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Trustees

Volume 776: debated on Thursday 3 November 2016

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what they are doing to celebrate Trustees’ Week, to highlight the work that trustees in the United Kingdom are doing.

My Lords, charity trustees play a vital role in society, freely giving their time to ensure that charities are well run and make a difference. Each year, the Charity Commission works with a coalition of charities and other charity regulators on Trustees’ Week to celebrate this and highlight opportunities for people from all walks of life to get involved. This year, Trustees’ Week will take place from 7 to 13 November and the theme will be: stronger charities through good leadership.

My Lords, I was privileged to spend much of my career in the charity sector, including at that wonderful charity, the Royal British Legion, so I saw at first hand the real difference that trustees can make. Does the Minister agree with me that the time and energy given to charities by those who volunteer as trustees prove that we live in a compassionate society? Does he further agree that we must do everything we can to promote the values of compassion and public service?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend, who speaks with significant expertise in the charity sector, especially the Royal British Legion, which noble Lords are supporting today. The latest figures from the Charities Aid Foundation show that we continue to be a generous nation in giving money and time to help others. We are eighth in the World Giving Index and, interestingly, the most generous in Europe. We hope that Trustees’ Week will raise the profile of the excellent work that trustees do in the charity sector.

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, and the Minister in praising the work of trustees—and, indeed, the trustee work undertaken by so many Members of your Lordships’ House. Does the Minister agree that we need to widen the range of people who become trustees? What are the Government doing to promote interest in trusteeship among younger people and people from diverse backgrounds?

I agree with the noble Baroness. There are already about 85,000 young charity trustees aged between 16 and 34 out of the 1 million trustees in the UK, but more can be done. The past focus of Trustees’ Week has been to encourage more young people to take up charity trustee positions. The Charity Commission also produces best practice guidance for charities on recruitment and detailed guidance on how to involve young people in running a charity. I agree with the noble Baroness on diversity. At the moment it is roughly 50:50 between men and women, but more can be done as far as ethnic communities are concerned.

My Lords, the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016 gives the Charity Commission extensive powers to disqualify people from acting as trustees. Will the Government monitor the commission’s exercise of those powers and, in particular, the effect on charities which exist to rehabilitate offenders?

The noble Baroness is quite right that that Act gave the Charity Commission more extensive powers, and the things she mentioned are monitored. The commission opened 100 statutory inquiries and used its legal powers more than 1,000 times in 2014-15, compared with 15 statutory inquiries and 200 uses of legal powers in the previous year, so it was already doing more, but I take note of what the noble Baroness says about the things that should be monitored.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Historic Lincoln Trust. Does my noble friend recognise that trusts depend very much on volunteers? It really is important in this next week that we recognise the importance not only of trustees, but of the volunteers upon which so many enterprises depend.

Of course, I agree: volunteering is very important to organisations, but it is also very rewarding to those who volunteer. Going back to a previous question, volunteering among young people is rising. Among 16 to 25 year-olds, monthly volunteering is at 32%, up from 23% in 2010. The National Citizen Service Bill, which is coming before a Committee of this House soon, shows that graduates of the NCS programme increasingly volunteer. That is a good point to bear in mind.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the good work of an organisation of which I am proud to be a trustee, the Roundhouse in north London? We have a long-standing and enlightened programme of bringing very young trustees on to the board every year. Is he also aware that the duties of trustees are increasingly onerous? It is pretty difficult even for people with a lot of experience to feel completely confident that they are on top of everything they are responsible for. It is very important, therefore, in bringing younger people, particularly people between the ages of 18 and 25, on to trustee boards, that they are properly trained and monitored and mentored while they are serving.

Of course, I agree that that is important. It is particularly useful that young trustees can sit alongside older and more experienced ones and learn. The Charity Commission gives as much guidance as it can and is always refining that guidance, both for existing and young trustees. I make the point that the Charity Commission is not there to second-guess trustees, but to use its powers to correct areas of significant abuse. For most trustees, the Charity Commission does not invoke its powers at all.

My Lords, following the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, can the Minister confirm that most trustees are not paid but their liabilities for whatever charity they are involved in are unlimited, as the trustees of Kids Company are now finding out? I declare an interest as the trustee of many charities.

My noble friend is right that most trustees are not paid. Generally, the voluntary sector regards that as a good thing and does not want them to be paid. However, it is possible, with Charity Commission permission, to pay trustees; for example, for youth and diversity reasons it might be sensible to pay a trustee. I take on board my noble friend’s point about liability.