- Ex-sports minister Tracey Crouch MP has recently acquired two apparently unrelated other jobs. Here I reveal the problematic links between them.
- As of 1 February 2019 the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford is a “senior adviser” to The Playbook, a PR agency for sport, consumer, tech and business brands. Ms Crouch is paid £4.25k a month for “providing advice on the benefits of sport”, according to the register of MPs’ financial interests. It requires “20 hrs a month”. On 24 April 2019, meanwhile, she was appointed as an “independent” member of British racing’s Horse Welfare Board. The former minister will receive “£27k per annum plus reimbursed expenses” for “10 hrs a month”.
- The first problematic link arises because The Playbook’s clients include Great British Racing Limited (GBR), the agency website shows (screen shot in Figure 1). GBR is horseracing’s “official marketing and promotional body, working with all of racing’s stakeholders”, says the GBR website. The firm is owned and controlled by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), according to Companies House records. GBR and BHA share the same address, too (screen shot in Figure 2). The Horse Welfare Board, by happy chance, is also at BHA, as the register of MPs’ financial interests confirms.
- Ms Crouch was already working for The Playbook, therefore, when she joined the Horse Welfare Board. Thus the MP is actually non-independent given GBR is a client of the agency.
- The second problematic link is via political lobbyist Hanover Communications. The Playbook is owned and controlled by Hanover Communications – whose lobbying clients include BHA, according to the latest public affairs register, 1 December 2018-28 February 2019, at the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) website. While the ex-sports minister isn’t working directly for the political lobbyist, The Playbook acts for GBR, a subsidiary of BHA. Further, BHA hosts the Horse Welfare Board, two of whose eight members work for BHA.
- Also, Hanover Communications and The Playbook are at the same address.
- Because of Ms Crouch’s involvement, the Horse Welfare Board deserves scrutiny. The BHA press release on 18 April 2019 announcing her appointment as an “independent” member says the Horse Welfare Board “will also look at how the sport’s welfare standards are communicated and how they are perceived by the sport, the public and other audiences” (screen shot in Figure 3). It says nothing about engaging politicians and government, then. Contrast the earlier BHA press release (25 March 2019) marking Barry Johnson’s appointment as independent chair of the Horse Welfare Board: it’s explicit about the body engaging politicians and government (screen shot in Figure 4). Presumably Hanover Communications will play a role in political lobbying by the Horse Welfare Board. Regardless, there’s a need for clarity and transparency around how exactly the body will engage politicians – besides Ms Crouch! – and government.
- On 12 March 2019, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) published its advice letter to Ms Crouch about her role at The Playbook. There the committee stipulated: “for two years from your last day in ministerial office, you should not become personally involved in lobbying the UK government on behalf of The Playbook or its parent company [Hanover Communications] or clients”. Thus the ACOBA advice letter only reinforces the concerns about the Horse Welfare Board and its contacts with politicians and government.
- At date of publication ACOBA hasn’t published its advice letter to Ms Crouch about her role at the Horse Welfare Board.
- Finally, there’s something else about The Playbook: it also works for gambling company 888sport, the agency website shows. In addition, gambling is central to client GBR: one of the thirteen questions in the FAQs on the GBR website, for example, is simply “How do I bet?” Answer: “Placing a bet is simple. To help you out, why not take a look at the easy-to-follow betting content in our Guides section.” Hanover Communications, meanwhile, acts for FTSE 100 bookie Paddy Power Betfair as well as BHA (plus many other clients).
- With gambling closely linked to both new other jobs, it’s strange to recall the circumstances around Ms Crouch’s resignation as sports minister on 1 November 2018. Back then she lambasted the government for delaying until October 2019 reduction of the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2. (In fact, the stake cut on FOBTs came into effect on 1 April 2019.) Ms Crouch was widely hailed at the time for her perceived principled resignation. So why is the MP now working for both The Playbook, which promotes gambling, and the Horse Welfare Board, which sits within BHA, the organisation responsible for a sport dependent on gambling?
- Ms Crouch didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.
- On 1 May 2019, local newspaper The Spalding & South Holland Voice reported my Sir John Hayes MP exposé (see 8 April 2019 post).
- Sir John is the newspaper’s local MP.
- The report (“Sir John Hayes MP’s lucrative charity pay day”) is available on The Spalding & South Holland Voice website: http://www.spaldingvoice.co.uk/sir-john-hayes-mps-lucrative-charity-pay-day/.
- Mark Pritchard MP, a government trade envoy, worked for the SmartWater Foundation from 1 November 2017 until 31 March 2019, according to the register of MPs’ financial interests. “Providing strategic advice”, the Conservative MP for the Wrekin was paid £1 666.66 a month for “an expected commitment of 18 hours”. The SmartWater Foundation “provides not-for-profit forensic technology solutions”, says Mr Pritchard on the register. It’s unclear, though, how the Telford-based organisation could employ the local MP.
- The last publicly available accounts for SmartWater Foundation Limited (registered company number: 06181622) are made up to 31 March 2018. These show the company appears to be dormant and there are no assets.
- Why do I say “appears to be dormant”? Because the last accounts contain no evidence the company is doing business (“trading”). Further, there’s no evidence there the firm has any other income, either. (http://www.gov.uk/dormant-company) Thus the inference is a reasonable one.
- Mr Pritchard began working for the company on 1 November 2017. So the last accounts include the first five months of the MP’s job.
- Companies House records show SmartWater Foundation Limited is a private company limited by guarantee, a legal structure often used by not-for-profit organisations. Nevertheless the fact remains it’s unclear how the firm could employ Mr Pritchard, when its last accounts don’t contain any evidence of business activity, let alone any evidence of employing – and therefore paying – the Tory MP or anyone else.
- The SmartWater Foundation is part of the multinational SmartWater group of companies, which includes UK-based SmartWater Technology Limited (registered company number: 02875523). For the avoidance of doubt, the SmartWater Foundation isn’t a registered charity.
- When asked for comment, a member of Mr Pritchard‘s office at parliament, Daniel Pycock, answered on his behalf. Mr Pycock challenged my assertion SmartWater Foundation Limited appears to be dormant. When I gave the reasons for the inference, he didn’t reply. Separately, I requested a comment from the SmartWater Foundation via the enquiry form on the SmartWater website (http://www.smartwater.com). An immediate, automated email acknowledgement was the only response I received.
- BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell is the founding trustee of The Normandy Memorial Trust (NMT), a charity he set up in 2016 to build a memorial in Normandy, France to the 22 442 British men and women killed in 1944 during the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy. As part of the events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day on 6 June 2019, the official inauguration of the site of the British Normandy memorial will take place. Both the UK prime minister and French president are expected to attend the ceremony, says the NMT website.
- The board of trustees delegates the charity’s “day-to-day activities” to Mr Witchell, according to the latest trustees’ annual report, made up to 30 June 2018. Thus the BBC royal correspondent has a key role at NMT. Which makes his conflict of interest as a trustee even more problematic.
- The conflict arises in two ways.
- First, as a BBC journalist Mr Witchell needs to be objective and impartial. Yet Prince Charles is the royal patron of NMT. Thus Mr Witchell’s role at the charity risks undermining his independence as BBC royal correspondent.
- Second, on 5 March 2017, the government awarded the charity £20m from the LIBOR fund. I and others have shown there are several military charities that received large grants from the LIBOR fund, only to spend the money profligately. Military charities like Veterans Council, for example (see 25 February 2018 post and references therein). Further, The Police Arboretum Memorial Trust, which I exposed on 13 June 2017, is another charity that was gifted a large sum from the LIBOR fund. Thus it’s in the public interest to scrutinise how NMT spends its grant. Nevertheless I fear that Mr Witchell’s role at the charity could discourage the BBC and its journalists from examining critically both the charity and his involvement there.
- On 8 September 2017, the National Audit Office (NAO) published the findings of its investigation into the management of the LIBOR fund. At September 2017 the government had committed £933m from the LIBOR fund, but couldn’t confirm to the NAO that the recipient charities had spent all grants as intended! A clear oversight failure. Further evidence of the need to scrutinise how NMT actually spends the £20m LIBOR grant, therefore.
- On the first point, Mr Witchell said in an email: “The BBC has been and is fully aware of my involvement with The Normandy Memorial Trust. My obligation to provide impartial, fair and – if necessary – robust coverage as one of the BBC’s royal correspondents will always take precedence over any other consideration.”
- While on the second point, the BBC royal correspondent wrote in the same message: “The Normandy Memorial Trust does not see itself as a ‘military charity’. Its focus is to provide a memorial in Normandy to the 22 442 men and women under British command who lost their lives in Normandy in the sumer [sic] of 1944 in pursuit of European freedom. The trust’s board of trustees headed by Lord Peter Ricketts exercises robust financial oversight precisely to ensure that the public money from LIBOR is spent responsibly. The trust welcomes proper scrutiny.” Mr Witchell finished: “The BBC would never permit the involvement of one of its staff in a charity to influence decisions about editorial coverage.”
- I wrote back mainly about his last sentence. I agree, I said, that’s what the public should rightly expect from the BBC. However, we mustn’t forget the Jimmy Savile scandal.
- In December 2011, the BBC notoriously axed producer Meirion Jones’ Newsnight investigation into BBC star Mr Savile. Thus the organisation instituted a cover-up. This intervention by the BBC shows it can – and did – undermine the editorial independence of its news journalists.
- Mr Witchell replied the same day, but didn’t comment on my response to the last sentence in his first email.
- On 25 April 2019, gambling regulator the Gambling Commission launched its new national strategy to reduce gambling harms: a public health approach to reducing gambling harms. This public health approach requires, among other things, collaboration between “health bodies, charities, regulators and businesses”. Thus the NHS and Public Health England are key partners in the new strategy.
- This public health approach to reducing gambling harms means a member of health minister Stephen Hammond’s staff at parliament, Louise Stevens, deserves scrutiny. In two posts on 30 March 2019, I revealed Ms Stevens’ gambling-related other roles and links. Back then Mr Hammond became obstructive when I asked legitimate questions about his staff member. He quickly told me not to email again about Ms Stevens.
- The John Hartson Foundation (JHF) is a grant-making charity that supports other cancer-related charities only. In 2016, it spent £178.8k – but just £1.9k (1.1 per cent) went to other charities. This wasn’t a one-off, either.
- Registered as a charity with the Charity Commission on 21 March 2013, JHF has so far published five sets of accounts (Table 1). The proportion of expenditure going to other charities was highest in the second year, 2015, when it was 46.1 per cent (£132.0k of £286.3k). The maximum figure was still below 50 per cent, therefore. Putting it another way, in each year to date MOST of the money spent hasn’t reached other charities.
|Year||Spending||Donations made||Per cent of spending|
- 2017 wasn’t much better than the previous year: JHF donated merely £5.0k (4.2 per cent) of £117.9 to other charities. Nevertheless things improved last year: the proportion was 33.2 per cent (£42.0k of £126.7).
- Ex-professional footballer John Hartson, who survived testicular cancer after diagnosis in 2009, founded JHF. As well as making grants to cancer-related organisations, the charity aims to raise awareness of testicular cancer – its slogan: “grab life by the balls”.
- Although Mr Hartson isn’t a trustee, his wife, Sarah Hartson, is and has been one from the outset. Ms Hartson is sole “person with significant control” (PSC), too, according to Companies House records.
- JHF organises regular fundraising events led by its eponymous founder. On 30 April 2019, the charity will again hold its annual golf day at Trump Turnberry in Scotland, for example. Putting on high-profile fundraising events obviously incurs costs.
- JHF is set to surpass £1m funds raised later this year, its website proudly proclaims. A commendable achievement. Nevertheless income is only one aspect of performance. More important is how a charity actually spends its money: how much – or how little – reaches the good cause in whose name funds are raised. Here JHF is evidently failing. Its costs are excessive.
- Last year JHF made a change that reduced costs: it had no paid staff, the accounts show. The charity employed two people in all other years. Despite this, however, the 2018 accounts don’t comment on the change. In short, JHF still needs to do more to increase efficiency.
- JHF didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.
- Former minister Sir John Hayes recently bagged another outside job – his fourth! As of 5 January 2019 the Tory MP is “non-executive director” to Esharelife, an organisation he describes as “a charitable foundation” on the register of MPs’ financial interests. Sir John is paid £6k per quarter to “promote Esharelife’s charitable work”, which will require “an estimated maximum of 1.5 days per month”. The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) gave its blessing to the MP taking up the new appointment. The new job had no connection, said ACOBA in its advice letter, with Sir John’s last ministerial role at the Department for Transport. The committee “particularly noted” the ex-minister “had no prior dealings” with Esharelife. Here I show ACOBA appears to have overlooked the pre-existing association between Sir John and Dr Maurizio Bragagni, founder and chair of Esharelife (full name: Esharelife Limited), as well as sole “person with significant control” (PSC).
- Italian Dr Bragagni is chair and chief executive of Tratos (UK) Limited, the UK arm of his family’s global cable-manufacturing business, Tratos Group. Dr Bragagni and his firm were linked to Sir John while he was transport minister from July 2016 until January 2018. Below follows four pieces of evidence for the association back then.
- First, the then transport minister gave the welcome address at the Port Equipment Manufacturers Association (PEMA) AGM 2017, which took place in London in February 2017 (screen shot in Figure 1). Tratos was the event’s main sponsor. The company website says it was Dr Bragagni who invited Sir John to attend in his capacity as transport minister (screen shot in Figure 2). At the time Dr Bragagni was also PEMA vice president.
- Second, later in 2017, Tratos donated £6k to Sir John’s local constituency Conservative association, South Holland and The Deepings. (At date of publication Tratos has given £238k to the Tories, nearly all to the central party. Dr Bragagni has also individually donated £182k, again almost all to the central party.)
- Third, Dr Bragagni is “principal patron” of the Westminster Italian Conservative Group (screen shot in Figure 3). Tratos sponsored its reception on 3 October 2017 at the 2017 Tory party conference in Manchester (screen shot in Figure 4). As you can see, the then transport minister was one of the advertised “special guests”.
- Fourth, in February 2018, Dr Bragagni published a book, “Brexit, Business and A Better Britain”. There in the acknowledgements he thanked Sir John “for his consistent support for Tratos’ push for higher industry standards” (screen shot in Figure 5).
- Incorporated on 19 February 2016, Esharelife (Esharelife Limited) itself warrants scrutiny. Here I make two points.
- First, at date of publication the self-proclaimed “charity foundation” (screen shot in Figure 6) isn’t registered as a charity with the Charity Commission. The last publicly available accounts, made up to 31 December 2017, say the registered charity number is “to follow”. Those accounts, its second set, were filed at Companies House on 26 September 2018. Yet the organisation still isn’t on the commission’s online public register of charities.
- Second, given Dr Bragagni is sole PSC of Esharelife, it and Tratos are related parties. Besides sole PSC and director Dr Bragagni, the “charity foundation” has three other directors. All three are either existing or former directors of Tratos, according to Companies House records! Unsurprisingly, Tratos appears prominently on the Esharelife website (screen shot in Figure 7).
- This is only the latest instance of ACOBA complacency and incompetence I’ve exposed (see 27 December 2018 and 25 February 2019 posts).
- Sir John didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.
- There’s no suggestion that anyone has done anything illegal.