Setting a standard

Warning: There are no pictures here just a  boring table but please read on as it’s important

Much space is given over to discussing appropriate standards of remuneration in the non-profit and public sector. One of the things I have considered over time is the degree to which the boards of non-profits struggle to find and retain good committed board members. As both a former head of a number of organisations and both former chair and board member of many others I have seen the best and also the worst of behaviour, discretion, risk management, preparation, and conflicts of interest. Without a doubt, getting board appointments right is key to the success of the organisation.

Being a board member of a non-profit is by default a voluntary commitment. Many board members don’t even claim expenses, feeling it is their role to support rather than cost the charity money. Being a board member of a non-profit is also by default a responsible and time-consuming job if it is done properly. Being a chair even more so and sometimes, the rules around whether chairs and board members can or should receive some form of remuneration can be counter-intuitive. No, they cannot profit from the charity but yes they have to spend their well-earned downtime working to ensure the oversight of often complex and challenged organisations. This goes some way to explaining some of the challenges we face when trying to secure a diverse board. Governance costs money, if not to the charity, then to the individual board members.

Which is why when I look at public arms-length bodies, I have no issue with remuneration of the chairs and vice-chairs. I have seen the work needed to ramp up accountability to befit the duties devolved to body by government, often handed down with a slew of additional accountabilities and reporting measures (how they pass those on to the nonprofits is a story for another day). But I think I always thought public appointments operated to some kind of standard. Salaries and expenses of staff of public bodies and the departments they report to are all regulated. Ministers have set rates of pay. I think I just assumed this would be the same. So why do the most recent advertised public appointments of Chairs to the boards of Sport NI, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Health & Safety Executive NI and Big Lottery Fund NI differ so radically not only in the remuneration but the way it will be calculated.

Table 1: Calculated from the public appointments website on 27 September 2016

Position Chair – Big Lottery Fund Chair – Sport NI Chair – Arts Council NI Chair – Health & Safety Executive
Period of appointment Up to 4 years with possibility of reappointment Up to 4 years Up to 4 years 3 years
Time commitment up to 5 days per month 8 days per month At least 40 days per year. [from ACNI website: ‘In addition, the Chairperson will be expected to ensure the visibility of the Council by attending arts events on a regular basis.’] 1.5 days per week
Annual commitment 60 96 40 78
Remuneration £24,000 £26,880 £10,000 £19,245
Pro rata £400 £280 £250 £246.73
Notes Commitment is capped by remuneration is fixed Monthly commitment will be reviewed later but income is costed at a daily rate Calculation here is based on the guaranteed minimum number of days excluding arts attendance Calculation has been done as 1.5 x 52 but this does not allow for holidays

Some of these appointments talk about reimbursement of expenses, some don’t. None of the ads mentions whether this remuneration is an honorarium or liable for tax. Is it an employment? Do they get paid leave or is 1.5 days per week a 52-week commitment? Why is the Chair of the BLF worth nearly 40% more than the Chair of the HSE? Why are some fixed annually with open-ended commitments and others paid daily?  Why is the Chair of the Arts Council expected to attend events unpaid – is it a perk of the job? From my experience of meeting many Arts Council members, Chairs and Vice-chairs over the years, going to shows, readings, exhibitions and visiting projects,although often inspiring and valuable, is not about visibility of the Council or a perk but a vital part of the job in the Boardroom. It will occupy at least two evenings a week and more if you want to experience the full array of the portfolio over which you will sit and make decisions. What calibre of appointment will be attracted if this is wrong and how diverse can appointments be if the time and resource commitment is disproportionate?

If I’ve got this analysis wrong, then I’m very happy to be corrected and will happily publish any clarification. If I haven’t got it wrong and there is a marked disparity I would really like to see an examination of what is deemed fair remuneration across our public appointments. This is what public accountability means, isn’t it?


    1. Thanks Fergus. I think some of this disparity may be that the BLF appointment would be guided by a national body while the others are NI-specific. If the disparity is because of relative budgets for overheads including governance costs, there may be merit in opening up a discussion about how budget provision for governance of public bodies might be made centrally or at a fixed level for regular activities distinct from their allocation. I had started wanting to look at the ACNI position relative to other appointments as it seemed a big commitment for a small recompense but when I looked at the others it just seemed to unravel procedurally.


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