has the regulatory culture in the commission really changed since the Cup Trust and African Aids Action cases?

John Weth, London W6

Shops in museums should not be assessed separately for rates

Caron Bradshaw raises some interesting points on tax avoidance. But there is another tax-avoidance issue to be considered with respect to business rates.

I am currently working with the Association of Independent Museums and various museum trusts. Many museum trusts have trading subsidiaries, which is in line with Charity Commission guidance. The revenues and costs from sales of goods are channelled through the subsidiary and profits are gifted to the trust, avoiding corporation tax for both subsidiary and trust. Where shops or cafes are occupied by the subsidiary, they should be separately assessed for business rates.

But if the shop is an integral part of the museum and the trading company doesn't occupy it, the shop should not be separately assessed. The Valuation Office, an agency of HM Revenue & Customs, wants to separate the shops and cafes, even if the trading subsidiary doesn't occupy the property. This has a big impact on the rates liability for charities with cafes, bookshops and so on. The VO's attempt to assess separately the shop and cafes at the Yorkshire Museum, York Art Gallery and Castle Museum in York has been defeated at the Valuation Tribunal, but that is now subject to appeal. If the VO is successful it will have major consequences for other charities.

Colin Hunter, divisional director, Lambert Smith, Hampton, Leeds

The lobbying act means that we must work more smartly

For me, the lesson of the lobbying act is that we need to become smarter at campaigning. The act achieved three things: it mobilised impressive opposition; it inhibited some organisations from campaigning; and it distracted charities from their own objectives.

It also distracted from the bigger issues of corporate lobbying and media bias. The press had complete freedom to campaign. Richard Desmond, owner of the Express newspaper group, even donated £1m to Ukip. Letters from business leaders got lots of publicity, but the concerns of charities about vulnerable people got little prominence.

Charity campaigning has to be more subtle, because it cannot back one party. Charities are also fighting for many different causes, which are drowned out in elections. The act's restrictions on charities should be repealed, because political activity is already governed by the Charity Commission. But the main task for charities is to develop a joint strategy to achieve greater equality of influence in politics for their beneficiaries.

Titus Alexander, convener, Democracy Matters, London WC1

Please send letters to or Third Sector, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington TW11 9BE

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