The government should consider introducing a statutory duty to allow trustees time off from their day jobs to perform their board duties, the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities has recommended.
The committee says the government should hold a public consultation on the possibility of introducing a statutory duty to allow "employees of organisations over a certain size to take a limited amount of time off work to perform trustee roles".
The recommendation comes after the National Council for Voluntary Organisations told the committee the existing law that allows employees to take off a reasonable amount of time for performing certain public duties, such as serving as magistrates or councillors, should be extended to volunteering.
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, said in a statement he was pleased that the committee had backed the recommendation. "We know that many small and medium-sized charities in particular struggle to recruit trustees," he said. "Putting trusteeship on a footing with other public duties by ensuring employers have to make allowances for trustees, as they do for school governors or magistrates, would raise its profile and help broaden the range of people able to contribute by volunteering as trustees."
The Lords committee also calls for the introduction of a time limit for service as a trustee, along with a maximum term of office. It says the Charity Commission should include suggested time limits in the materials and draft articles of association it produces.
The committee also makes recommendations about improving the skills and training of trustees. These include charities regularly carrying out skills audits of their boards, and charity sector infrastructure bodies reviewing the training opportunities available to trustees and taking action to address any shortages.
Smaller charities would also benefit from having free access to a template induction process for trustees, the committee says.
But it does not endorse the argument that trustees should be paid, saying they should receive payment only in "highly exceptional circumstances". It says: "We believe that the voluntary principle of trusteeship is an important one and that trustees should not receive payment for undertaking the role."
The report says there are significant shortcomings in executive leadership training in the sector and calls for this to be addressed by government, sector bodies and academic institutions.
Rosalind Oakley, executive director of the Association of Chairs, described the committee’s report as far-reaching and thoughtful. "We agree with the committee that training and development are essential for charity trustees in order for the sector to work effectively, and the chair has a key role in this," she said in a statement.
She also agreed with the recommendation that the sector’s infrastructure bodies should review training opportunities and take action to address any shortcomings.
But she said that proposals to invest in leadership should be extended to chairs." If we wish chairs to lead effectively – they too need development and support," she said. "Good governance requires effective leadership both by executive and non-executives."