It is six months since I left the stress of running a local
advocacy service in the voluntary sector in a unitary authority to
work as an independent consultant, writes Jennifer Amner. Yet
discussion with my successor shows the problems remain.
As part of my new role I train voluntary groups on the
responsibilities of trustees. Charity law is highly complex, yet
there were not many people on a recent course I took and a
follow-up course had to be cancelled.
In the local voluntary sector, trustees seem to believe they have a
full understanding of this area. Yet decisions have been taken by
local groups that have resulted in investigation by the Charity
Commission, the dissolution of one group and subsequent
difficulties for its trustees.
Funding difficulties remain. In my area there has been little or no
interest in the development of a compact. Yet my statutory
colleagues with responsibilities in regeneration, social and health
care seem to believe that many new groups, set up as a result of
central government initiatives, will survive when they withdraw
their support. This could result in disappointment to service users
when schemes and services they have relied on collapse through the
inexperience and ignorance of their new trustees.
While the council gives the voluntary sector in this district more
than £1m a year, it does not seem to pay more than lip service
to the quality of service provision from the voluntary sector or
the areas of need. Elected members and social services staff
promise support to innovative groups and projects, only to find
lack of time means the council repeats the grant process as
Local trustees seem to believe this area of responsibility is
solely that of paid staff. While I applaud the hard work of the
paid staff, decisions they make should be checked, funding
applications monitored and problems of service delivery addressed
by those with the ultimate responsibility.
The increasing trend for charities to move to company status
limited by guarantee is seen a way of relieving trustees of their
unlimited liability. This decision may pay no regard to the assets
or the type of work the charity is doing. It may be used as a way
for trustees to escape from any duty to the operation of the staff
or volunteers. This, combined with the availability of trustee
indemnity Insurance, leads trustees to a short-term view that “as
long as there is some money in the kitty we shall be all
In this situation staff leave, with a knock-on effect on volunteers
and clients, and morale throughout the organisation
I appreciate that trustees are unpaid and often very busy people,
but surely it is better that they provide the strategic vision for
their organisation rather than pay consultants such as myself to
Jennifer Amner is an independent consultant.