Investigation upheld complaints of harassment and race discrimination against former NCVO chief and deputy

Karl Wilding and Susan Cordingley were both allowed to leave the membership body before the investigation was completed

Karl Wilding and Susan Cordingley
Karl Wilding and Susan Cordingley

Karl Wilding and Susan Cordingley, the former chief executive and deputy chief executive, respectively, of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, were the subjects of upheld complaints of harassment, victimisation and race discrimination, documents seen by Third Sector have revealed.

Both were allowed to leave the organisation before the investigation into the complaints was conducted.

In September, the NCVO announced that “a number” of specific complaints relating to allegations of harassment, victimisation, race discrimination and safety issues had been investigated and upheld – but did not reveal the names of the subjects of those complaints.

Documents seen by Third Sector show that multiple complaints were made against Wilding and Cordingley and were among those upheld by the two independent investigators. 

The complaints were unearthed by an inquiry that was prompted by a damning independent EDI review produced in June 2020, which found that NCVO staff members from all marginalised groups experienced bullying, harassment and “overt and covert oppression” across all levels of the organisation.

Of the 10 specific complaints found by the inquiry, the NCVO said in September that “a number” were upheld, while the others had “either not reached a conclusion or were partially upheld”. The umbrella body has so far declined to give more detailed figures.

Third Sector understands that not all of the 10 complaints were against Wilding or Cordingley.

Both Wilding and Cordingley had left the organisation by the time the investigation into the complaints took place. 

Wilding stepped down with immediate effect as chief executive of the NCVO in January 2021 after 18 months in the role and 23 years with the organisation.

The following month, an NCVO spokesperson denied his departure was connected to the EDI review. The latest NCVO accounts, published in November, revealed Wilding received a termination payment of almost £28,000.   

Cordingley left on 1 February and was given a “payment in lieu of notice” of £22,455, according to the accounts.

Before Wilding and Cordingley left the NCVO, they oversaw a restructure prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

When Third Sector published excerpts from the EDI review in February 2021, the NCVO acknowledged that it had held off on carrying out the investigations into the complaints until after the restructure was complete – but did not mention that some of the complaints were against the organisation’s two most senior employees.

In a statement, the NCVO said no members of the board or senior leadership team knew who the complaints had been made against when the decision was made in early September 2020 to postpone the investigation.

“The board received the independent inquiry report shortly ahead of a meeting to discuss the report findings on 15 October 2020, by which time the restructure was under way and details of the restructure had been shared with staff,” the statement said.

Individuals who could be affected by the restructure were informed on 9 October, and an overall consultation document was shared with all staff on 13 October.

The restructure was publicly announced on 14 October, and consultations with affected staff took place between 15 and 20 October 2020, according to the NCVO.

In a separate statement, an NCVO spokeswoman said: “At the request of colleagues, investigations into the complaints received were separated from the organisational restructure and did not commence until the latter had been completed. 

“We recognised and accepted that conducting both an extensive restructure and investigations at the same time could add further strain to our staff.”

The NCVO spokeswoman said the organisation could not discuss the identities of those involved in the complaints, or share details beyond the statement it made announcing that a number of complaints had been upheld in September last year.

“Throughout the investigations process we have protected the identity of all the individuals involved for legal reasons, to safeguard the integrity of the investigations and complaints process, and to support the wellbeing of those involved,” she said.

She went on to say: “We would like to again apologise to those impacted by failings at NCVO. We are sorry for what you have experienced. We have made considerable progress against the recommendations outlined in the internal EDI report we received in April 2020 and the learning from the independent inquiry. 

“We recognise that culture change is a continuous process and the board of trustees and leadership team are fully committed to this vital work.” 

Neither Wilding nor Cordingley responded to repeated requests for comment from Third Sector.

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