24th December 1999 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers governors' questions.

We are about to change our school caterer, and to my horror one of the applicants is a company my husband used to work for. He was dismissed for alleged false overtime claims. I know he did nothing dishonest, but he was so stressed and ill afterwards that he didn't fight his case. I want to be in on the decision because I hate to think of those cruel and untruthful people who damaged my husband becoming involved with the school. I know my fellow governors believe us. But some say I should stand aside. I think this is unreasonable because we have no pecuniary interest, which is surely what the authorities are concerned about.

Of course, these sad events loom large in your mind. But because you care about your school, you should be careful to do it no harm. The old regulations about governors' meetings did stress pecuniary interest, but even then I always advised caution about any relationship or event that might be held to prejudice a governor and jeopardise a decision she helped make. The new regulations (Statutory Instrument 2163 1999) define special interest more fully and suggest a wider range of circumstances calling for caution. In particular Regulation 57 (2)(b) says that where there is "reasonable doubt" about a person's ability to be impartial, that governor should withdraw. I think this covers your case, although the governing body as a whole is the first arbiter in any question of interpretation.

I am sure your colleagues will make a wise decision, and if you have kept your distance it will be secure against any challenge.

In any case the people concerned with your husband's dispute may well have moved on long ago and if, as it seems, it is a fairly big company, you cannot condemn it for happenings in one small section.

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