The hysteria over paying trustees

To my mind, there is currently a lot for people in the third sector to be angry about. Sky-high youth unemployment. Yet another failure to reform the funding of social care. Scandals like those at Winterbourne View residential hospital. More children growing up in poverty.

But it turns out that if you really want to get the leaders of the charity sector angry, the thing to do is to propose that the regulatory regime should be changed to make it easier for charities to pay their trustees should they wish to.

Now personally I don’t feel particularly strongly on this. I wouldn’t see paying trustees as a panacea for some of the sector’s governance problems. I can see the arguments against. Payment wouldn’t make much difference to my willingness to be a trustee or not. The issue doesn’t really excite me or make me want to go into battle on one side or the other. Meanwhile, Acevo has no plans to pay its own trustees, and the vast majority of charities take the same position.

But the fact is that some charities do want to pay their trustees. And the question that Lord Hodgson posed is not “is this good or bad?”, or even “should this be legal?”. As things stand, the regulatory regime’s answers to those two questions are “it depends on the individual circumstances”, and “yes, if you get permission from the Charity Commission”. The question Hodgson posed is different to the two above. He asked: “in each individual case, when a charity considers paying its trustees, who is best placed to make the judgement on whether it should – the charity whose money it is, or the commission?”

And the answer, according to most of the sector’s umbrella bodies (and some borderline hysterical twitterage), appears to be that under absolutely no circumstances should the individual charity be trusted with such a decision. Am I the only person who finds this a bit odd?

Ralph Michell is the director of policy at Acevo