Kids Company – Reserves of Discomfort

150807_KCReserves

The Financial Times  provides a good understanding of some of the financial woes that beset Kid Company.

As the article shows, Kids Company had only £400k in reserves at the end of 2013 and its Trustees wrote in their audited accounts that this was a major risk.
The Founder says that she argued with Government that they should do more (i.e. give more) to help this situation but Kids Company received over £12 million in 2013 of voluntary unrestricted income. This means that Kids Company management (and the Board of Trustees) decided themselves how to allocate the money between active use and reserves. The Government (at least in this instance) had no burden upon it to allocate money to reserves – Kids Company had adequate funding to do this and should have made this allocation for the benefit of the future of the organisation, its mission and the kids that it supports.

It decided to fund short-term need (always pressing) against long-term viability and got away with that for a long time. Eventually, like a business that overtrades, it goes bust. That is making your organisation unsustainable and for an organisation of this size with this amount of voluntary unrestricted funding (a level that so many well-run charities would welcome) to commit this offence is maddening – it is anger inducing.
For the auditors to simply then sign off the accounts with no comment is appalling. The Trustees knew the situation and commented on it in the accounts in 2013. They were not (yet) insolvent but could read the runes. The auditors should have commented further.
For Government to keep putting money in without understanding the financial problems and not requiring Kids Company to allocate resources to reserves is unsettling. Surely someone in Government could have spoken to a charity finance person and understood the reserves issue (plainly in front of them) and made it a requirement of their funding to have Kids Company allocate more of their voluntary unrestricted income to reserves. Nothing appears to have happened.

This is not unusual in the sector – urgent needs are there to be met and Trustees not strong enough to argue for longer term needs. Trustees have a legal responsibility not just to write sentences in the accounts but to safeguard the organisation from collapse that they could have averted.

Six months’ breathing space at a lower level of operations could have allowed Kids Company to have resurfaced and kids and families still could be getting support in some of the UK’s hardest hit areas. Management and Trustees should look to themselves and no one else for the answers to problems in such a situation; auditors should be more pro-active; Government more discerning.

For the Charity sector as a whole, understanding the need for reserves and the prevention of “over-trading” is a fundamental need. Many Trustees are not up to understanding this requirement; many management staff are unsure how to balance the urgent needs of their beneficiaries in the short-term with those of organisational sustainability. Unfortunately, that is their job. The Charity Sector is not good at this – and every Charity is different. The mission of most charities are worthy enough for Trustees and senior management (and finance people) to try to learn something from this – reserves are not just for show, they have a place in sustaining charities and mitigating risk. It is not enough just to know you have a risk – a charity must take action.

Finally, it is a sad reflection on our times and our country that Kids Company had to undertake its mission in the first place. Its Founder was right in that she saw Government abstaining from its legitimate role in society – a 21st Century society not a 19th Century one. This abstinence then propelled Government (Labour and Conservative) into its Big Society mission – like a wealthy philanthropist giving money to the starving poor. This is Dickensian in the extreme and Kids Company should not have been needed. Many charities do work which are above what we would consider Government to be properly able to do – I suspect that some of the outcome of this will be that in this Dickensian, 19th Century Age of Austerity, we need to reflect more pro-actively on what we ask Charities to do and what we expect from the State.

The Strange Death of the Party System (A Siren Call)

In 1935, George Dangerfield published “The Strange Death of Liberal England”. This book has been much discussed recently as it analysed the combination of women’s votes, Ireland and rights for workers and showed how the traditional and paternalistic politics of the world in 1914 and before was radically changed by those events.

One hundred years’ later, and this country (and much of the Western world) has a different problem. Except where a sudden (and usually short-term) issue arises, political parties are progressively being shunned by voters.

As a report in The Spectator showed in September, 2013 (mainly using data from the House of Commons Library report from December, 2012), membership of the traditional political parties has collapsed in the last 50 years – true of all the three, main parties. Only about 1.5% of the electorate are now members of the three, main parties – less than ¼ of the rate that existed in 1964.

This trend seems inexorable and, while it does not portend the end of democracy, it shows that (in the absence of possibly short-lived parties like UKIP in the UK Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Party in Italy) the gap between the political parties and real people grows daily.

Single Issue Politics

Dangerfield’s three shifts in politics that were in place when the First World War struck – Ireland, emancipation for women and workers’ rights – have, progressively and with much work, been largely dealt with. After that, the Second World War saw the forces of fascism and nazi-ism smashed. The end of the Cold War saw the attempt at Communism dismantled (China not representing anything like communism after the death of Mao – or probably before).

The world has new problems but economic prosperity and the global economy have shifted focus. Sure, immigration is a hot topic in the UK and the Scots are understandably excited by the prospect of independence, but, with a seemingly stable revival in economic fortunes, the public is not engaging with politicians – outside of single issues.

The older parties in England especially seem to have no vision of the country they aspire to lead or at least no ability to convey one. This lack of vision has disenchanted those who should be engaged. For others, who are far more focused on short-term economic necessities, politicians long ago lost their interest.

The Sirens (Seirenes) of Civil Society

All this was brought into focus at the ACEVO (Association of Chief Executives in Voluntary Organisations) Leadership Conference on 7th May. With exactly one year to go to the next UK General Election, the conference began with a tour around the electorate from Ben Page, CEO of Ipsos MORI and there were also talks from Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, Lisa Nandy MP, Shadow Minister and John Cruddas MP, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Head of Labour’s Policy Review.

Understandably, there was indignation from the audience of charity leaders about the Lobbying (Gagging) Bill and Liz Hutchins of Friends of the Earth especially. She claimed that the political parties wanted the restrictions on charity lobbying because they were concerned at the effect that such campaigning has prior to elections. It appears that the pressure groups within Civil Society now have Siren-like qualities and the Gagging Bill was introduced as a sort of earplug with which to render their song silent.

This insight was, for me, a central theme of the day. Politicians tried to assuage such concerns but Sir Stephen Bubb, ACEVO’s CEO, was not so comforted. He was foremost in wanting charities and the sector as a whole to raise its voice.

Now, charities and NGO’s may not be single-issue bodies but they are singular in context to political parties. In a digital age, they also, in some ways, replicate the more focused requirements of the internet – for short stay issues. From discussions that I had with several of the attendees, they have no intention of being silenced as they give voice to people who are otherwise disenfranchised by a system of politics that is too remote and where the “political class” (as John Cruddas himself called it) has fostered that remoteness.

From this conference, a clear message is that political parties are too focused on short-termism and on presenting a wide range of policies that may have engaged fifty years ago but do not now. John Cruddas, who is working to re-energise the Labour programme, pointed to his party’s desire to rid itself of a top-down, centrist mindset that was no longer suited to the 21st Century. In itself, this is fine, but the positive ability to reach out to people with real needs is, perhaps, too great a reach.

Are Charities a sign of a new Politics?

The Lobbying Bill gained most of its publicity as a result of the attempt to gag charities – a ridiculous aspect of the Bill that the Labour Party has promised to revoke. It showed a worry amongst politicians that charities (especially vocal NGO’s like 38 Degrees) offer a voice to people that is being taken very seriously. Amongst the 166,000 registered charities, there are many established to challenge society. Many others see the need to campaign in order to enhance its aims for beneficiaries. The charity sector, despite its quantifiable size relative to the rest of the economy, has a clear voice on many issues but has to fight its way in a society dominated by corporate and public sectors.

It is an understandable situation where politics is dominated by the sectors that seem to dominate our lives economically. We mainly work for the two dominant sectors and receive most of our quantitative benefits from them. Between them, they dominate. The battle between them, as J K Galbraith showed in “The Affluent Society” is between the quantity of life and the quality of life – both required to some limit but where a social balance is needed.

Unfortunately, we all appear to see the debate between public and private sectors as a battle – not as a need for social balance. Libertarians believe that the market economy will meet all requirements – there are others that believe in the ownership of all economic producers by Government. In between, the battle lines persist: private vs public.

However, there is another battle line where charities and NGO’s exist. It is not all about economics – although it is linked. This battle line is about serving those who are not covered by the armies of private or public sector or where the issue is more quality vs quantity. The debate about the future of our habitat – where the eco-warriors exist – is mainly an NGO battle (in the UK at least as Greens have, to date, low votes cast on their behalf despite them being perceived as single issue). Elsewhere, charities run the whole gamut of causes – medical, social, humanitarian, ecological.

It is into this wide range of causes that people may be engaging. In a world where politics is remote and bland, where politicians are not trusted, charities and NGO’s are seen as trustworthy recipients of funding but also as voices. Unlike the sirens, political earplugs will not cause the charities to give up. The word at the ACEVO Conference was the opposite – a louder voice was needed.

It may be that organized groups such as charities and NGO’s (aided by the digital facilities now available – which suit individual issues) will lead to a different type of political environment. Allied to the extraordinary power of economic (quantitative) sectors such as public and private sectors, the sector that represents the quality of life will likely be seen more and more as a real player in the life of politicians. Maybe the so-called Third Sector will get a Minister in the Cabinet; maybe there will be an annual budget for this area – linking the quantity of our lives (measured through GDP – life by numbers) to the quality of all our lives.

 

 

Who Cares?

Whatever untold strife there is in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq, the undeniable and continuing news story at home is our national health service – the NHS itself and (in the wider community) social care services – especially care homes exacerbated by the government’s desire to cut costs and benefits as a result of government debts from the bank-induced recession.

In recent years, the intolerable conditions under which elderly and mentally challenged residents of social care homes were treated became clear. Attacks by staff on residents have been detailed and prison sentences resulted.

Then, in the last 12 months, publicity has focused on NHS hospitals – amongst them Mid-Staffs, Trafford and now University College in Wales. Poor standards appear to have led to deaths and misery and then a debate about how nurses, for example, spend too much time training and not enough caring, while week-ends are suddenly revealed to be understaffed and A&E (Accident and Emergency) services are under enormous strain.

So, Who Cares?

This is not just a sad reflection on critical institutions but appears to reflect very badly on ourselves as caring human beings and on whatever society we have created. Our demands are for low government spending and for maximum services as long as someone else pays. What has happened that makes us so uncaring? While this may not be on a scale like what has happened in recent years in Bosnia or Somalia or now in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, our insensitivities to other people have reached a sorry state – the governing State and its inability to provide the answer and the civil state that appears to be no better.

Quality of life has been subsumed in the message of “quantity of life” for so long – the pursuit of wealth as recorded in terms of money and goods – that we are failing to reconcile ourselves with the softer issues of existence. The pursuit of economic benefits has seems to have clouded out all else as we pursue ever higher GDP.

We blame government for this – but, government represent us, civil society, citizens and we get what, I guess, we deserve. David Cameron and his happiness index is a measure of the difficulties we are in – where we have to measure things before we do anything.

Measurement is a quantitative outcome of real activities. Hospital failures are deemed to be the outcome of rigid focus on targets and it is clear that we have, as a society, been totally brainwashed by the success of business and used its targeting approach to success in all other areas.

So, we set up targets for hospitals without understanding the qualitative targets that need to be set. This is the same as the setting up of government departments to quantify the value of natural capital (Natural Capital Committee at DEFRA) as that, seemingly, is the only way to guard against the complete destruction of our ecology. As a minor example, the only delight that most have in watching Antiques Roadshow is the valuation for each item – the genuine beauty of the item is sidelined as we wait for the valuer to tell us how much an item is “worth”.

We seem completely uncaring as human beings – sacrificed on the altar of quantity and unable any more to see the real quality of life.

Where is the Care?

Yet, not all NHS hospitals are death traps and by no means all medical professionals are uncaring – most aren’t. Indeed, it is likely to be a small minority that exhibits such immoralities. However, we have a developed a structure built on sand where managerialism and devotion to numbers and targets exist throughout and our obsession with quantity overrules quality.

This is why MRSA took such hold in British hospitals for so many years – because other obsessions took firmer hold.

So, where is the care? Will it come from the new agenda that is being pushed  – the wellbeing agenda? Will the Health and Wellbeing Boards (around 150 have been set-up throughout England) result in an infection of caring and quality? Will top-down direction result in a change in culture that is professed throughout.  Will the CQC be suddenly changed into a care organization? Will expert inspections be the savior? Or will the whole be an edifice, behind which politicians hide proclaiming that they did their job and it was the professionals that failed – or are we simply kidding ourselves that top-down, outside inspection and control can fix the problem.

The Caring Sectors? Chaos in Conformity.

The NHS and Care homes suffer from a culture problem and a procedures-driven mentality that eschews common feelings. NHS facilities are procedures-focused to the extent that it is amazing that breathing can be undertaken without supervision. Everything is policy-controlled and process. It is no wonder that care is forgotten. All who have it are in danger of losing it once they enter the profession – those that retain their care mentality are fighters and have to be for their morality to survive.

I have seen the evidence of this, not in a hospital but in the charity sector. – the so-called Third Sector. Charities are centres of care where the whole focus is on the cause. This key focus is driven by founders with vision and caring and with funders who buy into that care and cause agenda.

Sometimes, well-meaning Trustees bring in NHS or NHS-related people to run a charity – thinking that one non-profit is much like another. So wrong!

What often happens is that the charity is swarmed over by policies and procedures and directives and by new people brought in from outside (often the NHS) who “get” the new mantra. Soon, the charity is losing its way and its cause is forgotten in the chaos of conformity that ensues.

I believe that the charity sector (really the second sector in the caring sector as it was the precursor to government involvement) is where real compassion and caring still resides. Like a treasure-box of solace for humanity, the charity sector is built on causes and full of people that care – quality of caring and not quantities of statistics.

I have myself spent many years in the business sector, where care for customers is paramount but so is the quantifiable bottom line. Customer care leads to better profits and well-run companies know that their profits will be hit hard if customers suffer. However, care for customers means doing business well – good design, well priced goods and services, good after-sales, better call centres, smiles and the like. The aim is to make profits – one bottom line – but thorugh a complex array of inputs, outputs and outcomes.

In the charity sector, there are two bottom lines and two customers. The main one is the cause – the caring for the beneficiaries of the charity. The second is the funder – the provider of the funds for the cause and a way to break-even and grow the charity to satisfy the needs of the beneficiaries.

This balancing of the two bottom lines is crucial to the success of any charity and the care side is just as important as the funding. It comes first but is dependent on the other. Two sides of the bargain.

I continue to be overwhelmed by the people that work in and volunteer for and fund charities. From the largest like Macmillan Cancer Care and Cancer Research and WWF to the smaller ones like Willow (where I am CEO) to campaigning charities to health charities, the vast majority are focused, and relentlessly determined to make their charity successful. To do that, they have to positively impact their cause.

This is a learning tool for the national health sector (both public sector and private sector) in the UK. The challenge of wellbeing is to harness real caring into the morass of policies and procedures that entangle the NHS and the profit-motive that engulfs the care homes. Amongst the top-down rules and strategies that the Health and Wellbeing Boards adopt should be the adoption of the basic tenets of the charity sector.

The Third Sector Infiltration

What does this mean? Well, first, ensure that there are charity people on the Health and Wellbeing Boards. This means real, caring people that understand the challenges of the two bottom lines and have shown some success. Such people run and work in hospices across the country as well as service-type charities like MacMillan and many others.

Second, adopt the two bottom lines. Understand that the cause is as crucial as the finances. Just because in the public sector there is only one funder does not mean that that monopoly funder should run the organization. Being “funder led” is a sign of disaster in the charity sector. It should also be in the public sector. Sure, we want effective use of taxation in every public sector area but the balance should be in place and the only area where that balance is in place is in the charity sector.

Third, Government must take the role of the interested funder – not the shareholder. This is civil society money raised from taxation but to be used for a good cause. It is the wrong balance if the Treasury is the only arbiter. The Department of Health (and wellbeing?) is the funder and the CCG (Clinical Commissioning Groups) are the funders – can we trust them (the General Practitioners and members of other NHS organisations) to provide care objectives when they are the “commissioners” – the buyers? Who represents the citizens – civil society – the patients? Where are the patients represented anywhere? Who demands that care forms the agenda – the Health and Wellbeing Boards?

Yet, they are mainly formed of our representatives – local councilors and the like. Where is the care sector involved? The “caring professions” have, unfortunately, been tainted by the recent past – it is now a good time for the Third Sector to be properly represented in the world of care to a far higher extent than David Cameron’s vision of a caring Britain (his Big Society) where charities were lumbered with being low-cost alternatives to local authorities and hospitals. It is time for a reverse takeover – with caring in the lead.

Charities – Trustees and CEO’s

Should CEO’s of Charities in the UK be Trustees?

Some are very uneasy about the situation in most charities where CEO’s are not automatically a Trustee / Director. This situation is unusual – it is not found usually in business, where the CEO is almost always on the main board; it is not found in the Public sector (e.g. education – where the Head is an ex-officio member of the Board and other staff are on the Board); it is not normal in the US Charity sector where non-profits are expected to have the CEO on the board (a “heads on the line” approach).

This seems to be a singularly British charity approach which somehow confuses the fact that a CEO is paid with the fact that (in the UK) Trustees are not, as a reason not to have a CEO on the Board. In fact, as long as the Trustee is not paid for being a Trustee, there is nothing in UK law which prohibits the CEO from being a Trustee as long as Articles of Association do not prohibit it.

CEO unease

The reason that a CEO should be a Trustee is the same reason that everywhere else CEO’s are on the Board – to ensure that the person entrusted with the operational responsibility and much of the strategic responsibility is pro-active and party to decisions that impact that work, has an equal say and equal responsibility and is part of the team that is legally responsible. This is true in almost all other organisations and should be the same in the Charity sector in the UK.

The time many CEO’s take to make the decision to accept the CEO position is often at least partly due to this issue. Is there any sense whatsoever in the separation between the board and operational / strategic management? It provides in many charities with a “them and us” (which the separation makes real) and many CEO’s suffer (according to ACEVO – the Association for Chief Executives in Voluntary Organisations) as a result of the separation (apparently, 27 are receiving counselling from ACEVO!). In other cases, CEO’s, not part of the team, operate independently and can be seen to be control fixated as a result of the separation – ignoring the Board and attempting to run roughshod over it. Both situations are not tolerable.

Unease stems from the fact that no charity should operate in this way ……. but isn’t it time that the Charity sector wakes up  – gets up to date?

Charity Commission / ACEVO viewpoint

The Charity Commission seems to want to defend the status quo (where, according to an ACEVO report from 2007, around 5.2% of CEO’s were Trustees of their Charity).

The CC will, when asked, usually point out in a defensive way, the dangers of conflict of interest over salary and similar issues. This is overcome everywhere else where committees are set up independently of the CEO as required and where CEO’s are asked to leave the room if there is a conflict (as conflict would be dealt with for anyone in such a situation).

The CC seems to have no proper view on this issue but also points out bureaucratically to watch out that the Articles don’t prohibit the change – which most don’t and can easily be changed.

ACEVO is supposed to promote the views of charity CEO’s. I have not yet been impressed with its ability to properly do this formally and forcefully on this issue. It is OK to be a help group for CEO’s in trouble and to promote good governance but the limit of ACEVO’s efforts on this is to state the following on its website:

In a 2007 report:

There was support for the following initiatives:

1. A code of good practice on governance (98% chief executives, 95% chairs).

2. Regular review of governance practices by external experts (68% chief executives,58% chairs).

3. More flexibility with respect to board structures (50% chief executives and 33% chairs thought that chief executives should be voting trustees).

 It goes on with an article:

The role of the chief executive as a bridge – by Paddy Fitzgerald

In the third sector the general practice is for trustee boards where normally trustees are non-executive, chaired by an independent and with the chief executive, who is rarely a trustee, in attendance. Here the primary concerns of the trustees are the mission and future of the organisation, while shorter term issues are for the most part dealt with by a management committee chaired by the chief executive.

If this model is to work, the chief executive becomes the bridge between the future concerns of the trust and the short term issues of the management committee. Most importantly, the chief executive will be responsible for overseeing the journey from short to long term and in deploying management resources to explore this and identify the issues along the way. In this way the chief executive brings to the attention of the trust shorter term questions requiring resolution, and engages the executive staff in the consideration of longer term matters.

This is a much more powerful vision than one of the chief executive as a nontrustee passively awaiting the instructions of his or her board. The bridge role requires positive engagement with the ability to exert powerful advocacy in both trust and management committee, and as leadership becomes less and less a matter of autocratic direction and more and more a matter of persuasion and shared endeavour, so it becomes vital that the chief executive is an inclusive member of both trust and management committee.

 Trusts too should value the extra dimension provided by the sense of a unified team, and should welcome the chief executive as one of their own, for it is under these circumstances that the chief executive is most likely to engage other trustees most, chief executives cannot escape legal obligations placed on trustees since they will be judged as shadow directors with the same penalties in the event of any major problem, so it is in their interests to don the mantle of a Trustee and participate wholly.

 The conclusion may be that the formal appointment as a trustee aids the chief executive in this bridge role and is one of the defining characteristics of the third sector. Recognition of this role for the chief executive is essential to staff appraisal and through this to the management and leadership programmes aimed at staff development and management succession.

 On its FAQ’s – current – ACEVO lists the types of Board structure:

Q: What is the appropriate level of executive involvement in governance?

A: This relates to the structure of organisational boards. Board structures fall into four categories:

  1. The wholly executive board: found most often in small commercial companies. For obvious reasons, such boards usually struggle to offer any independent scrutiny of executive decisions. Such boards are rarely found in the non-profit sector, and it is unlikely that the Charity Commission would permit such a structure for registered charities.
  2. The two-tier board: found in parts of Europe, comprises a ‘supervisory board’ to represent stakeholder interests, and an ‘operational board’ to drive the organisation’s performance. Some charity boards may in practice resemble this structure, delegating operational decisions to a ‘senior management team’. However, a genuine operational board, unlike a senior management team, has a legally recognised governance role.
  3. The unitary board: classic model for business in the UK and Commonwealth countries, includes both executive and non-executive directors, with equal status. Despite the ambiguity concerning executive directors’ role, this model is recommended by many experts on corporate governance. The structure embodies the tension between conformance and performance. If working properly, it can combine executives’ detailed knowledge of the business with the more detached scrutiny of non-executives.
  4. The wholly non-executive board: found commonly in commercial companies based in the USA as well as in the British third sector. Third sector board member are usually, but not always, unpaid.
  5. Recognising that no one model will be perfect for every organisation, ACEVO recommends that its members conduct an audit of their governance arrangements, which should include an examination of governance structures as well as good practice.

ACEVO has not formally proposed a major change and has not acted on this serious issue – although it has a Reform Group which highlights the issue – http://www.acevo.org.uk/Policy+Advocacy/Activity/Governance . However, it is clear that the practice of CEO’s not being on the board is a serious deficiency and one that should be rectified across the board.

Sir Stephen Bubb is generally supportive and, in a recent note from him to me, he wrote the following:

“I absolutely agree with you on this issue. The Acevo board has appointed me to the Acevo board ex officio. It is the right approach and we have encouraged members to do this. Indeed it is part of our arguments and discussions with the CC that charities who want to take this approach should be enabled to do so. You are right on the legal issue as well , in my view. 

 

We will be pursuing this further as we are in the process of setting up a governance Commission to look at how the sector improves it structures and practises.

 

I feel strongly on this myself and indeed the potential chair of the commission is himself on his charity board. I am sorry this is not clearer on our website, though there are those members who take a contrary view when we last asked; but it was ever thus.

 

This issue will be addressed in our work and you can be sure that as the CEO I take the view we must sit on Boards for all the reasons you outline.”

Stephen Bubb

 

So, Charity CEO’s should work to get themselves on their Boards and start to campaign that this makes sense not just for themselves but for good governance and for the best interests of their Charities. As Paddy Fitzgerald wrote five years ago, Charity CEO’s probably already have the responsibility as shadow Directors in law – but, they do not have the legal power as Trustees to even enter into a vote on the issues closest to them and the charity.

CEO’s being outside the Board of Charities is a nonsense. Shouldn’t we change it?

I am a CEO of a Charity but not on the Board as well as a Chair of a large Academy in London where the Head is on the Board and I am involved in setting up a Charity where I will be a Trustee and where the CEO will be on the Board. It is for each Charity to decide, but if ACEVO is supportive, then the Charity Commission should be persuaded to change its basic antipathy to this issue and be supportive of CEO’s becoming Trustees. This would provide the confidence to Trustees of existing Charities who are currently reluctant to support this.

Schools get fleeced – and we all watch

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently published an article (http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2012/09/25/schools-fleeced-by-it-scammers/comment-page-1/#comment-9117) following the exposure on Panorama (BBC 1) that schools in the UK had been “fleeced” by IT companies (“scammers”). The article and Panorama drew attention to schools which are burdened by the need to run themselves as businesses and are often ill-equipped to do so when set against the complicated requirements of funding, procurement, suppliers and the like.

 

The BIJ summed up the problem with the thought that the FMSiS (Financial Management Standard in Schools) had been wrongly abolished and that the Government should think again. It was abolished after it had become a paper ticking exercise as reported by the Government in 2010 in their White Paper – “The Importance of Teaching” – http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/inthenews/a0067711/government-announces-end-of-complex-school-financial-reporting-tool.

 

The BIJ article missed the fact that most of the schemes that Panorama reported on were entered into while the FMSiS was in place!

 

Why is Finance so hard for non-profits (public and private sector)?

 

This does not just happen in Schools – it happens wherever greater knowledge is brought to bear.

 

So, the banks have run out of control and, five years’ later, we remain stunned that the financial regulators did not see this coming – or even understand the huge range of sub-prime schemes, poor management controls, over-leveraging, bad morality, lack of risk aversion, inability for banks to fail, dislike of customers and similar.

 

In the same way, companies like Enron fooled their highly paid auditors (some of whom connived with them) – we never learned much from that or from the countless, other financial scams that have been served up on unsuspecting publics since at least the south Sea Bubble in 1720 and for thousands of years before.

 

But, we expect more from public sector and the third sector organisations that supposedly guard our taxes and donations. What makes it so hard for them to adequately ensure that the financial and support arms of those organisations are able to be a good as all those they work with?

 

Where the incentives are

 

Of course, much has been written about how the wealth potential of banks suck in those with the highest intelligence and motivation (and maybe those with the lowest ethics) and that the regulators are filled with those who cannot compete – maybe those who failed to make it in banking themselves.

 

Enron was full of highly motivated and driven people who bought into a scheme (or schemes) and worked like fury to implement their scam / scheme. The manipulation of an energy market was not understood by the regulators and auditors just as auditors and clients failed to understand how Bernie Madoff was making such returns on their “investments”.

 

In a money-driven economy, which has created tremendous wealth for society, there are, at the margins and even more in the centre, incentives provided to people that lure those who are massively motivated and driven to participate – to work 24 hours a day, to spend their time working up schemes to make money and their companies profitable. Business is a money-driven part of the economy in a way that the non-profit sectors (be they public or private sector) are not. The latter are full of people driven (and maybe just as motivated) by other things – a passion for human rights, for education, for people, for society – but not for the thing that drives those they may meet at the interface of private sector and the non-profits.

 

As Galbraith wrote in The Affluent Society, public goods are always at a disadvantage in a market-driven economy and the crucial problems always exist at the interface between the two.  I tackled this is a previous post – https://jeffkaye.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=192&action=edit – and the inability of societies to establish how to provide the “social balance” to which Galbraith refers enables the problems to persist – such as the fleecing of schools in the UK.

 

Enabling the “social balance”?

 

The “social balance” (Galbraith ibid) is about how society reacts to private enterprise. The most obvious example is the automobile – private industry propels the development of cars but it is the public sector that provides the roads, traffic control and policing, emergency services and hospitals (usually), pollution control and similar. India is a great and recent example – http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/india-car-sales-soar-where-054302682.html. But, the ability of the private sector runs well ahead of the ability of the public sector to react.

 

Nowhere is this lack of social balance clearer than in the provision of expertise in “back office” areas in the public sector and in the third sector. While their front of office capabilities may be excellent, the non-profit sector cannot, in the main, recruit the best people (it cannot offer financial incentives to match anything like the private sector) and therefore its systems and processes fall well behind.

 

This is compounded by the continuous belief by government that they have to “do something” directly (like the FMSiS above) and in the third sector that anything spent outside of front end is a waste of money. Donors (whether governments, trusts and foundations, companies or individuals) suddenly have a different mindset as soon as they donate. How many would ask companies to stop spending on finance operations – yet, many donors insist that their donations can only be applied to front end work – the cause – and nothing to overheads. While it is good to keep overheads low, governance and financial management dictate that these “enabling” areas of any organization (like people management training) are as good as the front end operations so as not to stymie the work of the charity, NGO or pubic sector organization.

 

Having worked in all sectors (with most of my working life in the private sector) it is clear to me that the non-profit sectors are continuously starved of capability and expertise in the areas that could make them far more efficient and capable – not just to survive but also to enable far better work to be accomplished. If they work well it is in spite of the problems put in their way. Most don’t manage and the failures of the public sector to manage large IT projects, for example or the non-profit sector to survive continue.

 

So, how can the non-profits develop a response to the needed social balance so that they don’t get fleeced?

 

Pro-activity in the social balance

 

Governments and those who provide central governance to the non-profit sectors have undertaken so many actions and some have provided stability. But, each sector and those within it are challenged continuously.

 

What is needed is first, recognition that there is a problem. Each sector should assess where the main problems lie and government has to step up and signal that it will not do everything but begin to be the chief enabler for the non-profits. For example, restrictive funding for charities, whereby donors only provide money for front-end purposes, should not be allowed. The practice is akin to shareholders telling companies which part of the business their funding is allowed on. It is not a loan – it is a donation and restrictions mean more bureaucracy and less ability for the charity to manage itself.

 

If a donor believes that a charity spends too much on overheads, it can withhold donations just like a shareholder can invest elsewhere – but restricting funding in this way is counter-productive.

 

In the UK, this is something for the charities Commission and government to act on.

 

Second, there has to be a stepping up on ability – which will lead to improved processes and systems (although improvements in each need money as well and the proposal above is one way of directing more into this area).

 

This stepping up of ability should be driven by government who should require firms of accountants to do what the legal profession does – provide at least 2% pro-bono capability into non-profits. I have been highly impressed by law firms’ ability to do excellent pro-bono – less so by the finance industry.

 

CSR divisions of companies should also be driving their best finance people into non-profits – in a meaningful way to address the social imbalance.

 

Governments should look to reward those who go from the private sector into the public or third sector (even for a time) with tax incentives (much like students having to repay their student loans). It is not a great time to do this, but it would indicate a lot.

 

Third, the big accounting organisations should ensure that they focus more attention on public sector and third sector – understanding the problems and devising exams and maybe alternative paths to accreditation rather than the one-size-fits-all approach. Certainly, the CIPFA and IPSASB provide the basics for the public sector but the incentivisation for the best to go into that sector let alone education or charities / NGO’s is far less and the number of accountants that enter the charity sector (for example) with the same skill levels and drive as those in the private sector is small.

 

Fourth, trustees from private sector organisations have to become involved – not just from a governance standpoint but setting examples and putting the bar as high as it needs to go to make the enablers work. This is hands-on stuff not just remote governance.

 

Separate sectors, common interests

 

Except in a society where the three sectors don’t exist (e.g. communist states), the challenge is greatest at the intersections of society – where the sectors clash. Yet, as in the example of automobiles above (or any other transportation systems), different sectors live off each other – and the charity sector fills many of the gaps that society does not see fit to fill in private or public sectors.

 

The sectors need to be different, of course, but there does need to be a far better understanding of the problems that our economic structures throw up and how to deal with them or fleecing of our schools will recur but be seen to be a mere tip of the social iceberg.

 

 

 

 

Governance – From Osborne to Diamond – where is it?

If we wanted to see bad governance issues at their most raw – in all sectors of society – then maybe this was the week.

First – Corporate governance was shown to be completely awry at Barclays, where Bob Diamond’s testimony showed so clearly that non-execs that should have been applying governance strictures were so out of the picture.

Second – the public sector and education, where Michael Gove in a strange speech at FASNA (Freedom and Autonomy for Schools) said he knew what “good governance” looked like (fascinating to hear a politician talk about good governance!) and criticized many existing school boards as:

A sprawling committee and proliferating sub-committees. Local worthies who see being a governor as a badge of status not a job of work. Discussions that ramble on about peripheral issues, influenced by fads and anecdote, not facts and analysis. A failure to be rigorous about performance. A failure to challenge heads forensically and also, when heads are doing a good job, support them authoritatively.

Third – charities, where governance was held up at an ACEVO (Association of Chief Executives in Voluntary Organisations) conference to be a critical problem and the split between Chief Execs and Trustees very problematical (nearly 30 are seeking urgent advice from ACEVO on this issue).

Fourth – Government via the astonishing spat between Messrs. Osborne (our Chancellor of the Exchequer) and Ed Balls (his shadow) over banking and LIBOR – or worse, their obvious hatred for each other.

Across the nation – Governance in doubt

We clearly have a crisis of governance across the nation and in all sectors. Government, public sector, corporates and Third Sector all exhibit problems where real strains are showing and proper governance is often missing.

Gove’s comments (which show political mannerisms at their worst) can be spread across all areas if we want to.

The role of non-executive directors, trustees, governors or similar is crucial in organisations. Their importance is completely under-estimated in the same way that the importance of backbenchers in Parliament is. This showed so clearly in the Osborne / Balls playground fight this week and showed how dangerous it is when the Executive is a major part of the Legislature (as we have it in the UK) and back-benchers are unable to confront the over-weaning egos of the front-benchers.

The example shown here – of a senior government minister and his shadow in opposition – was appalling but, unfortunately, does shine a light on society. When recession strikes, the worst examples of society come to light.

What’s going wrong?

Much is actually right in sectors of society that organize themselves into such oganisations such as companies, public sector bodies and Third Sector organisations. But, there is a crucial link that is not sufficiently understood and where traditional rules don’t really work anymore – and, where they do work, are rubbished by politicians pursuing a political agenda.

The link is the one between senior operational staff and Boards. It is the crucial link in any organization.

Corporates

The danger here is the risk that Chief Executive Officers who have got where they are because they are good at what they do but also because they act like steamrollers, often force Boards to concede issues with too little scrutiny. Time is of the essence and information hard to take in when you are a Non-Executive Director (NED) maybe at many corporations and spend a few days a year on each.

The law now lays a heavy burden on NED’s but there remain many who want to bring their skills and knowledge and experience to companies. Most are acceptable to the CEO if they have good connections /networks. Beyond this, they are begrudgingly provided with data and fill remuneration and audit committees and the like, fulfilling a role but often not really involved with the central and driving forces behind the business. Government tinkering with the laws has prescribed the areas of involvement that the law requires and where NED’s have to focus. Areas that are fundamental, like strategy, culture, and ethics, are more likely to be left outside.

The danger becomes real in companies like Enron – which imploded under a Ponzi scheme that should have been obvious to all on the Board. It is endangering one of our best-known banks as it did with RBS and Lloyds-TSB.

Name the major scandals in corporates and then describe the efforts of NED’s to make things right – whether in newspapers and phone hacking, oil industry and health and safety, mining and corruption.

Public Sector

I use the example of schools / academies to show the reverse. Michael Gove, in seeking to set up an array of different schools so that the good ones can “emerge”, is in danger of wrecking education and the potential for good that exists in those schools / academies.

Of course, he was speaking at the FASNA – so, was amongst friends. But, his injudicious language threatens to throw out the good with the bad. I am a Chair of Directors / Governors at an excellent Academy and Gove runs the risk (as all “leaders” do) of demoralizing just the people he should be motivating.

In pursuing his political agenda, he shows he is full of ideas but not allied to the skills of a leader. Schools boards / or governing bodies are full of people who (unlike in corporates) are unpaid and fill positions out of a desire to help kids and the staff that run the schools. Gove is at least ten years out of date with his picture of local worthies – it is not just an insult but shows Gove to be stuck in the 1970’s at best.

At schools, the link between Head and Governors / directors can be bad (as it can in any situation) but is often very good. The role of the board as “critical friend” is enshrined in all that is done and the Head (and some of his / her staff) are on the Board as well. This creates a team that motivates each other to work together and develop a school for its students. Where it works (and it usually does to some extent), it provides enthusiasm as well as governance, skills as well as motivation – on both sides, operational and governance.

Of course, Gove has some insights as schools in difficult areas will have trouble finding the skills needed to fill a board. But, this is down to the location and the need to ensure that they are supported within a structure that works. This is a key area and where successful schools can certainly help.

But, Gove should not ridicule the governance structure in schools – it may be the one area that does work!

Third Sector

Now, I work in this sector as a CEO. I have a good Board but having been in the sector for five years or so (my previous 30 were in the corporate one), it is clear that there is a crisis and it is between CEO’s and the Board.

There is a divide that is unnecessary and needs to be fixed. My concern is that it won’t be because the mind-set of third sector participants is that the charity sector is precious and that there needs to be a separation between boards and operations.

The separation is, I am repeatedly told, because of conflicts of interest. These conflicts, if a CEO becomes a Trustee, means, for example, that the roles are somehow confused and that the Chief Exec can no longer properly comment on staff salary issues because of conflicts of interest (see NCVO website).

The Charities Commission is completely confused. Two requests for information on this yielded completely different responses in the last couple of weeks – both suggested a board would need to ensure no conflicts of interest but while one said they would need to approve the appointment and one did not, neither could attest to the specific conflicts that would be in evidence.

What this means is that the separation (which does not happen in Education – and a school is no less precious) is maintained for little reason and the huge benefits – teamwork, joint motivation, openness for example – are lost in the preciousness.

It needs to change and fast.

Governance and Government

Our government shows itself adrift in its response to good governance by the way it shows itself in parliament. Having the Executive commanding the legislature is bad enough but requires a more magisterial quality. Osborne and Balls would not know that if it hit them between the eyes.

It is important that organisations are properly run. They have an enormous impact on society and are a key part of it. It can be argued that civil society has lost its control over organisations as government (our supposed defenders) has clearly shown no tendency to take itself seriously. Osborne and Gove are poor exemplars.

There may be no excuse for the rioters of last summer in England, but the tendency of organisations to show lack of leadership is troublesome and leadership is needed.

The future of Governance

Sectors of society like the three (or maybe four) mentioned above work in silos and come up against each other from time to time. There is much in common and governance issues affect each and all of them.

Governance is the method of governing – it applies to us nationally, internally and within organisations to which most of us belong. Good governance is crucial to the way society works but it is under threat.

The future of society depends on good governance and we now need to unravel the workings of a hundred years of legal doctrine to develop improvements throughout all the sectors of our society.

We need structures that combine strategy and operations, directors / trustees / governors and business / organizational leaders, but where the non-executives are provided with the skills and time to address the concerns that society has.

At the same time, Chief Execs need to be able to explain the key drivers that make (in their view) the organization work and non-execs should be able to investigate for themselves.

Gove wants Ofsted to rigorously assess governors in the way they monitor Heads. Fine (if they had any understanding of what that means and the ability to do it) but who is doing this in corporates – maybe the auditors or some other independent body for any publicly listed company?

Finally, different sectors should not be isolated from each other. NEDs, trustees, governors have a lot in common but all operate to completely separate rules and guidelines. It is time for some common dialogue as civil society (which includes everyone) is getting pretty sick and tired of the mess that organisations are in.