Citizens Advice Scotland slammed in damning report

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The report into the independent review into the governance of Citizens Advice Scotland has been published calling for a total overhaul of the board

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9th August 2016 by Paul Cardwell 0 Comments

The board of Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has been slammed as “not fit for purpose” in a scathing independent review published today.

Accountancy and auditing firm Deloitte said the current 12-person board exhibited “dysfunctional dynamics and inappropriate behaviours driven by cliques and personal interests.”

The umbrella body for Scotland's Citizens Advice Bureau network commissioned the review after a series of problems which saw senior staff quit or sacked, and the organisation's UK government funders temporarily withhold funding.

The damning report states that the board, in its current composition and structure, is failing its members, CAS staff and funders, and fundamental change is needed for the organisation to be able to oversee public funds effectively.

In a list 32 recommendations – 13 of which are classed as high priority – Deloitte called for an overhaul of the board’s structure and practices with a new board and chairman to be appointed by early next year.

“As an organisation CAS has grown and taken on responsibility for a number of functions,” Deloitte said.

The current governance arrangements are not fit-for-purpose and there is a need for fundamental change in a number of areas,

“The board composition has not evolved alongside these changes and lacks the skills, experience and capabilities to provide effective oversight and stewardship of an organisation of the scale and complexity of CAS.”

Criticism of the board and its processes include the lack of a robust and competitive appointments process. Deloitte said trustees were not appointed on the basis of their skills and experience in the context of the strategic direction of the organisation and existing skills on the board

The report also claims board induction, training and development is currently insufficient and there is no mechanism for the board to remove trustees in situations where they are breaching the code of conduct or terms of appointment.

Furthermore, a loophole allows trustees to seek re-election beyond the agreed six-year tenure – with auditors encountering one trustee who had been on the board for 15 years.

Deloitte said it found some trustees did not recognise the “severity of the situation that the board and CAS are currently in”.

It criticised the board and in particular former chairman Dominic Notarangelo, who TFN revealed had quit on 28 June after draft copies of the report were cirulated.

The committee structure was “larger and more complex than we would expect for an organisation of CAS’ scale” Deloitte said, adding there was a lack of transparency and inconsistent reporting.

Of Notarangelo, Deloitte added there was limited evidence he carried out some of the duties expected of a chair, with some people who Deloitte interviewed claiming he was not strategic and lacked the leadership qualities and dynamism required to act as chair for an organisation of CAS’ scale and complexity.

Individuals used terms such as “tension” and “unprofessional” when referring to board behaviours and dynamics, with meetings described as “getting out of hand”. 

Deloitte recommends a new CAS board be made up of between 11 and 13 trustees with a better balance of external trustees and bureau members to provide a more objective view to decision making.

That board should establish a sub-committee to oversee the implementation of an action plan in response to the problems uncovered and recommendations made.

“The current governance arrangements are not fit-for-purpose and there is a need for fundamental change in a number of areas,” the report said.

“Presently, the board, in its current composition and structure, is failing its members, CAS staff and funders.

“There are a number of weaknesses in the board’s current structure, skills and capabilities, behaviours and operations. These weaknesses inhibit the board from functioning as a high-performing strategic board overseeing the use of public funds effectively for the betterment of the citizens of Scotland.”

CAS said its board accepted all of the recommendations of the report and would hold a general meeting by March 2017 to appoint a new board and chair.

The organisations current chair Agnes Robson said: “The CAS board has noted the report and unanimously agreed the recommendations. Over the next few months we will consult with our members to understand their views, ahead of seeking their formal approval.

“This review is about ensuring the structure of governance arrangements at CAS reflect current best practice in the sector. Implementation of the recommendations will ensure that CAS  is in the best shape to support the needs of the organisation and the 61 independent Citizens Advice Bureaux who provide free, impartial and confidential advice to citizens across Scotland.

“The recommendations involve significant change. However, I am in no doubt that this is the right way forward, and the board has agreed the recommendations in full.”