NCVO pulled out of consultancy work with charity amid fears it would be 'detrimental' to its staff

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations pulled out of a consultancy contract with the British Psychological Society because it felt the charity’s culture would be “detrimental” to the wellbeing of its consultants, Third Sector has learned.

The umbrella body had been brought in to advise the charity on its “strategy development”, according to a letter sent by the NCVO to Sarb Bajwa, chief executive of the BPS, in November.

The letter, seen by Third Sector, does not disclose how long the NCVO had been advising the BPS, but the umbrella body said it found continuing with the strategy development process would be “unethical" until “the internal dispute between senior managers and trustees is satisfactorily resolved with all parties”, and “an independent governance review takes place”.

The letter says: “We consider it inappropriate to place BPS staff and volunteers in a situation that risks causing psychological and emotional harm.

“We believe that continuing this work while the governance issues remain unresolved (…) would therefore be unethical.

“Given this, NCVO has a legal duty to protect its employees and associates and to ensure our consultants are not at risk.

“Members of our consultancy team felt the behaviours and culture affecting the leadership of BPS were detrimental to their wellbeing and requested to withdraw from the project.”

The letter also highlights “serious concerns from directors and trustees about the relationship between the senior management team and the board of trustees”, and that some staff and volunteers do not consider the charity “a safe or secure place for them”.

The Charity Commission previously said it was looking into concerns raised by members of the BPS, which acts as the representative body for psychology and psychologists in the UK.

A spokesperson for NCVO said the charity would not comment on the details of individual relationships or specific issues concerning clients.

“But we can confirm that we ended our strategy development consultancy with The British Psychological Society in November 2020 and explained the reasons why we believed this to be necessary. We stand by this decision,” the spokesperson added.

The BPS said it had been very open about the challenges it had faced this year, including allegations of bullying against a former trustee that resulted in their expulsion from the society in May.

A BPS spokesperson said: “The letter from the NCVO, from November 2020, was sent at a time when we were in the early stages of addressing these challenges.

“The trustees of the BPS take seriously their responsibility for ensuring a positive organisational culture for both employees and volunteers and, together with a new president and president-elect due to come into post next month, we are confident that the BPS will continue on its journey of modernisation and improvement.”

About seven months after the NCVO letter was sent, the BPS expelled its president-elect amid “persistent bullying” allegations.

But Nigel MacLennan described the claims as “baseless and without merit”.

The charity’s previous president stood down in April, citing family commitments.

Prior to that, longstanding trustee and former president David Murphy stood down in February, after nearly 20 years at the charity, because of concerns about governance, spending and transparency.

Murphy’s resignation followed the revelation that Bajwa was on “extended leave”, and Leicestershire Police was carrying out an investigation into an allegation of fraud at the charity involving a former female staff member.

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