Editorial: Publication of senior charity salaries should become the norm

But transparency on pay needs to be accompanied by a more frank and forthcoming general narrative, writes Stephen Cook

Publication of senior pay levels should become the norm, writes Stephen Cook
Publication of senior pay levels should become the norm, writes Stephen Cook

The right answer: this is surely the best way to describe the recommendation by the inquiry into senior pay that charities should publish the names and salaries of their senior executives in a prominent place on their websites, accompanied by an explanation of pay policy and how it advances their charitable objectives. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which set up and ran the inquiry, has already led by example.

If charities do this, it won't stop right-wing newspapers and Tory backwoodsmen from continuing to carp about top pay in some big charities: nothing is likely to shift their conviction that charities should be run by volunteers, retired colonels or saints with a vocation.

But at least they and others will be less able to complain about a lack of transparency, and the project of communicating more clearly to the public how modern charities operate will have moved forward. Being open about figures, though, needs to be accompanied by a more frank and forthcoming narrative generally.

The extent to which charities act on the recommendation remains to be seen. In the recent consultation by the Charity Commission on the revision of the Statement of Recommended Practice, many respondents opposed any change to the existing system, in which charities publish in £10,000 bands the numbers of staff earning more than £60,000. The Charity Finance Group foresaw internal difficulties and sensitivities for charities. The Sorp revision proposes no change.

The commission's chair, William Shawcross, has praised the NCVO inquiry as a constructive response to the flurry of criticism on salaries that was whipped up last year. When the report came out last week, the regulator endorsed the recommendation, even though it goes beyond the Sorp. "This difference is a healthy one," it said.

At the end of the day, the decision is for each charity's trustees. If publication becomes the norm, as it should, we will probably be wondering in a couple of years what all the fuss was about.

- Read our analysis on whether charities will follow the NCVO recommendations on pay

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