How elected representatives can make good decisions and keep everyone happy

In February this year, Wales Online reported that there were calls for Bridgend MP, Madeleine Moon, to resign after she went against the electorate’s wishes and voted against the triggering of article 50 in a constituency that voted to leave the European Union.

It chimed with something I’ve been thinking about recently around the responsibility and accountability of those elected to a role.

As a Trustee of a membership organisation, I was elected to the Board by a body of representative members.  According to the ‘governance jigsaw’ published by the Charity Commission, the main duties of a Trustee include acting in the charity’s best interests, ensuring the charity is carrying out its purposes for public benefit and managing resources responsibly.  It seemed that some of my colleagues found themselves conflicted in fulfilling these duties as they struggled to make decisions that they thought might go against what they considered to be the wishes of the organisation’s members.

This conflict was particularly evident when we tried to take forward recommendations arising from a review of governance procedures.  It was as controversial and divisive as the Brexit vote as we sought to take forward reforms that had been developed by a panel of volunteers through consultation with the membership. 

The aim of the governance review was to modernise and encourage more members to become involved in the decision making process.  Changes proposed were designed to make it easier for committees to operate, streamlining their structure and allowing flexibility of roles.  Included in this, was an overhaul of committee roles in an attempt to make them more attractive for the next generation.  It was also hoped that the raft of changes put forward would ensure greater consistency across the organisation in how volunteer committees deliver the organisation’s charitable objectives. 

When I saw a television interview recently with the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, I noticed that when he was asked about his own decision making process, he said ‘in the end, all you can do is be true to your own values’.

Arguably, this is what Madeleine Moon was doing.  In her response to her critics, she said ‘fears over employment, workers right and trade deals were at the forefront of her mind’ and that she ‘tore herself apart’ coming to that decision.      

Moon appears to have taken the view that her role is to protect the long term interests of her constituency rather than represent their views. 

In my opinion, the electorate were given the chance to indicate what they wanted to happen in terms of our relationship with the EU.  As such, Moon should have voted to trigger article 50 because her constituency was clear in its desire.  Where her discretion comes in is in providing the necessary scrutiny to ensure proposals will deliver the best deal possible for her constituents.

In making a decision as a Trustee, the same judgement call needs to be made to ensure the members are represented and protected whilst you do your job as a leader of the organisation, setting the direction and supporting the charity to deliver its mission in the best possible way whilst securing the future of the organisation. 

Issues occur when members are against a decision that you as a Trustee believes is the best thing for the charity.  In this instance, Trustee’s must demonstrate their leadership skills and look to persuade members, bringing them along on the journey.

 

Have thoughts on this article? Been in a similar situation yourself? Share your views in the comments below.

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Thoughts from top women in Wales on increasing representation in leadership & decision-making

This week, I joined colleagues from across the Civil Service and Local Government in Wales to mark International Women’s Day at the Senedd (Welsh Parliament). An impressive line-up of leading ladies shared their own career journey and experiences to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Just a few days earlier, the Assembly Research Service published figures on gender equality. These figures show that slightly fewer women than men are economically active (72.4% compared with 83%) and a higher proportion work part-time (41.3% compared with 12.7%). Of those sectors prioritised for investment by the Welsh Government within their economic strategy, women account for just 32.7% of the workforce.

When we look at our public service leaders, we can see that despite accounting for 72% of Local Government staff,only 18% of Local Authority Chief Executives are female. Of our elected representatives, less than one-third of councillors are female and whilst women account for nearly half of our Assembly Members (41.7%), this has slipped from an admirable 52% during 2005 – 2007.

The Deputy Presiding Officer, Ann Jones AM, welcomed delegates and reminded us that the Welsh Assembly has a history of leading the way on gender equality. Despite this, she noted that everything that we have achieved as women has been achieved because we have been willing to stand together and fight for women’s causes.

The figures above show that there is still a great deal of work to do if we are to achieve gender equality in Wales.

A number of prominent women addressed the audience from the HR Director of DVLA to the Chief Executive of the National Assembly for Wales. Here are some of the things suggested throughout the event that would help to increase the number of women at the top:

1. Appoint a gender champion – change comes from the top and someone needs to take the lead to ensure gender is on the agenda in your organisation. Consider finding someone senior to take on the role of gender champion to push for fair representation of women.

2. Develop a positive intervention – sometimes the pace of change is too slow and we need positive interventions to accelerate progress. In particular, organisations in receipt of public money should be leading the way.

3. Create an inclusive environment – typically, women have a different style and the workplace should encourage everyone to contribute to the best of their ability and in their own way.

4. Pay attention to language – language shapes the world around you. If you are using ‘Chairman’, ‘guys’ (to mean everyone), or ‘he’ (to refer to a person male or female), then just stop. Right now.

5. Job advertisements and interview questions – evidently, boys associate more with verbs and girls with adjectives. Jargon and any language of power possibly put women off so consider getting a specialist to ‘gender lens’ your recruitment processes to make sure you aren’t unintentionally excluding women in this way.

6. Role models – you can’t be what you can’t see. Women need access to inspirational role models who are visible to encourage women to follow in their footsteps. And I don’t mean those women who conform to masculine norms and/or pull the ladder up behind them but those who have managed to succeed whilst staying true to their own identity and maintaining their integrity.

 7. Challenge – if we don’t challenge when we see actions or hear views that disadvantage women or reinforce stereotypes then change will be slow to happen. If you think something is wrong or unhelpful then say so. This will help to raise awareness and hopefully lead to better decisions.
Think I’ve missed something? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Governance principles are recipe for success

Over the last few years, I have become particularly interested in the way that charities ensure effective governance. Most of us are familiar with the disaster surrounding kids company and the blatant mis-spending of public funds. If you are based outside of Wales, you may be less familiar with AWEMA who had similar issues and Trustees were criticised for not having the right safeguards in place. These cases have helped to place a spotlight on the charitable sector and made it even more important that robust governance procedures are in place.

For those readers who are totally new to the concept of governance in this context, the term is defined by the Charity leader’s network ACEVO as ‘systems and processes concerned with ensuring the overall direction, effectiveness, supervision and accountability of an organisation’.

Achieving ‘good governance’ requires the appropriate systems to be in place and the right people to be around the table. The current governance code sets out 6 key principles which focus on individual performance, suggesting that a Board room of individuals that can contribute fully according to these principles is what is needed for success.

Here are the 6 principles explained:

1) Understanding your role – the first requirement is that Trustees know what role they play in the process, what is expected of them and how they can make a full contribution.

2) Ensuring delivery of your organisational purpose – a charity Trustee must ensure funds are used to deliver the mission and that the very greatest value is achieved for every pound.

3) Work effectively as an individual and as a team – diversity has been talked about a lot in the ‘good governance’ debate and it’s not just about diversity of backgrounds but also a mixture of different viewpoints. To be effective, Trustees must be able to contribute their view as an individual but also respect the views of others and be able to support the overall decision.

4) Exercising effective control – it takes particular skill to exercise control without being controlling. The word ‘control’ gives an instant feeling of hierarchy which is not the aim here. What it means in this context is to ensure risk is managed effectively, financial controls are in place and the right questions are asked which hold those with responsibility to account.

5) Behaving with integrity – being honest and acting in a way that is guided by strong moral principles. As a charity Trustee, its likely that a strong sense of values is present and as such, decisions should be guided by a belief in what is right and proper.

6) Being open & accountable – this means to be clear about the decisions that have been taken and the reason for the board’s position. Being accountable might also require you to stand by your decision when challenged because you believe it is in the best interests of the organisation.

Building on this good practice, a new code of governance is out for consultation. The revised code reflects concerns about governance and responds to aspirations across the charitable sector to improve it. As a result of such high profile cases of mis-management, the new code places more emphasis on leadership, values, accountability, transparency and diversity. Its aim is for charity boards to maintain a strategic focus, ensure Board development and pursue charitable objectives.

To read the new code and respond to the consultation, click here


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