Fundraising costs at Willow Foundation down – but not far enough

  1. On 23 October 2017, I exclusively revealed the excessive – and increasing – fundraising costs at charity Willow Foundation (registered charity number: 1106746). Willow has just filed its 2017 accounts at the Charity Commission. These show the charity at last reduced its fundraising costs last year – but these remain far too high.
  2. Willow is a growing national charity that provides “special days” for seriously ill young adults. In both 2015 and 2016, an unacceptably high proportion of income was spent on fundraising – almost 70%! Last year, meanwhile, income was £4.56m (2016: £4.29m), of which £2.68m (2016: £2.97m) went on fundraising costs. So nearly 60% (59%) of income was swallowed up this way in 2017 – clearly an improvement. Nevertheless such fundraising costs are still excessive.
  3. My first report also showed Willow’s fundraising costs were significantly higher than those at a national charity with a similar business model, Make-A-Wish Foundation UK (registered charity number: 295672). Make-A-Wish UK grants “wishes” to “children and young people” with life-threatening illnesses. It hasn’t yet filed its 2017 accounts at the commission. However, the charity filed them at Companies House on 9 May 2018 (registered company number: 02031836). Last year, income was £10.71m, of which £3.47m – a reasonable 32% – went on fundraising costs.
  4. Willow is to be commended for finally reducing fundraising costs as a proportion of income in 2017, after five years of year-on-year increases (see 23 October 2017 post). Nevertheless at almost 60%, compared to 32% at similar Make-A-Wish UK, Willow has much more to do.
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Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust STILL hides its funders

  1. On 9 August 2018, I revealed that charity Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust (AFPT) refuses to disclose its funders. Private Eye magazine also reported my findings at the start of September (see 6 September 2018 post).
  2. On 19 September 2018, AFPT filed its third set of accounts, for 2017, at the Charity Commission. For the first time it wasn’t late filing. Nevertheless one thing remains the same: the new accounts still hide who’s funding the charity (income last year: £60k). Why?

Charity Commission unaccountable on Veterans Council

  1. Last month I asked the Charity Commission a simple and clear question after its press office had in February 2018 provided a statement about the commission‘s future actions in relation to one of my charity investigations. Following an unexplained delay and an email reminder, I finally received a response this month. The charity regulator refused to answer the question.
  2. The charity is Veterans Council (registered charity number: 1159215), which I wrote about on 25 February 2018. There I revealed five concerns about its then newly filed first accounts, which were a year late! As you can see, a commission spokesperson said in an email then: “I can confirm that we are looking into these concerns and will be contacting the charity about them”.
  3. Seven months later, mid-September, I requested an update: what, if anything, has the regulator done since I published my findings in February?
  4. A press officer finally wrote in reply on 2 October: “We have no further updates at this time. You’re welcome to get back in touch with us in the future to check if there are any developments.”
  5. Her response was inadequate. I therefore pointed out the failure to answer the question, and asked again for an answer. I’ve received nothing.
  6. Meanwhile, what’s happening with Veterans Council? Well, at 9 October 2018 its second accounts, for 2017, are currently 251 days overdue, according to the Charity Commission public register of charities. Just 251 days.
  7. The regulator continually bangs on about how charities must be must be open, transparent and accountable. It’s right, of course. What a pity, then, the commission again fails to practise what it preaches (for another recent example, see 22 June 2018 post).

Not quite the full story on Boris Johnson’s re-employment by the Telegraph

  1. In July 2018, Boris Johnson was re-employed by the Daily Telegraph newspaper on a salary of £275k a year for his weekly column, according to parliament’s latest (at 1 October 2018) register of MPs’ financial interests.
  2. There’s something interesting in the ex-foreign secretary’s disclosures on the register about the job. There he states: “I consulted ACOBA [Advisory Committee on Business Appointments] about this appointment.”
  3. That’s not quite the full story, though. True, Mr Johnson consulted the committee – but after his appointment had been announced. ACOBA duly rebuked him in August 2018 for failing to follow the ministerial code: he should have sought its advice prior to acceptance of a new role. Thus the committee refused to give retrospective advice.
  4. On 4 October 2018, The Guardian, among other newspapers, reported Mr Johnson’s newly revealed Telegraph salary – here’s the online report: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/oct/03/daily-telegraph-rehires-boris-johnson-on-275000-salary. What a pity, though, it omitted to mention why the former foreign secretary’s disclosures on the register about the role were incomplete.

Actegy’s multi-million-pound tax dispute with HMRC continues

  1. On 26 November 2016, I exclusively revealed that before the 2016 EU referendum prominent Brexit campaigner Sir Ian Botham was promoting a product made by a multinational company that was in a multi-million-pound tax dispute with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). Nearly two years later, the ex-cricketer is still advertising the REVITIVE Circulation Booster in national newspapers – and the manufacturer is still in a multi-million-pound tax dispute with HMRC.
  2. Sir Ian has been a REVITIVE “ambassador” in the UK since September 2013. REVITIVE is produced by Actegy Ltd (registered company number: 04819502), a family-owned firm, started in 2003. Actegy operates across the world, but its UK office in Bracknell, Berkshire is the global headquarters.
  3. Actegy has consistently failed to file its accounts on time at Companies House from and including the 2010 accounts – and this year is no exception. The latest accounts, made up to 30 June 2017, were due by 31 March 2018. Yet Actegy finally filed them on 7 Sep 2018!
  4. Even then, I found an error in the independent auditors’ report, in their “emphasis of matter” paragraph. There the auditors refer to and quote from “note 24” in the notes to the financial statements. The relevant note is actually 26 (“contingent liabilities”). Their “emphasis of matter” paragraph highlights the ongoing multi-million-pound tax dispute with HMRC.
  5. On 12 September 2018, I brought the error to the attention of the independent auditors, TWP Accounting LLP, in an email. Partner Paul Hawksley confirmed the error by reply, and said they were arranging for a corrected version to be filed at Companies House. “Amended” accounts were duly publicly available there on 26 September 2018.
  6. When will Actegy resolve its multi-million-pound tax dispute with HMRC?

Blockchain APPG: who was secretariat and when?

  1. Parliament records show a new public affairs company acted as secretariat for an all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for six months from the group’s inception in January 2018 – but the owner and sole director of the now-defunct firm says it didn’t ever provide secretariat services for the APPG.
  2. The APPG on blockchain first appeared on parliament’s register of APPGs at 31 January 2018. Back then Progress Strategy Partners Ltd (PSP) was listed as acting as the group’s secretariat, and continued in the role on the next three updates of the register: 14 March, 26 April and 6 June.
  3. Big Innovation Centre (BIC) replaced PSP as secretariat on the 18 July edition of the register.
  4. PSP was incorporated on 27 November 2017; and then dissolved on 26 June 2018, according to Companies House records. Jon Aydon was owner and sole director.
  5. If the disclosures on parliament’s register are accurate, there’s evidence PSP, when working with the APPG, breached company law in two ways before it was dissolved.
  6. First, on 28 March 2018, PSP applied to be struck off at Companies House, filings there show. Yet both the 26 April and 6 June editions of the register of APPGs list PSP as secretariat. Thus PSP was still trading after its application for voluntary strike-off, according to the two editions of the register of APPGs. Continuing to trade after 28 March 2018 is a clear breach of company law.
  7. Second, on 22 January 2018, the blockchain APPG received £9k-10.5k benefits in kind from PSP for the year from 22 January 2018 until 21 January 2019, according to the register of APPGs. Meanwhile, a company can’t apply to be struck off at Companies House, if it has traded in the last three months. (http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/company-strike-off-dissolution-and-restoration/strike-off-dissolution-and-restoration) So at 22 January 2018 PSP was trading, which is less than three months before the firm applied for voluntary strike-off on 28 March 2018. Another clear breach of company law, therefore.
  8. Something else of concern: PSP never filed any accounts at Companies House. Thus we simply know nothing about its finances when it worked with the blockchain APPG. Without accounts, there’s no transparency and accountability.
  9. The finances of PSP are opaque in another way. As I say, as of the 18 July edition of the register of APPGs, BIC acts as the group’s secretariat. There BIC discloses the companies that pay it to perform this function. In contrast, PSP didn’t reveal any sponsors on the register of APPGs. Perhaps there weren’t any. Either way, this only reinforces the lack of transparency around PSP and its source(s) of income, when working with the group.
  10. On 30 August 2018, I emailed Damien Moore MP about these issues: he’s chair and registered contact for the APPG. I also sent a reminder a week later. Mr Moore hasn’t responded to either message.
  11. Mr Aydon, meanwhile, said in an email: “No secretariat services were ever provided by PSP and no trading took place.” Which contradicts the information on parliament’s register. “The in-kind figure [value of registrable benefits received by the group from his business] was an estimate provided prior to Christmas 2017 for the coming year January 2018 to January 2019 to provide secretariat services. However no secretariat services were ever provided by PSP,” he added. Mr Aydon finished: “PSP was not required to file any accounts”; and it “did not receive any sponsorship or income”.
  12. As well as showing the involvement of BIC for the first time, the blockchain APPG entry on the 18 July edition of parliament’s register disclosed a new co-chair: Grant Shapps MP. Mr Shapps was instrumental in the switch from PSP to BIC, according to the latter organisation. An unidentified spokesperson for BIC wrote in an email: “The previous secretariat was registered when Damien Moor [sic] MP first formed the APPG on Blockchain. At the same time, Rt [sic] Grant Shapps MP was looking into forming an APPG on Blockchain and Big Innovation Centre, as the secretariat for already existing APPG on AI was referred to him as a centre of excellence with capacity and experience in this field. Once the two MPs decided to co-chair one group instead of continuing separately, Big Innovation Centre was selected as the one to continue delivering on the programme.”
  13. Things move fast in blockchain: Mr Shapps is no longer co-chair on the current (at 29 August 2018) register of APPGs, the next update after 18 July. That’s because he suddenly resigned as co-chair at the end of July – after the Financial Times newspaper revealed that the former Tory party chair had allegedly failed to make full and accurate disclosures on the register of MPs’ financial interests in relation to his role with blockchain start-up OpenBrix.
  14. In its short life to date, the blockchain APPG has experienced important comings and goings – of both people and organisations. Yet the group has failed to account publicly for these changes. Here my focus has been on the exact role of PSP with the APPG, the firm’s finances and the accuracy of information on the public record about it. The disclosures about PSP on parliament’s register of APPGs are inconsistent with some of what Mr Aydon told me about the relationship between his company and the group. APPG chair Mr Moore needs to explain the discrepancies.

Private Eye reports Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust exposé

  1. The current issue of Private Eye (1478) reports my Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust exposé (see 9 August 2018 post).
  2. Private Eye is the UK’s number one best-selling news and current affairs magazine.
  3. You won’t find the report – or much else from the magazine – on the Eye website because the online presence is minimal. Here’s a scanned copy of the page from my subscription copy – see middle column: Private Eye 1478.