Sketch: Stephen left blubbing as one lord-a-loving steals the show

Tania Mason

The Lord's words punctuated the air like stars on a clear Suffolk night: "Charity means caritas, which means love - and yes, I believe in love, in life and in business. And the day you start paying your trustees is the day you risk losing the love."

It's not often you go to a conference and hear grown men talking about love, but this was far from your run-of-the-mill event. Two of the voluntary sector's most luminous figures, Lord Phillips of Sudbury and Acevo boss Stephen Bubb, were pitted head-to-head at the Kingston Smith-sponsored Chase exhibition over the vexed issue of payment to trustees. Mr Bubb capably set out the practical case for, while Lord Phillips unashamedly invoked ideology and romanticism in his impassioned argument against.

Everyone agrees we need more youngsters and more ethnic minorities on boards, said Mr Bubb - well, pay them and we'll get them. Other sectors pay their boards, he pointed out, so by not forking out we are simply leaking valuable skills to private and public-sector bodies. And if we pay our trustees, they have no excuse not to turn up to meetings, read their papers or attend training.

Of course, it shouldn't be compulsory or even general practice, and most charity leaders don't even want to pay their trustees, he conceded, but 40 per cent of chairs and 45 per cent of chief executives do. So, if we want a "modern, enterprising third sector" (delivering lots and lots of lovely public services, he might have added), they should be allowed to.

But the peer was having none of it. "The average charity has no paid employees, let alone paid trustees," he protested. "But the sector has lustre, credibility and huge levels of public trust. If you want to see that change radically, let charities pay their trustees."

Charities would not attract the same levels of commitment, drive and imagination if trustees were paid, he said, before spouting a political analogy that the audience enjoyed hearing nearly as much as he relished telling: "MPs in the House of Commons are paid, but I'm not sure that house is a greater repository of talent than the Lords, who are not."

Summing up, Bubb admitted to pursuing a "managerial and pragmatic case in order to get the proper skills and diversity boards need". Lord Phillips, by contrast, pleaded guilty to harbouring a "romantic view of charity" that he is anxious to preserve.

When it came to the audience vote, just 12 hands of the 70 or so present went up in favour of allowing payment, demonstrating beyond all doubt that love always wins in the end.

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