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Was this the Charity Tribunal’s last hurrah?

The final outcome of the Kidd Legacy case, announced by the charity tribunal on Wednesday, looks like a very satisfying one – but you can’t help fearing that there might not be many more where that came from.

In many ways the Kidd Legacy appeal is a shining example of what the tribunal was set up to do. In a classic David versus Goliath case, two local residents, without legal representation, were able partly to overturn to Charity Commission’s response to Dartford Borough Council’s inadvertent sale in breach of trust of charitable land to a developer associated with the Tesco supermarket giant.

It also looks as if the result will be a model code of conduct on conflicts of interest for councils that act as sole trustees of charities. Given all the recent controversy surrounding council administration of charities, that must be seen as a very welcome development for the entire charity sector.

But the question that demands to be asked is whether this might also be the tribunal’s last hurrah. It is resourced for 50 cases a year and, after a slow start in 2008, its workload was expected to have picked up by now. But that has singularly failed to happen. After last week’s decision to strike out African Aids Action’s appeal against the findings of a commission inquiry, the tribunal currently has precisely zero cases on its books.

Not only that, but the word about the value of the tribunal does not seem to be getting out. The commission’s decision to reject the Gnostic Centre’s application for charitable status was “begging” to be appealed to the tribunal, according to third sector columnist and charity lawyer Rosamund McCarthy. But the charity preferred to submit a revised application, fearing the cost and possible negative publicity of a tribunal appeal. Nor did the commission see fit to “refer” any of the highly nuanced points of law involved in that case to the tribunal for clarification, as it is permitted to do – provided the Attorney General agrees.

Charity lawyers are holding their breath to see whether any of the fee-charging schools that failed the commission’s public benefit assessment last summer refuse to comply with regulator’s directions to pull their socks up, triggering an order that they could then appeal against to the tribunal.

Such a case would certainly thrust the tribunal well and truly into the media spotlight, but so far, the schools have indicated that they are prepared to do as they are told.

Besides, such an appeal would not be heard until the end of the year at the earliest – by which time the bell may already have tolled for the tribunal. The Scottish Government has already decided to chop the tribunal’s Scottish equivalent, the Scottish Charity Appeals Panel, after it heard just one case in three years, and we all know that the next government, whatever its colour, is likely to seek out things it can cut without attracting huge, negative headlines. An obscure, over-resourced tribunal that has only heard three full cases in nearly two years seems like an obvious target. So – alas for the sector – the Kidd Legacy case might well become the symbol of what might have been for the charity tribunal.

  • Lee Willows

    Loved reading Leon’s blog and I think he presents a well-balanced view; particularly interesting and timely for an organisation like Trailblazers (www.trailblazersmentoring.org.uk). We mentor young offenders (18 – 21 years) six months prior to release from custody and continue that relationship for up to nine months in the community. The mentoring is undertaken by volunteer adult mentors whom give on average, an astonishing ten hours per month to their individual mentee. The combined commitment of both the volunteer mentor and the mentee over what is often a twelve month period is incredibly powerful and often results in a successful resettlement. The re-conviction rate for Trailblazers mentee’s during 2011 was only 9%.

    So what does this have to do with paying trustees?

    Firstly being an organisation with well over 100 volunteer mentors, many of whom have been with us for several years we absolutely believe it would be most unfair to pay trustees in the main. What is the difference between paying a ‘well-connected and experienced’ volunteer trustee whom can help you push your charity forward, verses paying an ‘incredibly well qualified and experienced’ volunteer mentor whom can change an individual young person’s life. Kevin Curley’s comment to David Ainsworth’s blog is very true, good charities will attract good trustees whom do not need to be remunerated.

    However as an organisation who is working with NCVYS and Young Charity Trustee’s, we have just completed a Twitter campaign as we are seeking a young trustee to join our board. We have purposely targeted young people outside of Trailblazers predominantly and did encourage those with an offending background to apply. Though we advertised this as a voluntary post, depending on the personal circumstances of the individual whom we appoint we would be more than happy to pay the individual an attendance allowance or similar. Charities should absolutely have at least one trustee that is of similar background to the beneficiary group that the charity supports. If that happens to be young offenders, young homeless people or young unemployed people, having one such person on the board and potentially paying an allowance so they can participate is a critical foundation stone to that organisations success.

    • Leon Ward

      That’s very useful thank you Lee. Charities like yours that work with particularly vulnerable young people really need to think carefully about offering an allowance to ensure participation from the young people you work with – you’re right it is a foundation to their success. It means better decision making, fulfills diversity requirements but also means you get to tap into unused and specialised talent. Also, we never know what your young people may blossom into, in the future and it’s always a useful tool to keep strong links with your alumni. Supporting them through difficult times will strengthen that bond.

      We should remember that this a trial and error process. If it doesn’t work then you make the next post unremunerated. Congratulations on your open minded approach and good luck for the future.

  • Grahame Darnell

    This is interesting but the one thing that is really big is skills-based volunteering. Large numbers of companies, particularly in the services sector, are looking for these opportunities rather than painting the walls or doing a challenge. I’d suggest that any charity faced with a volunteering conundrum needs to consider how it can offer these kinds opportunities. Think laterally and talk to colleagues about your needs in HR, IT, Finance etc. An obvious example is bringing some highly skilled volunteers in to advise on an IT project. In so doing you save some project management costs, get a top level service and build the relationship with the company. Working in this way involves some internal legwork upfront but it is is more strategic and ultimately more rewarding for all concerned.

  • Sam Broderick

    A word of caution on the collection box front, which I think is a very good idea if managed properly. However, if it’s not, it becomes a one-day thing for the corporate employees, and the charity is then left with lots of ‘orphaned’ boxes in local businesses. Since local business staff have much better things to do with their time than count and bank coppers, this means that either the boxes never get emptied or a member of charity staff has to take time out of their day to go collect, empty and count collection boxes. As someone who’s recently had the back-breaking experience of carrying full collection boxes around the city, I can say that this definitely isn’t much fun, especially when the yield ends up being about £30 per collection box.