Bates Wells highlights political uncertainty and trusteeship issues at 2019 Charity Tea Party

Bates Wells emphasises Brexit as key challenge for charities; MSF cites need for reform of sector’s traditional trusteeship model

7 October 2019

Top 100 law firm Bates Wells has hosted its latest Charity Tea Party, an annual event which brings organisations from across the charities sector together to discuss the key issues impacting their day-to-day operations.

Our speakers included Shoshana Stewart (CEO of Turquoise Mountain), Matthew Bolton (Executive Director of Citizens UK) and Matt Hyde (Chief Executive of The Scout Association), who joined us to discuss topics ranging from regulatory changes and the latest developments in employment law through to charity leadership and Brexit.

At this year’s event many of our delegates and speakers focused on the question of trusteeship, specifically how the sector’s established trustee model can be made fit for purpose at a time when public expectations of charities’ conduct are higher than ever.

During our evening panel discussion, Dr Javid Abdelmoneim, President of MSF UK, expanded on some of the issues facing the current trustee model stating that the “changing status [of trusteeship] underlines the need for a rethink of what the sector expects the average trustee to do”. He argued that rising expectations with respect to governance standards at charities mean “that the traditional trustee role must surely undergo a process of professionalisation”.

Political uncertainty also loomed large at this year’s event, with Abbie Rumbold, Partner in Bates Wells’ Charity & Social Enterprise team expressing the view that uncertainty over a possible no deal Brexit and impending election presented an “unprecedented challenge” for the voluntary sector. Despite this, she expressed the hope that charities would not be deterred by the ongoing political upheaval in speaking out in support of their charitable mission.

Dr Javid Abdelmoneim, President of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) UK, said:

“Trustee responsibilities and workload have changed in recent times, driven mainly by regulatory requirements introduced by the Charity Commission. 

“This changing status underlines the need for a rethink of what the sector expects the average trustee to do. No longer is trusteeship an amateur pursuit, and the rising expectation that good practice in charity governance requires a deeper oversight and closer working with the Executive suggests that the traditional trustee role must surely undergo a process of professionalisation.

“Moreover, the increased time commitments attached to the average unpaid trustee role might reduce diversity on trustee boards by deterring young, qualified candidates from coming forward. This should be a cause for concern for charities’ leadership teams.”

Commenting on the political uncertainty Abbie Rumbold, Partner, Bates Wells said:

“Uncertainty over a possible no deal Brexit and impending election presents an “unprecedented challenge” for the voluntary sector.  It creates difficulties for charities in terms of the immediate practical and financial impact as well as planning for the future. Significantly, it also puts the ability to campaign effectively in question. But I hope that charities are not deterred by the ongoing political upheaval in speaking out in support of their charitable mission.”

If you would like to set up an interview, or would like additional commentary, please contact Bates Wells’ Senior Press Officer, Sam Hunter on +44 (0)20 7551 7906 or [email protected]


All content on this page is correct as of October 8, 2019.