Root of all evil
Is there evidence that board members perform better if they are paid? Steve Gough, board member at Magma Housing Association and Magna Group, and housing lecturer, is still to be convinced.
Money is the root of all evil. But not apparently when it comes to board members of housing associations. Ugly, inefficient ducklings transform themselves at the whiff of filthy lucre into hyper-effective swans, ready to take on all that the complicated world can throw at it.
Payment brings increased commitment and effectiveness. It attracts new people to the role and will kick start an era of ‘professional’ board members, who will be more able to cope with the demands of the new, much less regulated, world of housing. The Inside Housing/Boardview governance survey of February last year suggested that those organisations that paid their board members were happier with their performance than those who did not.
So that’s that then. Case closed M’lud.
Except that it isn’t.
Reports of improved performance are not backed up by empirical evidence as far as I can see. Such evidence that exists seems to be based on anecdotal accounts of better attendance at board meetings, and more and better candidates seeking appointment.
Information from November 2010 questionnaire returns to the National Housing Federation indicates a wide range of approaches to payment. If one organisation pays £7,500 to its chair but nothing to anyone else, while some housing associations pay group board members £10,750 and others pay £1,040 for ‘bog standard’ board members the picture can hardly be said to be uniform. Clear lessons can’t be drawn – there simply isn’t the consistent data to do so. It must be reasonable to expect at least clear reasoning backed up by evidence, if more widespread payment of board members is to be encouraged.
The underlying assumption is that nothing can be worth doing unless someone somewhere can place a financial value on it, that the notion of voluntarism is some quaint Victorian throw back and that those who take on board membership should ‘get real’ and take the Queen’s shilling for their efforts, or be forever condemned as an irrelevance. But you don’t have to be a disciple of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ to be wonder at where too great an emphasis on monetary as opposed to civic values have brought us in the last two decades.
If performance really can be improved for the benefit of the associations and their residents by payment then fair enough. But scepticism can only be overcome by credible evidence. Paid board members and their senior executives congratulating themselves doesn’t cut the mustard I’m afraid.