NCT president quits and accuses management of 'a culture of fear'

23 Apr 2019 News

The president of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) has resigned and attacked the charity's leaders over changing policies, a corporate management structure and a “culture of fear”.

In a letter written to the charity’s members and seen by Civil Society News, Seana Talbot outlined reasons why she has decided to resign from the parenting charity.

She criticised changes in the charity’s strategy. She said: “It is clear that the executive team, with the support of most of the board, have already taken the charity away from our core mission of birth and breastfeeding, and towards more generic ‘parent support’ with an emphasis on mental health.”

Speaking to Civil Society News, she added that the charity was running fewer antenatal classes and had “watered down” its purpose by trying to be “all things to all people”. She said that this had moved the charity away from its campaigning roots, and that the charity was no longer doing enough to support breastfeeding.

She said the charity had developed a “corporate culture” since the appointment of its new chief executive, Nick Wilkie, in 2015 and was becoming more business focused. Changes in the leadership team have led to a reduction in the number of staff understanding the charity’s values and she increasingly began to feel like “a rebel” in board meetings, she said.

In her letter, she said that there is a “profound lack of trust between many volunteers and practitioners and the executive team” and that the charity was becoming hierarchical, not member led.

'Culture of fear'

She also said there was a “culture of fear” in the charity and added that “dissent is being shut down”. She said that the charity was more concerned about its reputation than dealing with bullying which means that volunteers are unwilling to speak to the executive team.

In her letter, she also referred to financial difficulties in the charity. Since 2016, it has seen a 10 per cent drop in income from £17.3m to £15.6m. She accused the charity’s management of overseeing a “disastrous decrease in income”.

Talbot became a member of NCT in 1995 and was elected as a trustee in 2009. She was elected as president in September 2015 but resigned briefly in 2016, following an inquiry into cots co-branded with NCT that led to the cot death of a baby and an inquiry, the Bednest inquest. She resumed her presidential role in November 2017. Now, she has resigned as president and as a trustee of the charity, effective of 12 April.

In her letter, she added that she had tried to “steer the charity back towards its core mission” but has concluded that those managing the charity are presiding over “a series of damaging and harmful decisions” and leading it “in a direction I cannot support”.

Ultimately, her resignation was because: “I felt like I wasn’t achieving anything from being in the room,” she told Civil Society News.

NCT response 

Jessica Figueras, NCT chair of trustees, said: “We are very grateful to Seána for her long and substantial contribution to the charity over the past 25 years, and wish her well for the future.”

Responding to Talbot’s policy concerns, she said: “Our ambition is to support all parents to have the best possible experience of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. Infant feeding is a priority for NCT because it is a vitally important issue for parents.

“We are also committed to championing other issues that are important for parents including maternity care and mental health.” 

She denied that there is a bullying culture at the charity. She said: “At NCT we want everyone to be treated with dignity, courtesy and respect and we will not tolerate bullying or harassment of any kind.”

“In May 2018, in response to an individual concern, trustees commissioned a piece of work to investigate the scale and nature of any staff, practitioner and volunteer reports of bullying over the last two years. This review assessed any concerns raised through all potential channels across the organisation. It did not identify a culture of bullying within our charity. We are not complacent and we treat any allegation of bullying with the utmost seriousness.” 

Speaking about the charity’s financial position she added: “Like most charities we do face challenges on income. In 2016 we chose to change the way we sell membership to serve parents better, which we anticipated would lead to a significant reduction in membership income. We have improved our financial planning in recent years, so we’ve been able to act early to address these challenges.”

She added that the charity took her views very seriously and had appointed a QC and was investigating Talbot’s complaints against the charity at the time of her resignation.

NCT is governed by a board of 11 trustees. The charity has 5,800 volunteers and 152 employees.


For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector sign up to receive the Civil Society News daily bulletin here


More on