New Charity Governance Code – what are the implications for civic societies?

Last year, the Charity Commission consulted on a proposed code of governance. This has now been published and is available on-line at

While the new Code is at the moment just guidance, it is based on current legal requirements and recommended practice. It is set out under 7 principles (see above taken from their website) and introduces the notion of ‘apply or explain’ – in other words, charities should apply the code’s principles wherever they can but explain those instances where, for whatever reason, they cannot apply the recommendations of the Code.

Much that is in the Code will be familiar already, this is evolution not revolution, but there are some interesting new recommendations about recruitment and retention of trustees – i.e., your committee members – which will have far-reaching implications for many societies. Not least of these is the recommendation that trustees serve for a maximum of 9 years.

Now, I’m writing this as someone who has served as a trustee on the committee of Wakefield Civic Society for nearly 28 years and who has been president/chair of the Society for nearly 16 years at the time of writing. On top of that, I have been a trustee of the Yorkshire and Humber Association of Civic Societies (YHACS) for coming up for 16 years and chair of the Association for nearly 7 years. The Wakefield Civic Society committee has 5 members who have been in office for over 9 years and the YHACS committee 3. I suspect that many civic societies (and other community groups for that matter) will be in the similar position of having long-serving committee trustees. I wonder what would happen if the 9-year rule was to be made mandatory?

I’m fairly sure that the Charity Commission is not intending that there should be a mass clear-out of charity stalwarts whose tireless energies and enthusiasm keeps so many small charities running. To mandate that would cause huge problems and possibly lead to the closure of some charities unable to find willing volunteers to take on the vacated roles.

However, I can understand the thinking about the new recommendation; indeed, when I advocated changing the YHACS constitution at the end of 2016 so as to set a six-year time limit on the role of YHACS chair, I had seen the writing on the wall, or at least on various internet pages in which the thinking on charity governance had been widely discussed.

There are benefits and problems associated with having long-serving trustees. Benefits include building experience, local knowledge and contacts – all very useful facets of being an effective trustee. Problems, on the other hand, are trustees being so-closely identified with the charity and their roles within the organisation that others perceive trustee selection, particularly for key officer posts, as something of a closed-shop or done deal. This can be an effective barrier to the recruitment of new trustees – people don’t want to challenge a long-standing post holder for fear of causing upset of embarrassment or because they don’t think the charity would back a newcomer against an existing and no doubt respected candidate.

There’s another problem of allowing someone to serve more or less indefinitely and that is complacency. We’re all so relieved that someone has agreed to serve that we can breathe easy, thankful that the post is filled. While ever there is someone willing to have a go, let them get on with it! Don’t rock the boat! etc., etc. The trouble then is that when these long-serving committee members do want to step down, there are no processes in place, or no candidates in waiting, to allow for a transition, and the results can be fatal to the survival of the charity. A number of civic societies in our own region have folded in recent years because they cannot find people willing to serve on their committees.

Another problem, of course, is that if your committee is predominantly ‘white, middle class and retired’, there’s a good chance your membership will come from this social group as well. Your committee will mirror your membership and vice versa.

The new Charity Code of Governance points us in the direction we need to be thinking about (at section 5.7 on Board [for which read Committee] Effectiveness):

5.7 Overseeing appointments
5.7.1 There is a formal, rigorous and transparent procedure to appoint new trustees to the board, which includes advertising vacancies widely.
5.7.2 The search for new trustees is carried out, and appointments or nominations for election are made, on merit, against objective criteria and considering the benefits of diversity. The board regularly looks at what skills it has and needs, and this affects how new trustees are found.
5.7.3 Trustees are appointed for an agreed length of time, subject to any applicable constitutional or statutory provisions relating to election and re-election. If a trustee has served for more than nine years, their reappointment is subject to a particularly rigorous review and takes into account the need for progressive refreshing of the board explained in the trustees’ annual report

You can see from this that applying the rule of ‘Buggin’s turn’ won’t wash in future, nor will allowing someone to run and run be acceptable either – there will only be so many occasions that you can explain away why your society failed to find a new chair or trustee and so allowed someone to continue to clock up the mileage.

As I said above, this is not yet mandatory, but I do think we all need to start thinking about the implications of the new code and its recommendations. Even if the 9-year rule isn’t yet a requirement, it is probably in the best interests of your charity to act as if the recommendation is likely to become mandatory at some point and to start thinking now about how you can improve the processes for recruitment of trustees.

Boosting the Ego!

In which I tell the story of how, in May 2017, I pootled over to Horbury to experience the delights of new restaurant, Ego @ the Bull’s Head.

Looking back through my diary, I discovered that it was in 2011 that members of Wakefield Civic Society’s Dining Club last ventured out along Horbury Bypass to the Bull’s Head so a revisit was somewhat overdue. However, a change of management and the introduction of a new brand provided just the push we needed so, at the beginning of May, Society members, myself included, went back to try out what is now, to give it its full name, ‘Ego Mediterranean Restaurant and Bar @ the Bull’s Head’. It gave me a chance to have a word with Martin England, the deputy manager, who was on duty that evening, to see if they would be interested in my doing a review for TopicUK Magazine. Not surprisingly, they agreed and so it was, a few nights later, that I returned with my partner for something of a ‘private viewing’ as guests of the establishment.

The first thing you notice on entering the building is that the place has been given a very stylish makeover by the new management. Smart and contemporary, with a mix of modern and retro touches, Ego is very much ‘bang on trend’ as they say in the fashion magazines. Larger than it looks from the outside – the restaurant can accommodate up to 130 people with an additional 32-seat private dining room (and there’s room for 36 more sitting outside if you fancy a bit of al fresco dining on a warm summer’s evening). It retains a pleasantly intimate feel, however, thanks to the sub-division of the interior spaces into a number of separate dining and seating areas.

The restaurant is now one of a group, part of Ego Restaurants Ltd, based in Bolton, with fifteen Ego establishments across the north of England and the Midlands. Ego @ The Bull’s Head opened in its new guise on 9th March this year. Judging by the number of customers, it is already proving to be very popular. Just as well, then, that there is a large car park!

So, what’s it like to eat there? Well, to start with, there’s a very comprehensive menu, with a strong Mediterranean influence. Special diets can usually be catered for – there’s a full gluten-free menu, for example, so be prepared to ask if you need something that’s a bit ‘off-menu’.

Prices are very reasonable and typical of what you might expect for the Wakefield area – starters from £4.95 to £7.95 and mains from £8.45 (for a pizza Margherita) up to £17.45 for the Andalusian Pork Fillet, wrapped in prosciutto, pan roasted & served with apricot & sherry cream sauce with dauphinoise potatoes. Steaks come in a tad more expensive at £18.85 for the 8oz Sirloin, £22.95 for the 10oz Ribeye, and £23.95 for the 8oz Fillet, each chargrilled & served with confit vine plum tomato, rocket & ‘skin-on’ fries. A variety of side orders can be added at extra cost. Desserts range from £4.95 to £6.45 but there is also a number of ‘Ego Minis’ – mini desserts with any tea or coffee included for under £5.

Look out for the fixed-price menu which is served from Monday to Friday until 7pm, Saturday until 6pm, and Sunday from 5pm onwards. This offers 2 courses for £12.95 or 3 courses for £15.95.

Menus are available to view on-line should you wish to do your homework in advance and it’s definitely worth having a look as there are special offers and/or themes on most days of the week – Monday’s offer is two courses from the à la carte menu for just £19.95 each including a full bottle of wine per person; Tuesday is Steak Night where 8oz steaks starting at just £10; Wednesday is Tapas Day, with three tapas dishes for £12, offered all day; Thursday is Kebab Night with Kebabs starting at £10; and on Sundays, roasts start at just £10.95.

There’s a good wine list too and, should you wish to have a cocktail, you’ll be well catered for with a large selection available: better still, the classic cocktails are ‘2-4-1’ every day until 7pm! Nor do you have to miss out if you’re the designated driver for the evening – the list includes some non-alcoholic cocktails as well.

If you see yourself becoming a regular at Ego, it is possible to join their Ego Club. Not only will this entitle you to receive their newsletter and details of special offers, but it will also give you some specific benefits such as 25% off the à la carte menu from Sunday to Friday, a free 3-course meal on your birthday, and a free bottle of Prosecco on a special anniversary day of your choice!

When I visited with the Civic Society’s Dining Club, the friendliness of the staff shone through. When I returned a few nights later, my partner and I were looked after personally by the manager, Craig Humphriss, who made time to answer our questions in between serving and chatting to other customers and he introduced me to the chef, Emma, whose culinary efforts we had sampled during the evening. The food was of very good quality and well-prepared while the portion size was more than generous; so much so in fact, that we each had to settle for one of the Ego Minis when it came to dessert!

All in all, we had a very pleasant evening and I can certainly recommend Ego @ The Bull’s Head to you – definitely not one to be by-passed!