Time for Citizens Advice Scotland’s board to resign?

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How do you sack a board not fit for purpose? With great difficulty, says Robert Armour. And not before major reputation damage has been committed  

23rd February 2016 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Dominic Notarangelo, chair of Citizens Advice Scotland’s board of trustees, wrote an impassioned open letter this week in a national newspaper, imploring all to understand how well administered the charity’s finances were. He was selectively responding to mounting criticism, led by MSP Alex Johnstone, that the charity is in crisis and that the Scottish Government should intervene.

Despite Notarangelo presiding over the biggest farce in the charity’s history (one chief executive sacked before he even started, one quick turn around following a clash with the board, one still suspended on full pay, one finance director resigned last week), he’s still trying to convince us all CAS is a well-run, well-governed organisation.

CAS’s board is created from member bureaux; without doubt there are good people involved. But when organisations have a chair in total denial of the governance crisis in his very midst, there’s little hope for individual board members making a tangible difference. This is a lesson charities should have learned from the recent demise of Kids Company, whose chair Alan Yentob's failure to address problems eventually lost him his day job at the BBC.  

CAS is a body that has lost its way, run by itself for itself. Leaked board minutes shows a charity paranoid about how the government – Scottish and UK – sees it but ironically doesn't seem to understand – or care – for its reputation among the wider public. 

CAS is a body that has lost its way, run by itself for itself

CAS is a body that has lost its way, run by itself for itself

As one senior employee told me recently: “CAS is run by an old boys network that is stuck in an age not reflective of the clients it serves. The board has become self-serving, has lost the plot and and is in complete denial of the problems it faces. There’s little chance board members will change. It would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.”

The irony is, of course, that this is the board who has both failed to appoint leaders that are capable and failed to work with those that are. So by that logic, the board has failed, and continues to fail time and again. So should they not stand down? 

Yes, is the short answer. It would be the decent thing. But this is a board that is so dysfunctional, it remains determined to blame successive managers instead.

Unfortunately sacking a charity board is practically impossible. Unless there’s some form of financial or constitutional impropriety, chances are you’re lumped with them until they themselves finally see sense, do the decent thing and resign.

Elsewhere in the third sector there are positive role models from which CAS could easily learn. Consider the mass resignation of the Kiltwalk's board last year. Common sense prevailed, and board members stepped aside to allow the charity to be saved by Tom Hunter’s hand-picked trustees. The result was the quick turn around of a bad situation and the rebuilding of public confidence.

It’s unlikely that a charity so resistant to change as CAS will have the courage to do the same. 

However, unless something changes dramatically, its next chief executive will be feeling as secure as a North Korean defence minister.