The new chair of Citizens Advice Scotland believes the organisation has now turned a corner with a strong board and governance structure
The new chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) can be confident they are coming to a reformed organisation where they won’t be micro-managed.
This was one of the key messages coming from new CAS chair Rory Mair following his unopposed election on Tuesday.
Mair, a former Cosla chief executive and senior local authority figure, said the organisation will begin the hunt for a new senior leader to fill the currently vacant chief executive post immediately.
If I’ve made the judgement that it’s safe to come to CAS, then I would expect candidates also to be able to make that judgement
Mair’s appointment comes following a major governance reorganisation at CAS after an external review found the organisation was led by “dysfuncational dynamics and inappropriate behaviours driven by cliques and personal interests”.
In January, 90% of bureaux voted for a change to the makeup of the board, which after this week's AGM consists of an independent chair, six representatives from member bureaux and six external figures.
The big question, however, is how the organisation is going to attract quality candidates to the role of chief executive after a series of acrimonious departures form the role since Kaliani Lyle retired in 2010.
Speaking to TFN about the challenges of his new role, Mair was keen to reassure potential candidates that things will now be different.
“If I’ve made the judgement that it’s safe to come to CAS, then I would expect candidates also to be able to make that judgement,” he said. “I’m bringing, I hope, a degree of stability in how the relationship between a chair and chief executive should work.
“I’ve been a chief executive with chair and I know how that can work and ways it doesn’t work and I’ll bring that understanding to it. Someone coming to this new situation will have an understanding board, not an undemanding board, but one that says we know what we want and we’re going to give you the space to deliver that.”
Despite the problems the organisation has experienced over the last few years, its research has found that public confidence in local bureaux has remained high.
However, government funders did threaten to withdraw funding last year if the situation wasn’t resolved. Although funding is now secure for next year, Mair acknowledges there is work to be done to reassure members and other stakeholders that the organisation is now a safe pair of hands.
“Openess, honesty, respect and trust are the values we’ve all got to live up to,” he said. “If I fall short of that, I expect to answer to it. Similarly, if I think other people’s behaviour is not up to those standards, I get to say so too. We’ve got to become mature enough that we can engage with each other.
“I understand that people become frustrated if there’s no process for that to happen, so I’ve got to show that I’m genuinely open to that and that people should have expectations of me, just as I should have expectations of others.”
The role of CAS chair will be Mair’s main focus for the next three years, and he aims to start building relationships by visiting bureaux across the country. The first stop will be Glasgow, where a number of bureaux protested against the governance review last year.
That’s a challenge that must be faced head-on, said Mair: “Unsurprisingly, at the AGM a group of people from the Glasgow bureaux asked me to go and speak to them because they want to put across their perspective, and of course I will.
“I don’t know what I’m going to hear or how easy it will be for me to respond to it, but in principle, given an invitation like that, it’s important I go and speak to them.”
The process of engagement with bureaux will feed into a new governance strategy the board will be preparing to be agreed at the next AGM in November this year. In the meantime, Mair is looking forward to the challenge of getting involved in the an organisation he clearly respects and believes in.
“Since I retired, I’ve not done a lot. Now, I’ve decided that I want to do a little in terms of the number of things I want to take on, and this is it for the next three years. This is what I’m going to do, although I’m not full time and I don’t want to be dragged into being full time, it will have my full attention.”
Agnes Robson, who was Mair’s predecessor as acting chair, welcomed his appointment.
She said: “We are very pleased that Rory Mair will be the chair of Citizens Advice Scotland. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience of the public sector, and his record is one of energy, action and delivery.
“He is the ideal person to take forward Citizens Advice in Scotland at a time when people, more than ever, need the impartial advice and advocacy provided by the service.”