Why won’t the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust disclose its funders?

  1. Charity Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust (AFPT) doesn’t routinely disclose its funders. Worse, it refuses to reveal all of them, despite separate, repeated requests to four individuals: the chair, another trustee, the chief of staff and deputy chief of staff. Senior Conservative MP James Gray, a former member of the commons defence select committee, is chair; while a member of his staff at parliament, Adam Fico, is deputy chief of staff. Although AFPT, like any charity, should be independent of party politics, the deputy chief of staff has publicly praised Tory MP Alan Mak as “a strong supporter of our service personnel” after Mr Mak’s involvement with the charity. Mr Fico’s praise is prominently quoted on both Mr Mak’s website (screen shot in Figure 1) and in a diary the Havant MP wrote for local newspaper Portsmouth News in February 2016. I can find no other example of the deputy chief of staff praising a participant thus.

    Figure 1. Tory MP Alan Mak is “a strong supporter of our service personnel”, says Adam Fico, deputy chief of staff of AFPT: Mr Mak’s website at 19 June 2018

  2. AFPT runs the armed forces parliamentary scheme (AFPS), which offers educational visits to bases and units of all three armed services – Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force – the purpose of which is to inform participants about the operation and work of the armed forces. AFPS is open to MPs and lords.
  3. AFPS long predates AFPT: the charity was only registered on 21 November 2014. To date AFPT has submitted two sets of accounts to the Charity Commission – for financial years 2015 and 2016. Both fail to disclose income sources, only reporting a total figure for “sponsorship received”.
  4. I therefore requested an itemised breakdown of each year’s income, naming sources. Chair and public contact Mr Gray refused to provide this, only saying in an email that AFPT is “funded by donations from the large defence contractors – BAE, Rolls-Royce, and so on”. I asked Mr Gray three times in writing for the exact funders and amounts, but to no avail.
  5. Deputy chief of staff Mr Fico didn’t respond to emailed requests for the funder information, either. Nor did chief of staff Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Longbottom.
  6. Mr Gray only revealed the existence of the chief of staff and named him after I asked who received the “salaries” detailed in the accounts. Neither the trustees’ annual reports nor accounts identify the paid staff or specify their role(s).
  7. Trustee Helen Kennett was the fourth person at the charity I asked in an email for the funder information. Ms Kennett is director of UK government relations at Rolls-Royce PLC, but again this isn’t disclosed in either the trustees’ annual reports or accounts. An automated acknowledgement said Ms Kennett is on maternity leave. Nevertheless the same message gave the names and email addresses of three colleagues at Rolls-Royce who could help in her absence. I contacted Katie Roscoe because she seemed most appropriate from Ms Kennett’s instructions. Ms Roscoe didn’t respond to requests for the funder information.
  8. The AFPT website, meanwhile, has nothing on it except a form to send a message to the charity (screen shot in Figure 2)!

    Figure 2. Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust website at 4 August 2018

  9. As I say, AFPS long predates AFPT. AFPS was founded as a private organisation outside parliament in 1988 by former Tory MP Sir Neil Thorne, who was chair. (There’s confusion about when AFPS was founded: 1989 is often quoted. Here I say 1988 because that’s the year shown in Sir Neil’s Who’s Who 2018 entry.) Sir Neil, now a trustee of AFPT, was an MP from 1979 to 1992. AFPS controversially awarded medals to MPs and lords who had participated in the scheme. Critics said the medals invited ridicule, and were an insult to serving soldiers and veterans. Back in 2008, meanwhile, then Conservative MP Douglas Carswell was ejected from AFPS following speaking in parliament about inadequate military helicopters in Afghanistan. Under the scheme, he’d visited UK forces there and thus had direct experience.
  10. On 11 September 2013, Mr Gray opened a debate in Westminster Hall on the future of AFPS by announcing that the scheme was to be relaunched as a charity, and brought within parliament. In the final sentence of his introduction, he said: “The [relaunched] scheme will be wholly accountable and transparent, with annual accounts, annual general meetings and the rest of it, as we must have in modern times.”
  11. Mr Carswell and several other speakers in the debate emphasised the need for AFPT to be open, transparent and accountable – particularly around lobbying, actual, potential or perceived, by the sponsoring defence companies.
  12. In practice AFPT has been and continues to be opaque and secretive. The concerns about use of the charity for lobbying are legitimate. It’s not only that the big arms companies are notorious for their political lobbying. Trustee Ms Kennett, as we know, is director of UK government relations at Rolls-Royce PLC! Similarly, another trustee, Bob Keen, is head of government relations at BAE Systems PLC. That AFPT is located inside parliament only increases the need for both clarity and transparency around the relationships between sponsors (whoever they are) and politicians. The non-disclosure by the charity on funding and how it operates is unacceptable. The trustees’ annual reports fail to name the parliamentarians taking part in the scheme, for example.
  13. Back to the deputy chief of staff’s public praise for Tory MP Mr Mak. From the beginning, AFPS participants themselves have spoken to local and national newspapers about their experiences with the scheme. What’s new with Mr Mak is Mr Fico’s praise for him in the name of AFPT (“a strong supporter of our service personnel”). Yet charity law requires charities to be, and perceived to be, independent of party politics. I can find no other example of the deputy chief of staff praising a participant in this way. Moreover, what exactly does the deputy chief of staff do anyway?
  14. AFPT’s lack of transparency and accountability only undermine the organisation’s reputation. The irony, of course, is privately-run AFPS was relaunched by Mr Gray as a charity supposedly to improve transparency and accountability. Similarly, the move inside parliament was intended to bolster independence and credibility. Yet its new location only accentuates long-term concerns about use of the scheme by the big defence companies for political lobbying. In its current state, AFPT doesn’t deserve public trust and confidence.