Chris Luck: The Shaw Trust ‘can’t hide from the Oxfams’

02 Oct 2019 Interviews

The Shaw Trust's new CEO tells Priya Kantaria about his restructuring plans and how all charities have a responsibility to reflect on criticism of the sector.

Chris Luck, who became chief executive of the Shaw Trust in May, is not afraid of change or tough decisions. 

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Not long after taking on the role, he conducted a strategic review of the charity's structure, management and performance, with the outcome that around 100 staff would lose their jobs as part of restructuring.

Speaking to Civil Society News, he emphasises that as the vast majority of the Shaw Trust's income comes from government contracts for public service provision, the charity has a duty to account for taxpayers’ money and make sure it is spent efficiently.

As part of this process, he has already “stripped £5m” from the payroll via planned redundancies and put in place plans for a relocation of headquarters to South London.

When announced, these changes were described as efficiencies from the charity’s acquisitions of Prospects Services and Ixion Holdings in 2017.

Luck explains that with the charity having two other acquisitions in recent years, Forth Sector and the Disabled Living Foundation, the charity had found itself with four CEOs all working under him. There was therefore a need “to drive out duplication, drive out inefficiencies, grab the benefits that you hoped for, so you get the benefit of scale but the efficiency of one organisation.”

He adds that growth through acquisition was about trying to build influence, by maximising the number of beneficiaries it could reach and having a greater voice.

‘The charity sector is in many ways under assault’

When asked about recent media criticism of various charities, Luck says charities “can’t hide from the Oxfams”.

He says: “There are new standards, there are new expectations and we should all hold ourselves to those values and live them.”

He admits that “the charity sector is in many ways under assault,” but believes much of the assault has been self-generated, with issues of governance and issues of quality and performance.

He calls for the sector to be self-policing: “What I didn’t expect and wouldn’t wish for is for the charity sector to have to be ‘cleaned up’ like the City was cleaned up.

“It is our role and responsibility to think really hard about what needs to change and be brutally honest about it, not try to evade or come up with some excuse.”

Brexit planning

Luck describes the current political climate as “feral”.

On the question of how you plan for Brexit outcomes when you are running a quarter-of-a-billion-pound charity, he says: “It’s really difficult to have a plan for an outcome where you have no idea what the consequence is. 

“Even government and Parliament don’t know the consequences of any of the potential outcomes, so for us to be able to say we’ve cracked it, we’ve got the plan, would be somewhat outrageous. We’re going to have to react to the context.”

Editor’s note: this story has been corrected to describe the Shaw Trust as a quarter-of-a-billion-pound charity rather than quarter-of-a-million.

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