The Road Ahead

Our analysis of the major opportunities and challenges facing the voluntary sector in 2024. Learn more

Governance round-up: April 2024

Welcome to our monthly governance round-up. This month we look at the implications of the Scouts inquest on good governance practice and the rise in cooperative leadership.

Scouts inquest

In February, the inquest into the death of Benjamin Leonard was released following a six-year investigation. Benjamin died on a Scout trip while walking with a group. The investigation found serious failures by the Scouts and its volunteers.

The Scouts Association (TSA) has published its response to the inquest. The response sets out the lessons and actions they're taking to address concerns alongside a delivery plan.

The Benjamin Leonard: Prevention of future deaths report found 39 points that contributed to Benjamin's death. The report ruled it as an unlawful killing by the explorer scout leader and assistant explorer scout leader, contributed to by the neglect of TSA.

The coroner’s recommendations highlight:

  • the need for better health and safety training for volunteers and more clarity on what their roles and responsibilities are
  • an imbalance between the safeguarding and safety teams at TSA
  • failures in how TSA board reported the incident
  • inconsistent health and safety practices caused by layers of hierarchy in TSA federation
  • a disconnect between local and regional groups and TSA.

Lessons for safeguarding and safety

This tragic incident provides sobering lessons. Particularly for organisations delivering youth, outdoor or similar higher risk activities.

It highlights the need to regularly investigate safeguarding and safety policies and practices. Boards need to be confident that:

  • policies are understood and practiced at every level
  • staff and volunteers have the knowledge and skills to implement policies
  • checks are in place to make sure there’s a culture of safety for beneficiaries, volunteers and staff.

You should make sure volunteers still feel safe and able to deliver activities. Talk through your safeguarding practices and signpost them to training and procedures in your organisation.

Responding to failures and showing care and compassion is an essential part of acting with integrity.

It is good practice to have a crisis plan in place to lay out how you will respond. This should address how your organisation would respond to a serious incident. The plan should also detail how you will show accountability, share learnings and make changes to keep others safe.

Lessons for federated charities

Complexity, shared responsibility, and layers of decision making are common in federated charities. These can undermine accountability and result in real world consequences. The report refers to TSA being ‘distant from their membership’. This is likely in part a result of their federation model.

Local Scouts branches operate as autonomous charities. But the differences between a local Scout group and TSA is not always clear for members of the public. In this case, the local Scout branch followed TSA’s training regulations, policies and procedures. However, the coroner’s report identified issues with TSA’s practices and procedures.

Charities that operate through a federation model should consider the following.

  • Where does responsibility and accountably sit in your structure? Is this appropriate? 
  • Are standards set centrally? If so, how are they consistently applied by independent members?  
  • How can federated branches or groups prove they’re meeting these standards?

Our thoughts go out to Benjamin Leonard’s family and community.

Cooperative leadership in charities

Making Music has adopted a shared leadership model with co-chief executives. Both chief executives will work part-time and share responsibilities.

Shared leadership can bring a fresh voice to an organisation while retaining experience and knowledge. It also offers an innovative solution to succession planning ‒ something which is often a challenge in the voluntary sector.

Tips for shared leadership and collaboration

Successful collaboration involves a lot of proactive planning. Roles and responsibilities must be agreed and communicated. Honesty and bravery is needed from all sides.

All trustees should consider how to build strong working relationships with senior staff members. That includes support and challenge in both directions.

Organisations with co-chief executives or co-chairs must take extra care. Everyone must feel confident and able to provide advice and feedback.

Consider the following questions.

  • How can trustees make sure there is a good balance between experience and fresh ideas and perspectives?
  • How can trustees build good relationships between all members of senior leadership and the board?
  • How can you share skills and experience with staff and volunteers?

The increasing popularity of shared leadership reflects a rise in flexible working. All employees have the legal right to request flexible working. Staff can request to work flexibly if they’ve worked for an organisation longer than 26 weeks. They can make a new request every 12 months.

NCVO members can download our sample flexible working policy.

Minimum wage impact on charity staff costs

The rates of national minimum wage rose on 1 April.

This has led to increased staff costs for charities. In many cases commissioners aren’t covering these increased costs. Many charities are now at risk, with organisations suddenly unable to pay their staff or offer their services.

Our chief executive Sarah Vibert commented:

It’s unacceptable that many commissioners aren’t even meeting the cost of the statutory minimum wage. We need to see charities’ grants and contracts uplifted so they can pay staff fairly for their expert skills, which benefit so many communities.

It’s a huge challenge for charities to attract and keep skilled and committed staff. A lack of funding has resulted in low pay and short term contracts. This has made recruitment an ongoing struggle within the sector.

If this is something you’re struggling with, check out our help and guidance on:

Charity Governance Code consultation

We’re launching a consultation on the Charity Governance Code next month. The consultation will review the Code’s content, structure and effectiveness to make sure it remains relevant for users.

We’ll share more detail on the consultation next month. Sign up for email updates to get involved.

In the meantime, you can continue using the Code alongside our governance help and guidance.

Training and events

Bespoke training

We’re seeing a lot of interest from organisations who’d like to run our safeguarding and trustee training in-house.

When we deliver a bespoke in-house training course we can:

  • tailor the course content to meet your needs
  • reflect your policies
  • provide opportunities for your staff and trustees to discuss challenges and issues.

We’ve had some excellent feedback. If you’d like to discuss delivering any of our training courses in-house please complete our online training contact form.

Online governance training

We run regular online trustee inductions and refresher courses over two half-days. We’re also offering courses on the following areas.

  • Fundraising responsibilities for trustees
  • Safeguarding essentials for trustees
  • Supporting good governance

Browse our upcoming governance training

eLearning induction for trustees

We offer an eLearning module for trustees.

This course gives trustees a low-cost introduction to their roles.

Member events

We hold regular member assembly and welcome events.

Back to top