How would you hold the Board of Trustees to account?

A beautiful autumn landscape full of autumn colour

The principle responsibilities of the Council are to appoint the Board of Trustees and hold them to account. If elected, how would you contribute to achieving this?

Sarah Green, Northumberland

I would utilise my experience to ensure that we have an understanding of the Board skills required including any skills gaps to ensure new appointees have skills and experience that complement existing members. I would work to ensure the overall Board represents the diversity of the membership and interests of the National Trust and that the Board nominations are progressive and support the Board’s ability to continue to modernise. With significant experience of recruiting senior teams and non-executives I would also check that all potential Board members represent the values of the National Trust and have an understanding of governance and the role of the Board.

On an ongoing basis, I would work as part of the Council to provide additional information to the Board to support decision making, scrutinise Board decisions and where appropriate challenge to ensure the Board remains true to the spirit of the National Trust.

Steve Anderson, West Midlands

I’ve had three years on Council to practice this. I’ve sat on one nominations committee for Council, and am currently a member of the review of the Council's appointing bodies, which members will be voting on at the 2018 AGM (think Council's equivalent to hereditary peers). I have lobbied for the Board to be held to account on the ‘for everyone’ theme and was instrumental in shaping the question put to the board on the topic at the last holding to account session.

So, I get stuck in but how do I operate? I have no aspirations to be a Board member, I’m not CV building or after a gong, I just want the National Trust to raise its game, which allows me to ask the awkward question and challenge the perceived wisdom. However, the National Trust does do many things well and I applaud their successes just as loudly.

Virginia Llado-Buisan, Oxford

The National Trust’s Governance Handbook is clear on the fact that the Council’s responsibility is “to check that the Board has a strategy aligned to the charity’s core purpose, and that overall the strategy is being implemented successfully”. After running various conservation teams in the museum and library contexts, I am confident at overseeing the work of others and at establishing positive and productive work relationships, where agreed regulations are understood and met.

I can also bring solid specialist knowledge acquired over twenty-five years working in the conservation field: this includes writing of policies to deliver the business strategies of the institutions I have worked or volunteered for. I am an accredited member of the Institute of Conservation (Icon), and familiar with the UK’s and international preservation-related standards for best practice. I believe that the philosophical principles of the preservation of heritage apply to nature and man-made sites equally.

Raymond Williams, Buckinghamshire

Harvard Business School taught me how to assess financial reporting, review business strategy and as 30 years Chief Executive in leading companies, I am used to regular assessments of progress reports. I will make sure the Trustees meet the National Trust strategic objectives. I have had working experience as a Trustee. I will actively participate in salary reviews. I think too many people are paid too much for the job they do. If I think something is wrong, I will speak out. I am not a 'yes man'!

I will ensure that the interests of the members and the future of our National Treasure remains a number one priority.

There must be prioritisation for expenditure. I will make sure that we have the right priorities.

Leigh McManus, Leicestershire

When holding the Board to account the Council’s role is not to concern itself with the operational running of the National Trust. Rather, it is to check that the Board has a strategy aligned to the charity’s core purpose, and that overall the strategy is being implemented successfully.

To enable the Council to undertake its role in holding the Board to account Council members will receive minutes of Board of Trustees meetings and reports about the National Trust’s overall performance and have the opportunity to ask questions of Trustees about these papers at Council meetings. Council members can also receive copies of the Board’s agendas and supporting papers. Examination of these documents could lead to robust debate and argument culminating in the Council giving its direction to the Board.

Guy Trehane, Dorset

Having served the National Trust many years ago as a Council member and Trustee, I am experienced in this field. Engaging with all areas of the National Trust, maintaining good governance knowledge, monitoring performance, asking questions in meetings and making one’s presence felt informally are essential activities in holding the Board to account.

Emma Mee, Cambridge

I will be looking to provide input into strategic decisions from the outlook of members with young families, as well as maintaining a clear view on sustainability and future thinking.

I have experience in working with diverse, experienced leadership groups through my career, and know the value of the Trustees’ varied experience and importance of understanding their perspectives. As I champion the interests of members who share my own values, I will challenge inaction, a lack of ambition or favouring the status quo in areas that need to be future focused. When necessary, I will seek the opinion of additional experts in the scientific or academic community to ensure any contribution I can make is reliably informed.

Michael Tavener, West Midlands

I would seek to ensure that an appropriate governance framework was in place and operated to:

  • Identify and appoint Trustees with sufficient skills and experience

  • Shape and implement a strategic vision

  • Create a framework that can monitor the operational performance of the National Trust in achieving its strategic vision

  • Identify and manage risk

  • Listen and respond to member, visitor and stakeholder feedback

  • Engage and learn from like-minded organisations

Elizabeth Staples, Staffordshire

I believe that as this is the basic tenet of being elected, that must be my starting point. However, to do this well includes attending meetings and ensuring you have done your homework beforehand. Never take reports at face value and always be prepared to ask those most awkward and basic questions, keeping in mind the strategy the Board has set out and how they can show they are achieving this.

It can become too easy to get bogged down in the minutia of a specialist subject, and forget how this might fit into the long term aims and objectives, while understanding the risks involved around decisions made. This is a role I have had a good deal of experience of and look forward to being able to put it to good use on behalf of members.

Inga Grimsey, Suffolk

In three ways:

Firstly, through the nominations committee, I would ensure that the Board has a good mix of skills, can engage with all members of the National Trust and understands the challenges of 21st Century and the digital world. There should be no vested interests nor geographic bias. Trustees should be strategic thinkers, who also understand conservation and heritage.

Secondly, Council should receive updates on the delivery of the National Trust’s core purpose, against the agreed strategy. We must understand how the Trustees hold the Executive to account for delivery of the strategy.

Thirdly, reports to Council should cover finance, built and natural heritage, conservation and highlight issues of reputational risk. Awareness of these areas by Council will ensure it protects the core purpose.

Council must not be involved in monitoring the operations.

Annually a group of Council members should meet with the Trustees.

Christopher Catling, Wales

I would want to ask each candidate about his or her motives for wanting to become a trustee and assure myself that they had a solid understanding of conservation values, and a commitment to their promotion. I would not personally vote for anyone I did not consider to be a committed champion for the natural and cultural heritage.

Edel Trainor, Northern Ireland

I believe the Board of Trustees and the Council should be a collaborative force and through working positively together they can accomplish the goals of the National Trust as a whole and if elected I would strive to achieve this. Initially, I would seek to appoint a Board of Trustees who would represent a broad spectrum of experience, skills and knowledge that will enable the National Trust to achieve its strategic objectives. 

As a member of the Council, I would seek to embalm the spirit of the National Trust in any opinion I proffered. I would ensure any strategies brought forward by the Trustees are consistent with the overall strategy of the Trust by thoroughly reviewing them. I would, along with the rest of the Council, closely monitor the effectiveness of the Board of Trustees in their performance of achieving the overreaching goals of the charity through their management and administration of it.

Bella Mezger, London

In my three years on Council, I have jointly appointed seven members of the Board, all of whom I believe are exceptionally high calibre and of great benefit to the National Trust and its members. This year, I have been involved in the re-appointment of our Chairman, sitting as a member of the nominations committee appointed to do this.

As Council member, I believe it is important to act as a ‘critical friend’ of the Board, ensuring that there is sufficient challenge alongside praise and support for the work that is done. At every Council meeting I would like to ensure that the Board are responding to the Council’s challenges or questions, and that we hear from them as well as the Executive.

Joff Whitten, Suffolk

I have significant experience of sitting on Boards in cultural organisations, of all shapes and sizes, and I am well versed with what is required to make a strong, confident and committed board, who will act with precision and confidence when addressing challenging issues.

Appointments need to be made with consideration and foresight; I think it’s both a real pity and genuine threat when a board is made up of similar-aged, similar faces, who have all worked in the financial sector being asked to make decisions about the sensitivities of something they don’t necessarily have professional experience of, for example land conservation.

As the National Trust covers so many different types of property, landscape, location and workforce it is imperative that the Board has the required skills, knowledge, understanding and also subtly to make the National Trust a truly wonderful 21st Century organisation – ably scrutinised by the Council to ensure this.

Caroline Kay, Wiltshire

As with any charity board, I would look for a range of specific skills and experiences which relate both to the governance role and the charitable remit, and then work, with the Chair, to appoint the best people to fill the vacancies while developing a coherent team.

‘Holding the Board to account’ is more challenging. The performance of the Board is not the same as the performance of the National Trust as a whole, even though they are related. Clearly-identified performance measures are needed for the Board which are distinct from the organisation’s KPIs.

With these measures as a basis for discussion, there can then be a positive dialogue between the Chair and Council members, based on trust and a shared purpose, from which clear outcomes can be identified. I hope that the Council would report once a year to the membership about the key issues it has discussed.

Duncan Mackay, Berkshire

Barring some miracle of democracy I stand little chance of being elected because of the recommendations given by the National Trust’s selection committee to those they favour. It should be a basic National Trust democracy that only members scrutinise candidates and vote positively for those people who they think will best hold the Trustees to account, in a transparent manner.

Once the proxy vote system is abolished, I think it would broaden the diversity of people represented on the Council and thereby add greater potential for a broader spectrum of members to have a voice. The critical function of holding the Trustees to account would, therefore, over time, come to represent this wider world-view.  A fair, respectful but critical scrutiny of decision-making processes must be the essential component to ensure that Trustees are acting within their powers.

Grevel Lindop, Manchester

I would examine the National Trust's founding documents and its terms as a charity to see exactly what these are. I would then talk to a sampling of visitors (member and non-member), volunteers, staff and neighbours (landowners, farmers and others) to see how the National Trust affects and benefits them and any problems there may be.

Caroline Jarrold, Norfolk

I would aim to get to know the Trustees through attendance at meetings and other events and reviewing their CVs, any personal statements and other relevant material. I would review the current Trustees' collective performance relative to the organisation's strategic development and its execution and evaluate whether I thought that it was appropriate relative to the principles of the National Trust and make representations if I felt that it was not and be supportive if I felt that that it was appropriate.

Read the next question and the candidates' responses

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