Charity sector is at risk of falling into a 'transparency trap', says Sir Stephen Bubb

The head of Acevo tells an Institute of Fundraising debate that sharing details of executive pay and political affiliations in accounts is not appropriate

Sir Stephen Bubb
Sir Stephen Bubb

It is inappropriate for charities to declare information such as chief executive pay and political affiliations in their annual accounts, according to Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the charity chief executives body Acevo.

Speaking at the Institute of Fundraising New Year Breakfast Debates in London on Thursday, Bubb said the sector was at risk of getting stuck in the "transparency trap" and was becoming timid in the face of its enemy.

"The sector has become shocked and horrified, and has started talking about transparency in areas in which it is simply not appropriate," he said. When it came to chief executive pay, Bubb said, the sector should be "robust around what we do and not adopt the accountancy approach".

To illustrate his point, he used a quote sometimes attributed to George Bernard Shaw: "I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty; and besides, the pig likes it."

Bubb reiterated his pledge to reject a suggestion made by the the National Council for Voluntary Organisations that charities should consider publishing the political affiliations of senior staff, saying it would be an "assault on civil liberties".

His comments on salaries appear to run counter to Acevo’s The Good Pay Guide, published in December 2013, which says that large charities should each routinely publish a document describing how trustees set pay and listing the names of directors who receive large salaries.

Responding on Twitter to the latest comments, D'Arcy Myers, consultant and trustee of the Small Charities Coalition, said: "I disagree. Transparency means complete disclosure, otherwise it is opaque."

But Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, responded to Myers by saying: "Information is not transparency. Share everything and nothing is understood."

At the IoF event, Bubb said that no political party had a narrative on the third sector. "They all have nothing there in terms of an aspirational vision for society," he said. "Ukip’s wouldn’t even fit on the corner of a fag packet."

Referring to the appointment of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts to review the provisions for third-party campaigners under the lobbying act, Bubb said it was important for the sector to continue to ask for the legislation to be repealed. "I think Hodgson is a good guy," he said. "But you don’t review the act; you repeal it."

A delegate, the fundraising consultant Brian Gilliland, said the lobbying act was annoying but charities could live with it. He said the only thing that really mattered was to have a strong economy after the election, because more money would be available from the public.

"No, that’s not correct," answered Bubb. "You’re clearly not planning on being a chief executive."

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