Tom Watson MP accepts gift of four tickets for football match from Sky Bet

  1. The latest (at 18 June 2018) register of MPs’ financial interests shows that Tom Watson MP accepted a gift of four tickets for the Sky Bet Championship play-off final, a football match that took place on 26 May 2018. The total value was £392. Sky Betting and Gaming (Sky Bet), the gambling company, was the donor. As well as being deputy leader of Labour, Mr Watson is shadow culture secretary.
  2. I‘m astonished at his decision for at least four reasons.
  3. First, as shadow culture secretary, Mr Watson surely shouldn’t be compromised or appear to be compromised by accepting gifts from the gambling industry. Gambling is within his remit – and, as everyone knows, there are many controversies around the industry and its regulation.
  4. Second, the shadow culture secretary regularly lambasts the gambling industry. On 15 June 2018, for example, The Times newspaper revealed that the government wouldn’t be introducing its £2 maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) until April 2020 after the Treasury struck a backroom deal with bookmakers. The Guardian newspaper followed up the story the next day, where Mr Watson blasted the government for its two-year delay: “Capitulating to a two-year delay is a pathetic move from a fundamentally weak government. Those who praised the government when the announcement was made will feel badly let down. They are already rolling back on their promises and allowing these machines to ruin more lives.” Last weekend, meanwhile, Mr Watson turned his fire on online gambling, telling the Financial Times newspaper: “Britain is in the throes of a hidden epidemic of gambling addiction, with the rise in online and smartphone gambling a central part of the problem. There has been an explosion of new digital products since the last law was passed to regulate gambling. The current laws aren’t fit for the purpose of regulating these new products. If we are to get a grip on the rise of problem gambling we need a new Gambling Act fit for the digital age.”
  5. Third, Sky Betting and Gaming is a leading online gambling firm – and so one of the companies fuelling Mr Watson’s “hidden epidemic of gambling addiction”. (Sky Bet is its sports betting brand.)
  6. Fourth, Sky Betting and Gaming, as its name suggests, has a longstanding association with satellite broadcaster Sky PLC. Indeed, Sky held a controlling stake until 2015, when it sold an 80 percent stake to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners. Sky continued as partner, retaining a 20% stake and consenting to a long-term licence of the Sky brand. In April 2018, CVC and Sky in turn sold the firm to Canadian betting behemoth The Stars Group for £3.4 billion. Nevertheless Sky retains an interest with a small stake in Stars, and the Sky trademarks are still used under licence. Sky, of course, was founded by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who owns 39.14% of the firm. Mr Murdoch’s company News International was seriously damaged by the 2011 phone-hacking scandal at the now-closed News of the World newspaper. And Mr Watson was one of the leading campaigners who helped expose wrongdoing at the infamous tabloid. In 2012, he published a well-known book with journalist Martin Hickman on the alleged abuses of power by Mr Murdoch’s UK newspapers not only the News of the World, “Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and The Corruption of Britain”. Mr Watson remains a vocal critic of Mr Murdoch as the mogul continues his protracted stop-start battle for full control of Sky.
  7. Four reasons, then, why I’m astonished Mr Watson accepted the gift of four tickets for a football match from Sky Bet.
  8. Mr Watson didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Andrea McLean cover undermines the editorial integrity of Menopause Matters magazine

  1. Menopause Matters (MM) is a trusted and influential source of information for both women experiencing the menopause, and healthcare professionals. NHS Choices, for example, which is the official website of the NHS in England, links to the MM website (screen shot in Figure 1). MM began as a website, but now also publishes a quarterly magazine of the same name. The magazine can be read online for free at the website, or as print copy via paid subscription. Although rammed full of ads for menopause-related products and services, both the website and magazine loudly proclaim MM’s independence. The cover of the latest issue of the magazine, however, represents a significant blurring of the separation between editorial and advertising.

    Figure 1. NHS Choices links to Menopause Matters website at 26 June 2018

  2. I first wrote about MM on 13 December 2017, exposing that it had been secretly promoting advertisers on Twitter. Hidden commercial interests continue to be a problem, as the cover of the current magazine shows. A beaming Andrea McLean, the TV presenter and author, appears on front of the new summer 2018 issue (issue 52) – yet there’s nothing about her in the magazine’s editorial content (screen shot in Figure 2).

    Figure 2. Front cover of Menopause Matters magazine summer 2018 issue (issue 52) at 8 June 2018

  3. There are at least three problems with this.
  4. First, a magazine’s cover photo always directly relates to editorial inside – unless it’s explicitly identified as an ad.
  5. Second, while there’s nothing about Ms McLean in the editorial content, she does feature prominently in a huge ad for Become clothing on p.18-19 (screen shot in Figure 3). The cover photo, therefore, is linked to an ad inside, not an article(s). Thus the cover is misleading and dishonest, given it isn’t marked as an ad.

    Figure 3. Ad for Become clothing in Menopause Matters magazine summer 2018 issue (issue 52) at 26 June 2018

  6. Third, the cover photo of Ms McLean actually came from advertiser Become: it appears on the clothing firm’s homepage (screen shot in Figure 4). She’s modelling the “limited edition grapefruit cami top”. Thus, again, the cover is misleading and dishonest, because it isn’t identified as an ad.

    Figure 4. Become clothing homepage at 8 June 2018

  7. Previously, I noted Ms McLean using national newspaper interviews to plug Become (see 21 March 2018 and 3 April 2018 posts).
  8. Here magazine editor Pamela Brook blurred the separation between editorial and advertising, I believe. Hidden commercial interests remain a problem at “independent” MM, therefore.
  9. I put these points to Ms Brook in an email. She replied: “The front cover picture was provided with no intention of it being seen as an ad, and no money was exchanged for use of this front cover image. It was used in good faith and we do not accept it was either dishonest or misleading.” The editor finished: “We appreciate your attention and will be careful not to include any similar pictures in the future.”

Response from Charity Commission: Youth Cancer Trust (UK) Limited

  1. Today (22 June 2018) I received a comment for publication from the Charity Commission in response to my investigation into charity Youth Cancer Trust (UK) Limited (registered charity number: 1064736) (see 21 May 2018 post). YCT is a long-established, national charity that is based in Bournemouth.
  2. I exposed the excessive fundraising costs at the young people’s cancer charity. The official professional fundraiser retains for itself a staggering 83 per cent (yes, 83 per cent) of the money it raises in the name of YCT. Yet another rip-off professional fundraiser, then.
  3. A commission spokesperson said in an email: “It’s important that charities are transparent to ensure the public understand how their donations are spent. Third-party fundraisers are legally required to tell people what proportion of their donation will go to the charity.” He/she continued: “Charity trustees should always have a clear oversight of the companies they work with, ensuring that any decisions made are in the best interests of their charity. We will assess any information we receive regarding concerns over the allocation of charitable funds by Youth Cancer Trust.”
  4. I then queried the charity regulator’s last sentence. The public rightly expects the commission to “assess” information it receives, I said. That’s a given. What matters is what, if anything, the Charity Commission does with the information. So was the commission actually doing anything as a result of my evidence? If so, what?
  5. The same spokesperson replied: “We will be contacting the charity but we’re unable to comment further at this stage.”

Michelle Collins can’t decide what her skincare company is called

  1. Michelle Collins, the former Coronation Street and EastEnders actress, has launched her own skincare range, Pellum Vero. But she can’t decide what her company is called on her website flogging the beauty products.
  2. That is why I called the company M C Skin Truth,” says the TV star on the “My Story” page of (screen shot in Figure 1). Yet theres no company with that name registered at Companies House. There is, though, her company M.C Skin Truth Ltd (registered company number: 09690679). But M.C Skin Truth Ltd wasn’t mentioned anywhere, by name or number, when I first looked at the website at the start of June 2018.

    Figure 1. “My Story” page at 7 June 2018

  3. Back then the firm had yet another name on another page: it was identified as MC Skin Truth in the address on the “Contact Us” page (screen shot in Figure 2). MC” is obviously different from “M C” and “M.C”. And, of course, the name doesn’t include “Ltd”. MC Skin Truth also appeared at the foot of the homepage then (screen shot in Figure 3).

    Figure 2. “Contact Us” page at 7 June 2018

    Figure 3. Homepage at 7 June 2018

  4. For the avoidance of doubt, neither M C Skin Truth nor MC Skin Truth was or is identified on the website as a trading name of M.C Skin Truth Ltd. Rather, each was or is presented as the company name.
  5. There was a further problem at the start of the month: a registered company number wasn’t disclosed anywhere on the website.
  6. On 7 June 2018, I sent a message to Ms Collins‘ firm via the form on the website. There I pointed out the problems with the website. The message was successfully sent because I received an automated confirmation (“Your enquiry has been successfully sent to the store owner!”).
  7. I didn’t receive a reply. Nevertheless the “Contact Us” page was duly altered to refer to M.C Skin Truth Ltd, and the relevant company number shown (screen shot in Figure 4). Similarly, M.C Skin Truth Ltd was now at the bottom of the homepage (screen shot in Figure 5). However, Ms Collins continues to state That is why I called the company M C Skin Truthon the “My Story” page (screen shot in Figure 6).

    Figure 4. “Contact Us” page at 15 June 2018

    Figure 5. Homepage at 15 June 2018

    Figure 6. “My Story” page at 20 June 2018

  8. On 15 June 2018, I successfully submitted a second message via the form on the website. There I again requested a response to my first message. But to date nothing.
  9. Theres something else to consider. Incorporated on 17 July 2015, M.C Skin Truth Ltd has filed two sets of accounts at Companies House to date. Both show the company as dormant. Therefore, it’s not obvious from Companies House records alone that M.C Skin Truth Ltd is the active firm behind the TV star’s trading website.
  10. M C Skin Truth. MC Skin Truth. M.C Skin Truth Ltd. Three different versions of the name of Ms Collins’ skincare company all on her online shop. Which, if any, is the right one?

GambleAware trustee works for secretive political lobbyist – and fails to disclose role on trustee register of interests

  1. A trustee of key charity GambleAware (GA; registered charity number: 1093910) is working for a secretive political lobbyist – and has failed to disclose the role on the trustee register of interests.
  2. Former MP and government minister Chris Pond was appointed as a trustee of GA, the UK’s leading problem-gambling charity, on 9 March 2017, Companies House filings show. Mr Pond “was until recently head of UK public affairs with Kreab Gavin Anderson”, says his biography on the charity website (screen shot in Figure 1). As you can see, no dates are given. His Who’s Who 2018 entry, however, states Mr Pond worked for the political lobbyist 2013-2016. Before becoming a GA trustee, then.

    Figure 1. Trustee Chris Pond biography on GambleAware website at 26 May 2018

  3. In 2017, though, Mr Pond became an “adviser” to another political lobbyist, Centaurus Communications Ltd (registered company number: 08335964), according to its recently re-designed website (screen shot in Figure 2). Nevertheless Mr Pond hasn’t disclosed the role on the GA trustee register of interests (screen shot in Figure 3).

    Figure 2. “Chris Pond joined Centaurus as an adviser in 2017” – Centaurus Communications Ltd website at 30 May 2018

    Figure 3. Chris Pond’s entry on GambleAware trustee register of interests at 26 May 2018

  4. At 17 February 2017 Mr Pond was on the Centaurus website as an “adviser” – that is, prior to joining the charity as a trustee ( There’s nothing special about 17 February 2017: it happens to be the earliest date last year when the Centaurus website was captured on online archive the Wayback Machine.
  5. It’s bad enough a GA trustee is working for a political lobbyist. What’s more, Centaurus is a secretive company: it doesn’t routinely disclose the clients for whom it provides political lobbying services. Thus there’s no client list on its website.
  6. Further, Centaurus Communications isn’t a member of the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC), where members report their political lobbying clients on a public register. The firm isn’t a member of the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) either, where again members disclose their political lobbying clients on a public register.
  7. As I say, Centaurus keeps its clients secret. In addition, Jonathan Horsman, the company’s owner and sole director, didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment about the lack of transparency on clients.
  8. Incidentally, the hidden clients – and non-responsiveness – surely call into question Centaurus’ involvement with the alternative lending all-party parliamentary group (APPG). Mr Horsman at the firm is listed as “public enquiry point” (!) for the APPG on parliament’s latest (at 6 June 2018) register of APPGs. For the avoidance of doubt, I only became aware of Centaurus’ role there because of the information on the register of APPGs.
  9. I first wrote about GA on 27 February 2017, revealing several problems with the charity that undermined its independence and credibility. One of these was that the then new independent chair, Kate Lampard, was – and is – paid proportionately more than the prime minister (almost all charity trustees are unpaid, remember). Another was that half of the then trustees, five of the ten, held senior positions in the UK gambling industry! So it’s important to acknowledge the improvements Ms Lampard has instigated at GA. The most significant is the shake-up in the board of trustees: of the now eleven trustees, only one works for a gambling company (Henry Birch, who is chief executive of The Rank Group PLC).
  10. Astonishingly, though, there’s still nothing on the GA website about working with the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), the trade body for UK advertisers. At date of publication searching the charity website for “Incorporated Society of British Advertisers” or “ISBA” produces no results. On 11 March 2018, I exclusively described four problems with the tie-up. Given the many controversies around gambling advertising (see 11 March 2018 post), the continuing opacity and unaccountability at the charity on its relationship with ISBA only damage public trust and confidence in GA.
  11. Back to Mr Pond and his role at Centaurus Communications. That he was already an “adviser” to the political lobbyist when appointed as a GA trustee is surely unacceptable. No trustee of the UK’s leading charity for problem gambling should be working for a political lobbyist – even if it routinely lists its clients, which Centaurus doesn’t. Equally as serious is Mr Pond’s failure to disclose the role on the trustee register of interests.
  12. I put my findings to GA in an email. In its response, a spokesperson, who withheld his/her name, wrote: “He [Mr Pond] has confirmed that Centaurus Communications Ltd recently asked him to do some paid advisory work on financial service issues going forward, which he appreciates he would need to declare, but he has not begun this work, nor has he received any payment in the past from this company.”
  13. The anonymous spokesperson continued: “May I reassure you that the register of interests is updated at least annually, and when any material changes occur – new paid employment does constitute a material change so we have now added reference to this connection in the published register of interests in advance of the work beginning. While not required to do so unless a specific conflict has arisen, Chris also brought this interest to the attention of other trustees verbally at the start of our most recent board meeting.”
  14. He/she finished: “Finally, given your concerns about the non-disclosure of the company’s client list, Chris has checked and been assured that Centaurus has never undertaken any work related to gambling. His own work with them is in financial services.”
  15. As you can see, GA didn’t explain why “adviser” Mr Pond has been on the Centaurus website from before the date of his appointment as a trustee of the charity (9 March 2017). Oh, and withholding the name of its spokesperson only undermines GA’s credibility. So much for transparency and accountability.

Interview in “Britain’s Secret Charity Cheats” on BBC One

  1. Today (6 June 2018) I appeared in a BBC One TV programme, “Britain’s Secret Charity Cheats”, which went out at 09:15. My interview was filmed at the end of March.
  2. It was episode three of a five-part series being shown at the same time this week, Monday to Friday.
  3. Thankfully, the experience was much better than with an earlier BBC TV programme (see 8 January 2018 post). For a start, there was no intentional plagiarism of facts and images from my blog this time.
  4. Britain’s Secret Charity Cheats” – a title that requires no explanation – is available on the BBC iPlayer:

Inadequate salary disclosure at UK arm of multinational charity linked to the FT

  1. The Financial Times (FT), of all newspapers, would strongly disapprove of an entity knowingly failing to address problems with its accounts. Yet the UK arm of a multinational charity long-linked to the FT is doing just that. What’s more, the charity was unwilling to answer questions about its links to the newspaper, particularly in relation to the charity’s office, which is at the FT’s headquarters in London.
  2. I first came across charity Room to Read UK Limited (registered charity number: 1125803) last month after several full-page ads in the FT. These were promoting the charity’s fundraising event in central London’s Hyde Park on 12 June, an “exclusive” 10km race to find “London’s fastest exec”. All very London-centric and corporate, then.
  3. The charity, whose global headquarters are in San Francisco, USA, promotes both literacy and girls’ education in “developing” countries. Its slogan is “World Change Starts with Educated Children.” (Its capitals.)
  4. In 2016, income at Room to Read UK Limited was £2.7m, according to the latest accounts, made up to 31 December 2016. There are two problems with the accounts, both relating to salary disclosure, which is inadequate. Further, the auditor seemingly failed to spot the problems.
  5. I refer to the requirements for charity accounts, Charities SORP (FRS 102), which the accounts state they follow, in particular Module 9, “Disclosure of trustee and staff remuneration, related party and other transactions” ( The first problem is that the accounts fail to make the required salary disclosures specified in para 9.30. While the second one is that the accounts also fail to make the required salary disclosures specified in para 9.32. Paras 9.31-9.32 relate to “key management personnel”.
  6. Public contact for the charity, Sarah Myers Cornaby, who is “senior development director, Europe and Africa”, acknowledged the two problems in an email. She added that both would be corrected “for our 2017 accounts”.
  7. Thus there’s no intention to address the problems with the 2016 accounts right now. The charity’s decision not to re-submit its latest accounts in the correct format demonstrates a lack of urgency. But that’s not all.
  8. The public rightly expects charity accounts to be full and accurate. How can the public trust and have confidence in Room to Read UK Limited, when it’s happy to knowingly ignore the requirements for charity accounts?
  9. The charity showed similar disdain when I queried its links to the FT. Ms Myers Cornaby said in an email: “The FT is a long-term supporter of Room to Read.” The registered office address for Room to Read UK Limited is the UK home of the FT – and has been since 18 May 2016, according to Companies House records. Ms Myers Cornaby confirmed in the same email that the charity’s office is now actually at that address, too. But she declined to give further details about the arrangements between the newspaper and the charity in relation to the office, writing: “Our arrangements for 2017 will be reflected as appropriate in our future audited accounts.”
  10. Room to Read UK Limited has been linked to the FT for a long time. FT chief executive John Ridding, for example, is chair of the charity’s advisory board, which “exists to support the promotion and fundraising activity of Room to Read in the UK and, where appropriate, Europe.” The charity accounts for the last five years, available on the Charity Commission website, all show the FT boss in that role. In March this year, meanwhile, Mr Ridding became Room to Read’s board chair – chair of the global board of directors, that is (screen shot in Figure 1). The multinational organisation is evidently keen on boards. And Mr Ridding.

    Figure 1. FT chief executive John Ridding appointed as Room to Read’s board chair on 14 March 2018 – charity website at 31 May 2018

  11. Indeed, Mr Ridding is billed as one of the “30 top London executives” taking part in the charity’s forthcoming 10km race in Hyde Park (screen shot in Figure 2). There’s no, er, running away from the fact that when it comes to advertising in the FT, and so extensively, or locating the office, it can’t hurt Mr Ridding is chief executive.

    Figure 2. FT chief executive John Ridding among the “30 top London executives” taking part in Room to Read’s London’s fastest executive race 2018 – charity website at 4 June 2018

  12. The FT is rightly critical of opaque, unaccountable organisations. What a pity, then, Ms Myers Cornaby was unwilling to answer questions about the links between the newspaper and Room to Read UK Limited, particularly in relation to the charity’s office.