Q. Prince William recently told the Charity Commission’s annual public meeting that there should be more collaboration among charities. Do you agree?
A. Of the long list of things the charity sector needs, near the bottom is another grandee with no experience of running charities telling us how to order our affairs. The reason there isn’t more collaboration is that it is expensive, time-consuming, saps energy from the mission and is rarely a success. There is no credible evidence that it would produce better outcomes. I don’t hear the same pundits advocating closer collaboration in the energy, retail or financial sectors: it limits consumer choice and leads to price-fixing and the formation of cartels.
Q. How can it be right for the chief executive of a charity, however worthy, to be paid more than the Prime Minister?
A. Using the Prime Minister’s salary as a yardstick for any job is just silly. It is an artificial construct that bears no comparison with anything; if it were half as much or ten times as much it would still be criticised as either too high or too low. There is no market against which to test the value of Prime Ministers, except for used and second-hand ones, and the PM is not the chief executive of anything – not even of the UK. There were doomed proposals in the 1980s to set up a national job evaluation programme, but the hard truth is the value of a job is not what’s worth: it’s what someone is prepared to pay.
A. No. But also yes. No, because for most charities it is really, really important to have fresh thinking and ideas from trustees to minimise the complacency that comes from long service and eventually restricts ideas and development. But yes, because there are some charities with long time-horizons where continuity, patience and tenacity are essential to the dogged pursuit of their charitable objects.
Q. What do you think about the row over equal pay at the BBC, and does it help to inform what to do in charities?
A. The ludicrously inflated salaries at the BBC make it hard to feel sympathy with the people involved. They are a stark example of how pay can be distorted when there isn’t a fair and visible system underpinning it, but instead a series of private deals. The subject of the attack should not be the salaries of individuals, but the method of awarding them that allows such monstrous inequity.
Q. Tracey Crouch, the charities minster, has also been appointed as minister for loneliness. Do you think it is a good idea to have a minister for loneliness?
A. If David Cameron’s big society had achieved anything at all, such a post wouldn’t be necessary. It is reminiscent of attempts to stimulate neighbourliness or volunteering: these are not jobs government can do, as William Beveridge made clear 70 years ago in The Evidence for Voluntary Action. But if it must do something, it can support the voluntary sector in combating loneliness. My grandmother, a widow for 30 years, was considered to be lonely. A local church asked if she would like to have a volunteer visitor. She really didn’t want another visitor disturbing her peace, but felt she had to "help the young people".
Q. Why do people feel threatened by change at an organisation?
A. As a serial chief executive, I was baffled for a long time by the reaction of some staff and volunteers to change in the various organisations I headed. The changes always looked to me to be self-evidently positive for the mission and for our beneficiaries, or I would never have backed them. Even when staff might benefit from change personally, there could be surprise, hostility, fear or panic. Finally, someone told me the truth: "It’s bleedin’ obvious, Peter. It’s because you’re in control and they aren’t."
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