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.

Managing Relationships

Strategic and Operational Responsibilty

It is important that the Board maintains a focus on strategy, performance and behaviour and is not diverted by detailed operational matters which are the responsibility of the Chief Executive and the Senior Executive Management Team.

The Board should clearly differentiate their role in strategic governance and leadership from that of operational management. The Board should protect the Chief Executive and Senior Executive Management Team from individual Board members becoming involved in operational matters. Individual Board members have no authority to instruct the Chief Executive or any member of their staff on such matters.


The Board should give all matters reserved to them due consideration and take ownership of the decisions taken. For instance, the Board should not simply 'rubber stamp' strategy proposals or a draft corporate plan put forward by the Chief Executive. It is important that both the Chief Executive and the Board understand the distinct nature of their roles.

Audit Scotland's report on The Role of Boards provides useful information about the operation of Boards in the public sector, including a series of questions at Annex 3 for Boards and individual Board members to ask themselves about how well they are working.

The Chair and Board Members

Individual Board members should contribute fully to Board deliberations and exercise a healthy challenge function. This expectation extends to Executive Directors (where, as is the case in many NHS bodies, they are Board members). However, it is important that no individual Board member (or Chair) dominates the debates or has an excessive influence on Board decision-making. The Chair has an important role to play in ensuring that all Board members are enabled and encouraged to contribute to Board discussions.

As a Board member, you should support the Chair in their efforts to conduct Board business in an efficient and effective manner. However, you should not hesitate to challenge the Chair if you believe that a decision is wrong (even illegal) or is in contravention of the Framework Document or formal instruction from Ministers, or has been taken without a full and proper debate.

Relationships with Stakeholders

The Board needs to consider the concerns and needs of all stakeholders and actively manage its relationships with them. Stakeholders - and the general public - should have access to full and accurate information on the decision-making processes and activities of each public body and have the opportunity to influence decisions and actions.

Scottish Ministers expect all public bodies to communicate clearly with their stakeholders, make information widely available, consult thoroughly and imaginatively and seek feedback on the public body's performance, acting on it as appropriate.


The Board should consider:

  • Holding an Annual Open Meeting;
  • Holding Board meetings in public, unless there is a good reason not to;
  • Publishing summary reports and/or minutes of meetings;
  • Inviting evidence from members of the public in relation to matters of public concern;
  • Consulting stakeholders and users on a wide range of issues;
  • Making corporate plans and the Annual Report and Accounts widely available.


Email: Gordon Quinn

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