Citizens Advice Scotland has been forced to postpone a vote on changes to improve its governance, which independent reviewers had dubbed "dysfunctional", after four of its member bureaux initiated legal action.
The vote, which was scheduled to take place today, centred on whether to make radical constitutional changes to the charity’s board, as recommended in an independent review published in August.
It has now been postponed until January, after four of CAS’s member bureaux – Bridgeton, Maryhill and Possilpark, Easterhouse and Greater Pollok – took last-minute court action to prevent the vote going ahead, according to a letter sent out to Citizens Advice Bureau members yesterday by Agnes Robson, acting chair of CAS.
The review, by the accountancy firm Deloitte, described the board as "not fit-for-purpose", saying its dynamics were "dysfunctional" and "unprofessional".
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills reportedly ordered the review in March, withholding half its annual funding to the CAS to ensure it complied, just weeks after the charity dismissed its chief executive, Margaret Lynch, after an investigation.
The charity’s chair, Dominic Notarangelo, stood down in June having been warned the Deloitte review would contain direct criticisms of his leadership of the board. He is chair of the Maryhill and Possilpark bureau, one of the groups behind the legal action.
Third Sector understands that the four bureaux have sought an interdict – an injunction preventing the charity from carrying out the vote.
Robson’s letter said the legal action was "on the basis of a technicality" over whether the special resolution to make the proposed changes should have been sent out with the notification of today’s planned general meeting.
But Robson said the CAS could not "in all conscience" fight the case in court because, although she believed the charity would be vindicated, it risked causing irrevocable damage to relationships within the network of CABs and further harm to the standing of the service, and raised issues about the proper use of CAS public funds.
In her letter, she said: "In an increasingly challenging financial, political and operational climate, we had hoped that this vote would send a clear message that the difficult period that we have faced is now behind us and that we are moving forward confidently and embracing good governance.
"We have considered whether this outcome can be achieved in circumstances in which CAS is forced to engage in a court dispute with member bureaux and we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that it cannot."
She said she believed the pragmatic solution was therefore to reschedule the meeting for January.
The Deloitte report made 32 recommendations for change at the charity, including a call for a more competitive trustee appointment process and for a new board of between 11 and 13 members to be elected in 2017, with a balance of external trustees and bureau trustees, with no trustee allowed to stand for re-election after six years in post.
In her letter, Robson said she would be writing to funders with a new timeframe for implementing the changes and assuring them of the charity’s continued commitment to concluding the process in line with the timescale that has been agreed in order to guarantee funding beyond March 2017.
No one from the Bridgeton and Easterhouse bureaux was available to comment and spokespeople for the Greater Pollok and the Maryhill and Possilpark bureaux declined to comment.