A few days ago I went out shopping for some last minute Christmas gifts and bumped into a local Councillor who has played an important role in ensuring that the Labour Party avoids falling into too many pot holes in their time as a significant party within Brighton and Hove Council. His decision to retire from the Council this coming year is due to the fact that he feels he has carried out some of the work he was elected to do and that now is a good moment for him to step down for the sake of both himself and his constituents. Whilst his comments made no reference to the Charity Commission, the nature of what he said was reminiscent of their advice to people who set up charities. They recommend that charitable trusts set limits for how long individuals can remain as Trustees and also that where the charity includes members outside of the Trustees, that the Trustees are elected by the members. There is extensive good practice across the charitable sector which recommends that Trustees serve for three years before being reselected or re-elected and also that Trustees remain in post for no more than 10-12 years before they step down to ensure that the Trust does not get dominated by any one person to become their own organisation rather than that of the charity as a whole. I was a Trustee for one charity for 12 years, serving as Chair person for 9 of the 12 years. The previous Chair person like some other Trustees had been a Trustee for 30 years and frankly that was too long even though he made some very significant contributions during that period.
It seems vital that the Charity guidance on the length of being a Trustee is adopted by the House of Commons and House of Lords. If an MP has served as one for one General Election, or possibly two or even three, then they should be asked to step down for at least on election period to enable other people to be considered. Of course it would mean that some knowledge and experience would be lost from the House of Commons, but equally new skills and new experience would be introduced that might prevent the level of chaos that we have seen taking place over the last 30 months.
My own view is that as well as calling on MPs to only serve for 2-3 periods until the majority of them step down for at least one period, that the rules of elections are re-designed to remove the dominance of the two main parties. Although political parties don’t get involved in charities as a general rule, if other dominant groups of people were seen to control charities by ensuring that only their supporters were elected as Trustees, they would be falling foul of the Charity Commission recommendations which is to make charities independent of any individuals or even narrow groups of people.
Perhaps we need to call on the Government to meet up with the Charity Commission in order to ensure that the lessons learned by charities are not overseen by the Houses of Commons, of Lords and our Councils!