- The current issue of Private Eye (1478) reports my Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust exposé (see 9 August 2018 post).
- Private Eye is the UK’s number one best-selling news and current affairs magazine.
- 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.
- On 5 September 2018, I finally received a response from charity Politics and Economics Research Trust (PERT) to a request for comment (see 2 September 2018 post). It said:
“They [the trustees] do not consider it appropriate to comment on the political leanings of any grantees, other than to say that no projects funded by PERT have any party political bias. However, there are some matters you should be aware of which are not immediately apparent from reading the accounts alone.
In 2017 a grant was made to an individual to summarise the five reports published in earlier years in the ‘Rebalancing the Economy Series‘ with grants from PERT. These reports were published by CPS, IEA, Demos, NEA and IPPR. This summary formed the basis for fringe events at the 2017 Conservative and Labour Party Conferences. [sic] presented by CPS and Demos respectively and sponsored by PERT.
Furthermore a grant application from Demos was substantially approved in principle in 2017, with some minor points requiring clarification. These points were resolved and the grant finally approved in January 2018.
Accordingly the trustees do not consider the statement in the 2017 trustees’ report to be false.”
- What do David “Bumble” Lloyd and Fiona Phillips have in common? Both are broadcasters who write columns for national newspapers. But there’s something else as well. Both have plugged well-known optician Specsavers in their columns, without disclosure of interest.
- On 25 April 2018, I exclusively revealed that Ms Phillips has used her Daily Mirror column more than once to promote Specsavers, without disclosure of interest. Private Eye magazine reported my findings, too (see 3 May 2018 post).
- Cricket broadcaster Mr Lloyd has a column in the Daily Mail (“Bumble at the Test”). On 1 September 2018, he wrote about the England v India fourth Test. Under the headline “Star-studded specs”, a “story” began: “I needed a new set of bins… and up pop Specsavers. I now have five pairs, one for each day of the Test – and very natty they are too.” However, the former international cricketer failed to mention his commercial relationship with the optician. (Daily Mail 1 Sep 2018 p118)(Daily Mail 1 Sep 2018 p119)
- Mr Lloyd is at it on his personal Twitter account, too. On 13 August 2018, for example, he tweeted about a Specsavers competition to win the “ultimate cricket experience”, one involving a chat with him at lunch during the upcoming fifth Test (screen shot in Figure 1). As you can see, again he didn’t make clear that he’s paid to plug the optician.
- Specsavers confirmed the commercial relationship in an email. It pays Mr Lloyd to promote “the importance of good eyesight in sport, as part of our relationship with Test match cricket”. (Specsavers is the official Test partner of the England cricket team.)
- So it’s not only the Daily Mirror that allows high-profile columnists to plug products and services, without disclosure of interest. The Daily Mail does, too.
- In February 2017, charity regulator the Charity Commission published a case report on charity Politics and Economics Research Trust (PERT) after complaints about, among other things, its funding of campaigning organisations with political aims. In July, PERT published its 2017 accounts. There the charity says it funded organisations “across the political spectrum” last year. This is false. It funded five institutions, one of which is a subsidiary of another of the grant recipients – so really four. Three are demonstrably right-wing; while the fourth is politically independent. Further, at 2017 two of the four are related parties to PERT, as the charity rightly discloses. But something it didn’t mention: the vice president of one of the other two organisations is chair of a grant-making charity in his own name. And in four of the last five years, his personal charity has been a major funder of PERT, the accounts (of his charity) show. Thus only one of the four organisations is actually independent of PERT.
- I first mentioned PERT on 15 February 2016, when writing about one of the organisations it funded, now-defunct thinktank Commonwealth Exchange. PERT is linked to the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the high-profile campaign group: indeed the charity was founded in October 2006 as the TaxPayers’ Alliance Research Trust, before changing its name a year later. The Charity Commission published its case report on PERT on 9 February 2017. (www.gov.uk/government/publications/politics-and-economics-research-trust-case-report) As a result of the commission’s intervention, Business for Britain, the precursor campaign group to Vote Leave, had to repay a £50k grant it had received from PERT. (www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/09/vote-leave-chief-matthew-elliott-repays-charitable-grant-anti-eu-dossier-charity-commission)
- On 19 July, PERT filed its 2017 accounts at Companies House (it’s a charitable company). The latest accounts weren’t filed at the Charity Commission, too, because income last year was below the charity regulator’s £25k threshold for submission of trustees’ annual report and accounts. In fact, the first thing to note is how small PERT’s income was last year – a mere £3.3k.
- Of the charity’s £101.6k expenditure in 2017, meanwhile, £80.4k went on grants to institutions. The five recipients were: Big Brother Watch (BBW); CapX; Centre for Social Justice (CSJ); Centre for Policy Studies (CPS); and charity Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). As PERT says, comment website CapX is owned and produced by thinktank CPS – thus PERT really funded four institutions.
- PERT’s funding of campaigning organisations with political aims was the main reason the Charity Commission intervened. Here it’s important to note what the charity says about the four organisations it funded last year: the trustees claim in their annual report that the four are from “across the political spectrum”. This is false. Three are demonstrably right-wing: CPS; CSJ; and IEA. BBW, meanwhile, is politically independent.
- Further, at 2017 two of the four – BBW and CPS – are related parties to PERT, as the charity rightly discloses. Then PERT chair William Norton was also a director of BBW; while trustee Charles Timothy Knox (Tim Knox) was director of CPS.
- But the trustees’ annual report and accounts fail to mention a link between PERT and IEA. Lord Vinson has been vice president of thinktank IEA since 1995, according to his biography on the parliament website. He was chair from 1989 until 1995. Lord Vinson is also chair of a grant-making charity in his own name, Nigel Vinson Charitable Trust (NVCT). And in four of the last five years, his personal charity has been a major funder of PERT, the accounts (of NVCT) show. NVCT gave nothing to PERT in 2017.
- Thus only one of the four organisations is actually independent of PERT: thinktank CSJ.
- BBW deserves scrutiny. The campaign group is a private limited company. It “exposes and challenges threats to our privacy, our freedoms and our civil liberties at a time of enormous technological change in the UK”, according to the website. Strangely, there BBW doesn’t disclose its company directors, only three staff members (screen shot in Figure 1). This opacity is unacceptable. BBW may be, as it says, “cross–party, non-party, independent”. Nevertheless Companies House records reveal it’s currently linked to both PERT and IEA! Thus PERT trustee Ian Moore is also a director of BBW; as is IEA director general Mark Littlewood.
- It’s bad enough the Charity Commission had to intervene at PERT. Worse, post-intervention the charity, despite what it says, didn’t fund organisations “across the political spectrum” in 2017. Three of the four institutions to which PERT awarded grants are demonstrably right-wing; while the fourth is politically independent. Further, three of the four are linked to PERT. It’s a small world in the world of right-wing thinktanks and their funders.
- Bob Cameron-Clarke, PERT administrator (but not a trustee), acknowledged receipt of a request for comment. He said in the email that he’d forwarded the request to the trustees. Having heard nothing over a week later, I gave a reasonable deadline to the charity. I’d assume PERT isn’t going to respond, I said in an email to Mr Cameron-Clarke, if I didn’t receive a comment by then. Nothing arrived.