Wates Corporate Governance Principles: First Year Reporting


In 2017, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy launched a Green Paper, exploring options to expand the corporate governance requirements for larger private companies. The Companies (Miscellaneous Reporting) Regulations 2018 that followed requires large private companies to publish a statement on their corporate governance arrangements, for example if they follow a specific code.

Alongside this, the Government asked Sir James Wates CBE to head up a coalition which would develop a new set of corporate governance principles for private companies, to support them in reporting in line with the new requirement. The IFB was part of this coalition, alongside the CBI, Institute for Business Ethics, TUC and others. In December 2018, the Wates Corporate Governance Principles were published, and companies began reporting from their 2019 financial year.

While the pandemic delayed the first year of reporting, the Financial Reporting Council has now published an in-depth assessment, conducted with the University of Essex, of uptake and quality of reporting on the Wates Principles. 

On the research, Sir James Wates said:

This research gives us a valuable insight into how the Wates Principles are being applied, in particular providing the timely and rigorous analysis we need to inform public policy decisions about corporate governance. The research shows companies are grasping the spirit of the Wates Principles, and I would expect them to use this report to guide continual improvements in their reporting.”


The Wates Principles

The six principles are:

  • Principle One – Purpose and Leadership – An effective board develops and promotes the purpose of a company and ensures that its values, strategy and culture align with that purpose.
  • Principle Two – Board Composition – Effective board composition requires an effective chair and a balance of skills, backgrounds, experience and knowledge, with individual directors having sufficient capacity to make a valuable contribution. The size of a board should be guided by the scale and complexity of the company.
  • Principle Three – Director Responsibilities – The board and individual directors should have a clear understanding of their accountability and responsibilities. The board’s policies and procedures should support effective decision-making and independent challenge.
  • Principle Four – Opportunity and Risk – A board should promote the long-term sustainable success of the company by identifying opportunities to create and preserve value and establishing oversight for the identification and mitigation of risks.
  • Principle Five – Remuneration – A board should promote executive remuneration structures aligned to the long-term sustainable success of a company, taking into account pay and conditions elsewhere in the company.
  • Principle Six – Stakeholder Relationships and Engagement – Directors should foster effective stakeholder relationships aligned to the company’s purpose. The board is responsible for overseeing meaningful engagement with stakeholders, including the workforce, and having regard to their views when making decisions.

Companies that adopt the Wates Principles should follow them using the ‘apply and explain’ approach ‘in a way that is most appropriate for their particular organisation’. This means not only should businesses apply the Principle in practice, but in their reporting, they should provide a statement that explains how their corporate governance policies and processes operate and how this supports each Principle. This approach was taken to avoid tick box reporting, and rather encourage discussion and improvement by companies adopting the Principles.


Research Findings

The research found that:

  • The Wates Principles were the most widely adopted corporate governance code, with 348 companies adopting them – meaning 77% of companies that adopted a code chose the Wates Principles.
  • Companies were most likely to explain how Principles Three and Six were applied, and least likely to explain how Principle One (Purpose and Leadership) was applied.
  • The highest average level of disclosure was on Principle Four (Opportunity and Risk).
  • More than half of companies (51%) explained their culture.
  • 75% of companies disclosed general information about their board’s balance and diversity, and most disclosed information about the board size and structure.
  • Around 80% of companies disclosed information related to the accountability of directors.
  • A ‘significant number of companies provided information about the channels used to communicate information on principle risks and risk appetite.
  • 91% of companies provided information on who their key stakeholders were. Only 20% of companies discussed the dialogue the board had with these stakeholders.
  • On average, reports were less than 2,000 words.



This first piece of research on the Wates Principles reflects what we have heard in many of our discussions with family firms – that the Principles have supported them in reflecting on, and improving, the governance arrangements in their firms. The response to the Principles in this first year has been very positive and provides a good grounding to continue an iterative process of reflection and improvement.

In his foreword to the Principles Sir James said “My hope is that a wide range of companies – and not just those included in the new legislative requirement to report on their corporate governance arrangements – will use the Wates Principles.”  The Principles were designed to support businesses to improve their corporate governance, providing a clear framework and guidance that would be helpful to private firms of all sizes and complexities. I hope that this research is helpful to those firms which aren’t legally required to report, to understand better how larger firms are applying the Principles in practice and to learn from the examples of best practice given.  

For those companies reporting against the Wates Principles this research will help them identify areas for improvement.  For those larger companies who have not yet adopted the Wates Principles, this research should also demonstrate that this reporting is an opportunity for reflection and improvement, not a burden.

The Wates Coalition will continue to review the application of the Principles, and the quality of reporting. In 2022 the group will consider whether further work is needed on the Principles.

Inspirational female leaders

​We talk to some of our members about the amazing women who have inspired them in business.

Today on International Women’s Day, we celebrate these powerful women and recognise the importance of their influence in our lives and in the success of family businesses

Chloe Benest, Bettys & Taylors Group Ltd

“Our family business story began in 1919, when Frederick Belmont opened his first Bettys tearooms in Harrogate.  Post-war, mid-pandemic and as the suffragette movement gathered momentum, it was a time of massive social change, particularly in terms of gender roles and equality.  Frederick’s vision for Bettys was as a place for women to socialise respectably – something very lacking at the time. 

“Women have continued make their mark on the business for over 100 years: from financial backers to leaders, from waitresses to chairs, from forklift operators to chocolatiers, across Yorkshire and across continents in our supply chain.  Supporting and enabling the career paths of women have been consistent themes, and have had a big impact on me personally. 

“Having grown up in this culture, starting and developing my own career came with quite a few surprises – not every business was the same.  I came back to our business in 2018 to chair our family council, and I have no shortage of strong women role models.  However, my biggest inspiration has always been my mum, Lesley: an artist, a solicitor, a ballet dancer, a cook, a business leader, a parent, a partner, a daughter to name but a few – there’s no shortage of roles or challenges, but she juggles and balances the things she cares about with thought, passion and conviction.

Charley Martin, Marketing Planner, Arco., 5th Generation

“I can’t phrase Arco’s ‘what’ and ‘why’ better than to borrow a colleague’s narrative: we save lives. Arco is an expert in safety, offering products, services and training. I was delighted to be offered a role in the Marketing Department in 2020 by our Head of Communications, Gillian White, building on agency experience in the South. I work within her talented team on our marketing strategy and campaign optimisation.

It’s empowering to be led by such credible women who represent 45% of the Arco workforce, and 35% of our management roles. I recognise the responsibility to learn from them, and in turn be a steward for future generations. I’m fortunate to have worked with many women who have had a significant impact on me and have helped me define my ambitions. International Women’s Day reminds us of our opportunity to leave a positive legacy.

It would be remiss not to acknowledge my mum, Louise as a role model. One of life’s true grafters who’s graciously supported the family and Arco, whilst running her own successful hospitality businesses and volunteering projects. She taught my sister Holly and I the power of kindness, that you get out what you put in, and crucially, how to pick yourself up if plans go Pete Tong.

Amy Rodwell, C. Hoare & Co., 12th Generation

“In November of last year, I became the first of the 12th generation of my family to become a partner of C. Hoare & Co. At the same time, I became the third female partner in the bank’s history. Along with my six fellow partners, I spend most of my working day meeting potential and existing customers of the bank. Another important role is working to support the bank’s ongoing commitment to embed our purpose of being good bankers and good citizens’. Other areas I am particularly interested in include the bank’s carbon footprint and staff wellbeing.

“I have been inspired by many women, but two stand out. The first is the eighteenth-century writer, Mary Wollstonecraft who championed human rights for all. She was gritty, not perfect, and ahead of her time. The other was my History GCSE teacher who, despite going through the death of a close family member, with elegance, grace and resilience continued to tutor us right up until our exams. We were all indebted to her.”

Neil Russell, Chairman, PJ Care

“My mum founded PJ Care in 2000, and I joined shortly before we opened our first home in 2001. We provide specialist neurological care to people that cannot be cared for elsewhere. Since joining, I have carried out almost every role in the business, from chef and handyman to carer, and became Chair in 2017. I was Press Officer for the British Embassy in Poland when my mum asked me to join her and was promised I would be based in the office and wouldn’t be working with the residents. Within 3 days of opening, I was providing personal care and loving the massive change of direction my life had taken.

My mum is undoubtedly the biggest female inspiration on me, she is a force of nature, and the work she had to put in to overcome the misogyny and bigotry she came across was incredible, nothing was going to stop her, and I am delighted to be able to follow in her footsteps and continue her vision of providing a good quality of life to people. Her ethos of “be the best you can be” continues to drive me and the business forwards to great things.

Sonya Eastaugh, William Jackson Food Group

“William Jackson Food Group was founded in 1851 and is a 6th generation-led business. It started as a corner shop and although is now a portfolio of different businesses it has still kept to its roots in food. It even still uses its original bread factory in Hull since 1907 for Jackson’s bread.

“I have been fortunate enough to have been on the board as a family NED since 2016 and am looking forward to taking over as chair later this year as the first of my generation and first female family senior leader in 170 years.

“My mum was my first link to the family business when I was growing up and inspired in me a strong work ethic. As a single mum, she taught word processing part-time, whilst juggling her business degree and looking after my brother and I, and also took a job in the marketing department of Aunt Bessies.

When I look out to other female leaders that inspire me, Jacinda Ardern has been a great role model in how to lead with empathy in difficult times and has normalised starting the conversation around integrating being a mum and work. It is important to see such examples as I believe empowered women empower women.”

Stuart Paver, Pavers shoes

“Our family business, Pavers, was founded by my mother Catherine Paver in 1971 because she couldn’t find comfortable, stylish shoes for a sensible price. We now sell comfortable, stylish shoes, at a sensible price, from our 180+ shops in the UK and EIRE and have a large online business.

“For those lucky enough to know her, Cathy’s tenacity & work ethic were an inspiration. She worked full time into her 80’s building an incredibly successful business and achievinga place in the Drapers Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievement.

“Still family owned-and-run, the business remains true to Cathy’s legacy, and we continue to rely on strong female role models with over 70% of our colleagues being female. Our Foundation also has a strong commitment to female equality, evidenced through grants such as our relationship with The Fawcett Society, a charity working hard to secure gender equality in the UK for the past 150 years. We have given away over £1m to charitable causes since 2018.

“Pavers will be celebrating International Women’s Day at their annual conference taking place on the 8th March, which coincidentally falls on the same day.”

Emily Hendin, Director, CPJ Field

Founded in 1690,  C.P.J. Field is the UK’s oldest funeral directors. Our 10th generation family business is led by myself and my two siblings Jeremy and Charlie. The business employs over 190 colleagues across 37 funeral homes in the South of England.

I am a Director at C.P.J. Field. I head up both the Marketing team; that delivers strategic direction to both internal and external communications across the business, and the People Team; that ensures the business is connected to itself from the bottom up. As part of the latter, I oversee the Training Academy for career progression and the Company Selfie (appraisal) process. I’m also responsible for C.P.J. Field’s “caring for those that care” programme, a bespoke and sector-leading wellbeing support programme for all colleagues.

“New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is a woman in a position of power that I have long since admired. Jacinda was the second world leader to give birth whilst in office and demonstrates quite clearly that it is possible to juggle a career and a family, without compromise. She has a very human approach to her leadership, a quality I admire and look to emulate in my own style.”

Rosie Kenner, Director, The Hoburne Group

“The foundations for the Hoburne Group were formed in 1912 when my great-grandfather, John Burry, bought a piece of land, a farm lot, at auction in Dorset. In the early 1920’s he went on to purchase another significant farm – this one positioned on the clifftops in Hampshire. It was here that farmworkers’ cottages began to be used as holiday homes, and by the 1930’s it was becoming a popular destination for touring caravanners.

“My father, another John Burry, grew the business during the 1970’s through to the 1990’s, and today this highly successful and much respected family business comprises eight holiday parks, three golf clubs, and a portfolio of properties.

“I became involved in the business in 1986 as a Marketing Assistant. In 2002, as my father reached the milestone of 70 years, he passed the role of Chairman of the Hoburne Holiday Park company to me. I am delighted that, in 2020, I passed on this role to my son, John Butters, who is taking the Hoburne Group into its next chapter. I am so proud of him and he is doing a wonderful job as our fifth-generation Chair.

The most inspirational woman for me is Her Majesty the Queen – and she has been so for all of my life. In this especially significant year for her, despite the challenges that she faces, as head of the most famous family business in the world, as well as her constitutional duties, she has never shied away from her responsibilities and has carried them out with grace and dignity while displaying warmth, humour and common sense. She repeatedly demonstrates that she can be strong to a steely degree when required, while still being every inch a woman. For all of these reasons, Her Majesty has been an inspiration to me throughout my life, and like so many people, my admiration for her is total.”