Care after Combat: Trustee Andrew Griffiths MP and Conservative campaigning undermine its credibility

  1. Here I reveal two reasons for concern about military charity Care after Combat as it seeks more money from the government for its work with veterans, following the £1m it received in 2015 (registered charity number: 1159342).
  2. First, there is conflicting evidence whether disgraced former government minister Andrew Griffiths MP was or is a trustee. What’s more, the charity’s response – from the chief executiveto a polite request for clarification was obstructive, dismissive and rude. Second, Care after Combat uses its official Twitter account for party-political campaigning, as the recent Conservative party conference shows.
  3. Registered as a charity on 25 November 2014, Care after Combat was founded by comedian Jim Davidson, who is chief executive. His is a paid role plus “expenses”, as Andrew Gilligan revealed in The Sunday Times newspaper on 25 September 2016. His report also mentioned that Mr Griffiths, then a government whip, was a trustee at the time. But was he?
  4. The charity’s 2016 trustees’ annual report shows Mr Griffiths became a trustee on 10 March 2016. Further, Care after Combat announced on its website on 23 March 2016 his appointment as a trustee (screen shot in Figure 1). So that’s clear then. Not quite.

    Figure 1. Andrew Griffiths MP appointed as a trustee: Care after Combat website on 23 March 2016

  5. The Companies House records for Care after Combat don’t show the concomitant appointment of Mr Griffiths as a director (registered company number: 09152620).
  6. Also, Mr Griffiths didn’t disclose he was a trustee of Care after Combat in parliament’s list of ministers’ interests at December 2016. There the then government whip lists roles with six charities, none of which are Mr Davidson‘s.
  7. Meanwhile, the charity’s 2017 trustees’ annual report, its latest, omits to mention trustee Mr Griffiths. There’s no record of him at all.
  8. Again, the list of ministers’ interests at December 2017 shows Mr Griffiths‘ posts with now five charities, none of which are Care after Combat.
  9. Mr Davidson is public contact, too, for the charity. I emailed him two questions about alleged trustee Mr Griffiths. First, why don’t the Companies House records for Care after Combat show the concomitant appointment of Mr Griffiths as a director? Second, why does the 2017 trustees’ annual report omit to mention trustee Mr Griffiths?
  10. Mr Davidson replied instantly: “With the greatest of respect……… [sic] You are clearly without all the facts. I would suggest you aim your questions to Companies House or the Charities [sic] Commission.” I didn’t respond.
  11. A few minutes later I received another message from him: “I’ve just looked you up…. [sic] have you nothing better to do? Sad [sic]It could have been President Trump of the US.
  12. The lack of reference to alleged trustee Mr Griffiths in Care after Combat‘s 2017 trustees’ annual report raises serious questions about the management of the charity and its record-keeping. If he had resigned as a trustee, it should be recorded in the annual report. Similarly, the absence of filings at Companies House about Mr Griffiths as a director needs explanation.
  13. Mr Griffiths isn’t currently listed as a trustee of Care after Combat on the Charity Commission public register of charities.
  14. In July, Mr Griffiths resigned as minister for small business – after the Sunday Mirror newspaper revealed that he had sent hundreds of sexually explicit messages to two female constituents, both over 20 years younger than him. Mr Griffiths, who is married with a young child, continues as MP for Burton, sitting as an independent in light of ongoing investigations.
  15. Mr Griffiths didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    Figure 2. Care after Combat re-tweets glowing assessments of 2018 Conservative party conference by justice secretary David Gauke and party chair Brandon Lewis on 3 October 2018

  16. Care after Combat has been closely linked to the Conservatives from the beginning. Mr Davidson is a long-term public supporter of the party. Thus the formal involvement of Tory MP Mr Griffiths as a trustee isn’t surprising. Particularly concerning, though, is the charity’s use of its official Twitter account for Conservative campaigning. I refer to its tweets around this year’s Tory party conference, for example, which took place in Birmingham from 30 September until 3 October. Here I show examples from two days, but there are many others. First, at the end of the conference, Care after Combat re-tweeted glowing assessments of the event by justice secretary David Gauke and party chair Brandon Lewis (screen shot in Figure 2). Second, on 1 October, the charity tweeted and re-tweeted Tory MP Conor Burns: “Conor Burns. Great supporter. Good friend. Top bloke. Nuff said” (screen shot in Figure 3). The same day it re-tweeted a quote from Defra secretary Michael Gove’s conference speech, a quote strongly attacking Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Figure 3).

    Figure 3. Care after Combat tweets and re-tweets Tory MP Conor Burns on 1 October 2018; and re-tweets quote from Defra secretary Michael Gove, which strongly attacks Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

  17. Charities are prohibited from party-political campaigning. Thus Care after Combat‘s tweets in support of the Conservatives are unacceptable. Charities must be politically neutral.
  18. Care after Combat has recently appointed a political lobbyist, Hume Brophy, according to the firm’s disclosures on the current register of the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC), that from 1 June 2018 until 31 August 2018. The charity wasn’t a Hume Brophy client on the previous register. Here there’s a yet another link to the Conservatives and the government! Former government minister James Wharton is executive chair of corporate and public affairs at the political lobbyist.
  19. Care after Combat is lobbying government for more money, it appears. On funding, its 2017 trustees’ annual report says: “The next twelve months will indicate the commitment of Her Majesties [sic] Government to Care After Combat’s cause and the Phoenix project that it helped to establish.” Back in 2015, the government somewhat controversially awarded the charity £1m from the LIBOR fund, which was established by then Conservative chancellor George Osborne to support veterans. On 25 September 2016, The Sunday Times revealed that Tory ex-Brexit secretary David Davis had the previous year written a letter to Mr Osborne in support of the charity receiving a grant from the LIBOR fund. Clearly, Mr Davidson‘s links to senior Conservatives helped secure the £1m from government for what was then a new charity without a meaningful track record.
  20. The lack of clarity and transparency around when Mr Griffiths was or is a trustee, if indeed he ever was, is unacceptable. The apparent deficiencies in the charity’s reporting of his role only adds to the concern, as does its contemptuous response to legitimate questions. Meanwhile, Care after Combat‘s communications on Twitter demonstrate it isn’t politically neutral. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that founder Mr Davidson as chief executive – salaried plus “expenses”, of course – is overly dominant and conflicted. Being a right-wing comedian and long-term Conservative campaigner is one thing. Being the chief executive of a charity is another – or at least should be. The two roles are simply incompatible, even without the fact that Care after Combat has been dependent on government largesse (Conservative chancellor) and is lobbying for more.
  21. ADDENDUM: For the avoidance of doubt, this analysis isn’t politically motivated. The problems arise because even as a charity chief executive, Mr Davidson, who styles himself “the people’s comedian”, has been and continues to be a public supporter of a political party. A party that as the government holds the purse strings.
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British Plaque Trust: The trust that isn’t a trust

  1. In the first week of October, several national newspapers reported comments from broadcaster Mike Read in his capacity as chair of a body called the British Plaque Trust. There are too many commemorative blue plaques, he complained. However, none of the reports I saw scrutinised Mr Read’s grand-sounding organisation, which produces and erects blue plaques.
  2. There is little information on the British Plaque Trust website. The only way to contact the body is via Mr Read’s email address there. I therefore emailed him two questions. First, what is the organisation’s legal structure? Second, how is it funded? Not receiving a response, I sent a reminder ten days later. This time Mr Read did reply, writing: “I have discussed all aspects of the BPT, what we do and how we do it as part of many splendid interviews with the nationals and many radio stations.”
  3. Mr Read’s lack of transparency and accountability was disappointing. Nevertheless I obtained answers to the two questions via one of its patrons, Lord Michael Grade. His office passed my query to Ian Freeman, who is treasurer of the British Plaque Trust. Mr Freeman said in an email that it’s a “not-for-profit, philanthropic organisation”. He continued: “We make no money from the BPT – in fact Mike and I spent a considerable amount of our own money establishing it. We have no legal structure as such and the plaques are funded by the people who ask us to erect them, e.g. the BBC, Norwood Jewish Orphanage, HMV, the Magic Circle etc. Basically we just facilitate the event and get the plaque produced.”
  4. I also received a second message from Mr Read, a dismissive and rude one. He wrote: “Listen Dr May, I have no idea why I respond again having read your email to Michael Grade citing my lack of response…In case you have short term memory [sic] it is reprinted below. Don’t lie Dr May you’ll be found out.” It was laughable. I duly forwarded to Lord Grade my original email to Mr Read, so that he could see the two questions I put to the broadcaster. For the avoidance of doubt, I hadn’t referred to Mr Read’s “lack of response” – but the fact that he refused to answer the two questions.
  5. One more thing: the name of the organisation. I asked Mr Freeman in an email why “trust” appears in the name. Here what is the exact meaning of “trust”? The treasurer replied: “The British Plaque Trust is just a name – the word trust has no specific meaning. As I stated previously, we are a philanthropic organisation.” In other words, the British Plaque Trust isn’t a trust! So use of “trust” in the name is potentially misleading: it could create the impression that the organisation is a charitable trust, for example. Further, trust” can only be used in a company name if the registered company is actually a trust. The British Plaque Trust may sound grand, but its name isn’t even accurate.

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.

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?