John Whatmore is a former Westminster councillor and has served on a number of housing association management committees.
When disaster strikes, why do we treat management committees as though they were irrelevant, and inspectors, investigators, whistle blowers and regulators take responsibility?
Hospitals, schools, churches, housing associations, charities, neighbourhood and voluntary organisations all have management committees, yet when trouble strikes as it did at Mid Staffs, in ‘failing’ schools or in care of the elderly, the authorities act as though the committee simply did not exist, as though it had no authority nor responsibility; and might just as well not have been there.
Why is this?
Interestingly, one feature common to all of these committees is that they are not responsible to any other body. Ofsted takes responsibility for the assessment of schools, and other bodies have comparable roles in other fields, but they seem to take little interest in the performance of their management committees.
One of the most important roles in such committees is that of maintaining awareness of actual performance. Yet they often lack people with experience of the work involved – teaching, housing management or running hospitals. Moreover all too rarely do they visit their premises, their clients or other providers; and they tend to rely on the experience of their staff as it is reported to them.
Recruiting members to such committees is often difficult – they have to search hard in order to attract the necessary expertise. Members are often recruited more for their interest in the problem than their expertise in the solution; on the basis of ‘three or four meetings per annum’; and are often discouraged from making contact with the staff or the clients.
Even if they have shareholders, General Meetings are virtually unattended and Annual Reports remain unread.
What should we do about this?
It can be argued that local authorities have no status in these matters. But they are affected by them. How about awards for outstanding governance, to be judged by a panel of different local Chairs?