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.

Addendum: Fifth reason for astonishment at Tom Watson MP over Sky Bet

  1. Here’s a fifth reason why I’m astonished Tom Watson MP accepted the gift of four tickets for a football match from Sky Bet (see previous post). On 28 March 2018, gambling regulator the Gambling Commission fined Sky Bet £1m for “failing to protect vulnerable consumers” (http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/news-action-and-statistics/news/2018/SkyBet-to-pay-1m-penalty.aspx).
  2. As I say, Mr Watson didn’t respond to requests for comment. I emailed him twice at parliament: 23 June 2018 and 27 June 2018. On both occasions, I immediately received an automated acknowledgement.

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.

Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards opens inquiry into Jeremy Hunt

  1. On 18 April 2018, Kathryn Stone, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, announced on her website that she has opened an inquiry into health secretary Jeremy Hunt, after he admitted breaching money laundering rules when buying seven luxury flats in Southampton.
  2. The revelations about Mr Hunt that led to the opening of the inquiry were reported in the front-page lead story in the Daily Telegraph newspaper on 13 April 2018 (see 13 April 2018 post). I was named as source of the story in the Telegraph exclusive.
  3. Mr Hunt received a “bulk discount” on the seven flats from a property firm owned and chaired by a Conservative donor, Nicolas James Roach, according to the Guardian newspaper on 19 April 2018.

National newspaper follow-ups of my Jeremy Hunt exposé

  1. Today (14 April 2018) the rest of the national press have followed up yesterday’s Daily Telegraph front-page exclusive on health secretary Jeremy Hunt for which I was source (see previous post).
  2. Here I highlight two reports, where the journalists quoted me, after bothering to speak to me and ask questions. Proper journalism, then.
  3. I told the Daily Mail I was disappointed Mr Hunt simply blamed his accountant for the failures I identified (Daily Mail 14 April 2018).
  4. The Guardian, meanwhile, reported my comments about the lack of scrutiny at Companies House. It seems Companies House is open to potential abuse. Why didn’t it pick up the glaring errors in the details for Mr Hunt’s company? (Guardian 14 April 2018).

Telegraph leads with my Jeremy Hunt exposé

  1. On 13 April 2018, the Daily Telegraph newspaper used my Jeremy Hunt exposé (see previous post) as the basis of its front-page lead story, “Hunt admits breaking rules over luxury flats”.
  2. Im named in the story as source, in the final paragraph on p.2.
  3. Here is a scanned copy of the front-page lead: Telegraph 13 April 2018 p.1. And here is a scanned copy of the rest of the story on p.2: Telegraph 13 April 2018 p.2.
  4. It’s also available online (paywall): https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/04/12/exclusive-jeremy-hunt-admits-breaking-governments-rules-company/.
  5. Er… That’s it.

Jeremy Hunt corrects errors at Companies House after my email – but is unresponsive

  1. I recently discovered errors in Companies House records for a new company jointly owned by health secretary Jeremy Hunt and his wife. The company information was duly corrected the day after I emailed Mr Hunt at parliament. Yet at date of publication the health secretary, or his office, hasn’t responded to requests for comment, which is disappointing.
  2. On 7 March 2018, Mr Hunt registered on the register of MPs’ financial interests joint ownership with his wife of “property holding company” Mare Pond Properties Limited (registered company number: 10970413). At the same time, he also registered purchase by his company of seven flats – just seven – in Southampton the previous month.
  3. On 28 March 2018, I asked the health secretary in an email: If you and your wife are joint owners, why aren’t each of you shown as a person with significant control” (PSC) on your company’s PSC register at Companies House?
  4. There was no PSC, according to his PSC register. (For an explanation of PSC, see http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/PSC.)
  5. I finished by inviting Mr Hunt to comment.
  6. An automated acknowledgement email immediately appeared in my inbox.
  7. The day after my message (i.e. 29 March 2018), his company’s PSC register at Companies House was duly corrected, filings there show.
  8. Having heard nothing a week later, I sent a reminder, now referring to the changes at Companies House, too. Again, I requested a comment.
  9. Straightaway another automated acknowledgement email arrived. But at date of publication there’s been nothing else.
  10. Mr Hunt‘s unresponsiveness is disappointing. The health secretary continually bangs on about how NHS staff and organisations must be open, transparent and accountable – particularly when things go wrong during patient care (“duty of candour”). He’s right, of course. What a pity, then, Mr Hunt fails to practise what he preaches.