The Education Funding Agency’s (EFA) latest bulletin advises academy trusts that their trustees must adopt a conflicts of interest policy and, even if they have one in place, directs them to the latest guidance published by the Charity Commission.
A conflicts of interests policy should be written down and will tell existing trustees how to identify and disclose conflicts of interest and will help prospective trustees identify possible conflicts of interest before they are appointed.
In its guidance, the Commission points out that all trustees have a legal duty to act in the best interests of their charity – in this case the academy trust – and that conflicts of interest can damage the school’s reputation or public trust. However, it also says that conflicts of interest are common in all charities but that it is the way this conflict is handled that makes all the difference.
The guidance gives a couple of examples of conflicts of interest that are probably the most common problems associated with being a trustee. The first is where a trustee could benefit financially or otherwise from a decision the academy has to make – perhaps in the use of contractors or appointment of staff – and when a trustee’s duty to the school competes with a duty or loyalty they have with another organisation or person.
However, the Commission says that as long as trustees prevent these potential scenarios from interfering with their ability to make a decision that is only in the best interests of the school, then they have done nothing wrong.
The Commission therefore advocates a three-step approach to problems, namely identify, prevent and record, so that trustees are able to comply with their duty and avoid making decisions that could be overturned or risk the academy’s reputation.