Saturday, 21 November 2015

Trusties and Trustees


A trustee is a member of a board elected or appointed to oversee the policy and management of an institution.

A trusty is  a prisoner who is given special privileges or responsibilities in return for good behaviour, i.e. one who won't give any trouble or rock the boat.

Two quite different things as we see, though in some cases elements of the second may be considered by managers as desirable qualities in the first.

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust has a board of trustees, a fact which came into focus when we realised that some of the trustees were instrumental in calling for a halt to tree felling in Sheffield streets while remaining silent on tree felling carried out by SRWT itself on Blacka.

Trustees of charities like SRWT have much in common with school governors a group singled out for comment by the Chief Inspector of Schools the other day. Too many of them he said are 'unfit for purpose' and signing up to 'boost their CVs'.

The way trustees go about their work is often veiled in secrecy. The Chair may take a prominent role in some cases but other trustees may know little of what's going on. A small sub-group may be taking on a sort of scrutiny role which is then rubber stamped by the other less-involved members. Really we just don't know because transparency is not a word used in private charities.

Even members of a charity may have no right to know what is going on. A friend who was a member of SRWT tried to get to know more by asking to see Board of Trustee minutes. He was told that he could ask a question at the AGM (which he couldn't do because he looked after a chronically sick parent). This is probably what the management and chair of trustees judges to be OK for the vast majority of their members whose general ignorance of what's going on is a welcome counterweight to those annoying people like some we know who misguidedly believe that the right thing should not only be done but seen to be done. Really, some people.

There have been recent changes to SRWT's trustees. The members of the board a year ago were as referred to in this post. The present members can be found on this webpage.

The outgoing chair, Anne Ashe is quoted as saying  “I’ve been so glad to be involved with the Wildlife Trust on a daily basis." That being so it's an insight into where responsibility lies in everyday matters. The new chair has apparently spent a lot of his time sitting on boards and committees from the profile displayed on the website almost all connected to the conservation establishment so we're unlikely to get much original perspective from that quarter. The mot juste may well be "this is the way we do it". But then we don't know anything much because transparency is conspicuous by its absence. But it's a pretty fair assumption that most decisions will be taken by the Chief Executive and the Chair between them with the other trustees only coming in later on, more like the trusties mentioned above, and the members hardly even figuring as also rans. Unless of course it's all total chaos which can't be ruled out by anyone who's watched what goes on at Blacka over the years.

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