On Board - A guide for Board Members of Public Bodies in Scotland (April 2015)

This Guide provides much of the basic information that a Board Member will need to understand their role as a member of the Board of a public body in Scotland.

Role and Responsibilities of the Board Member

Your specific role as a Board member will depend on the role of the Board to which you have been appointed and the capacity in which you have been appointed, but will normally cover a number of general duties and responsibilities.

Individual Board members should act in accordance with the responsibilities of the Board as a whole and comply at all times with the Code of Conduct adopted by the public body and with the rules relating to the use of public funds and to conflicts of interest. In this context 'public funds' means not only any funds provided to the public body by the Scottish Ministers but also any other funds falling within the stewardship of the public body, including trading and investment income, gifts, bequests and donations. General guidance on Board members' responsibilities will be summarised in their letter of appointment.


The Board member

  • Understands the operational environment in which their public body operates within the context of the wider public service delivery landscape;
  • Attends Board meetings on a regular basis and is well prepared by reading relevant papers in advance and, if necessary, seeks further information to ensure their understanding;
  • Attends training events and keeps up to date with subjects relevant to the public body's work;
  • Contributes to the work of any committees that have been established by the Board;
  • Represents the Board at meetings and stakeholder events when required;
  • Contributes to strategic development and decision-making;
  • Clarifies which decisions are reserved for the Board and delegation of those which are not;
  • Monitors the reporting of performance and holds management to account through purposeful and constructive challenge and scrutiny;
  • As necessary, seeks further information than that which is provided to give assurance on organisational performance;
  • Questions and, as necessary, challenges proposals made by fellow Board members and the executive team constructively and carefully to reach and articulate a considered view on their suitability;
  • Provides a creative contribution to the Board by providing independent oversight on issues of strategy, performance and resources;
  • Establishes and promotes the public body's role in the community.

Performance Appraisal

You have been appointed to the Board because your personal skills, knowledge and experience match the criteria for the post and meet the needs of the public body. Your performance as a Board member will be regularly reviewed throughout the term of your appointment, usually by the Chair of the public body. All Board members should receive a performance appraisal every year that assesses their performance in relation to certain pre-established criteria and objectives, and provides an opportunity for meaningful dialogue.

The Chair is responsible for the annual appraisal of the Chief Executive and the Chair will be appraised on an annual basis by the relevant Scottish Government Director or Deputy Director (as appropriate).

Succession Planning

The Scottish Ministers are responsible for succession planning to ensure Boards have the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to fulfil their role economically, efficiently and effectively. They will determine the period for which an appointment, re-appointment or extension to an appointment term is to be made, based on the needs of the public body concerned.

The Scottish Ministers will consider whether the needs of a Board will most effectively be met by an appointment, re-appointment or extension to an appointment term subject to any relevant provisions in the legislation which established the public body. They will balance the continuity provided by re-appointment and term extensions with the opportunity to increase the diverse range of relevant skills, knowledge and experience on a Board by making a new appointment through open competition.

Re-appointment to the Board

You may be re-appointed for second and subsequent terms in the same role without open competition, if you possess the skills and knowledge required on the Board at the time of re-appointment. You will only be considered for re-appointment if your performance has been assessed as effective during the initial period of appointment. The final decision as to whether or not you are re-appointed ultimately rests with the Minister, subject to the specific nature of your public body's constitution, the needs of the Board for the foreseen period of the re-appointment and the terms upon which you are appointed. No member's total period of appointment in the same position may exceed eight years. This eight year maximum is based on the aggregate time in post and applies regardless of whether the time in post was continuous or not. The terms and conditions of re-appointment should be outlined in a re-appointment letter.

Nomination to the Board of Another Organisation

Some public bodies have the right to nominate one or more Board members to the Board of another organisation. If you are nominated to be a Board member on a public body which is also a limited company, you will assume personal responsibilities as a Company Director under the Companies Acts. Any breach of your legal responsibilities as a Company Director could have serious consequences for you personally. If you are in any doubt as to your position, you should take legal advice from the Board's legal advisers.

Civil Liability as a Board Member

If you, as an individual Board member, incur a civil liability in the course of carrying out your responsibilities for the Board, you will not have to pay anything out of your own pocket provided that you have acted honestly and in good faith. However, this indemnity does not protect you if you have acted recklessly or in bad faith.

Removal from Office

In many cases, the founding legislation or the Board's standing orders will set out the grounds on which you may be removed as a Board member, such as:

  • Bankruptcy
  • Becoming incapable of performing your duties as a Board member
  • Being convicted of an indictable offence.

Charity Trustees

Some public bodies hold charitable status. This has implications for Board members who will also act as charity trustees for the purposes of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005. A charity trustee is a person who has the general control and management of the administration of a charity. A charity may refer to its charity trustees in a number of ways including management committee members, directors and Board members. If a Board member is also the trustee of the charity, they will have the same general duties of any other charity trustee as set out at section 66 of the 2005 Act. The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator's guidance publication, 'Guidance for Charity Trustees', gives further details on the duties of charity trustees.

The Role of Non-Ministerial Appointed Members

The vast majority of Board members in Scotland are appointed by Scottish Ministers; however there are instances where Board composition varies to include a mix of directly elected or local authority nominated members. Provision for such arrangements will normally be set out in the public body's enabling legislation.

In circumstances where it is considered appropriate, a mix of Board membership is generally designed to deliver a balance between local and national representation in the decision-making process.

However, regardless of composition, all Boards are expected to play a key role in the delivery of the Scottish Government's Purpose through alignment with the National Performance Framework, and are required to adhere to the established principles of public sector accountability and governance set out in this guidance, including collective responsibility for decisions and actions and confidentiality. Further clarification about roles and responsibilities should be provided by the Chair and/or the Chief Executive.


Email: Gordon Quinn

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