Time to bin Keep Britain Tidy

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Time for Keep Britain Tidy to be put in the bin

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

Nearly three years ago Parliament produced a damning report saying England was one of the worst developed countries in the world for litter and fly tipping. Worse than most of the rest of Europe, worse than Japan and worse than the United States and Canada.

Furthermore this situation has remained the same for 12 years under successive Labour, Coalition and Tory governments. And this is despite tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers money being poured into the former quango Keep Britain Tidy to provide leadership to tackle this problem.

The deregulatory coalition government of Tories and Liberal Democrats  thought they would find a solution by abolishing the quango and turning it into a charity  which now has to raise funds from cash strapped local authorities and big business.

The knee jerk reaction of a Left minded blogger might be to persuade an incoming Labour government to push taxpayer’s money back to Keep Britain Tidy. But after an investigation looking at its precarious finances and its rather lacklustre approach to tackling the problem this would be the worst thing it could do.

The real problem is that successive gutless ministers of all parties  (perhaps they have at the back of their minds that they could take lucrative directorships after leaving politics)  won’t tackle the real cause of much of our litter – the  products of big multinationals like McDonalds and Wrigley’s and the tobacco companies –  who take no or little responsibility for the problem.

There is a parallel here  with  Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – who connive with big multinationals to avoid paying their fair share of tax which would go a long way to providing better public services and a cleaner  public space.

There is a simple solution here either these companies pay up for a clean up or the Government levies a tax on them ( not us) to employ someone else to do it. I bet the firms would come up soon with some innovative solutions to avoid either.

Now why have I concluded that Keep Britain Tidy is a no no solution  despite being told by some people that its  new director,Allison Ogden-Newton is much livelier than her predecessor, Phil Barton.

The charity has a guilty secret. It has a pension deficit of  £4.5m  for a closed scheme on a turnover of just £5m and assets worth £2.5m. For some private companies this  could lead them to cease trading.

The 2015-16 accounts lodged with the Charity Commission say :

 “The pension deficit as at 31st March 2016 is £4.511m. Future contributions to the scheme have been negotiated with the Trustees of the scheme.
The Company is the principal employer and paid approximately £131,000 to reduce the deficit this year. Keep Britain Tidy will continue to make contributions in line with terms agreed at the last triennial review until any new scheme of payments is agreed. In the financial year to March 2017 it will pay approximately £134,000 towards reducing the deficit in addition to the scheme running costs of approximately £72,000.”

 

The report reveals that the trustees – who would be liable if  Keep Britain Tidy went bust – certify it is a going concern. But to do this they have had to put aside £2m – equivalent to six  months operating costs -to ensure that it stays afloat.

Allison-Ogden-Newton_1

Allison Ogden-Newton, new chief executive of Keep Britain Tidy

When I put this to the charity – who first ignored my request – I got this reply from Ms Ogden-Newton.

 “Our Annual Accounts have been audited by RSM UK Audit LLP and a clean audit opinion has been given. Standard audit procedures include an assessment of Keep Britain Tidy as a Going Concern and this specifically includes an assessment of our ability to meet the agreed pension scheme contributions. No issues were raised in this respect.
 “We have an agreed schedule of contributions between Keep Britain Tidy and the Pension trustees in order to address the pension deficit and this has also been submitted to the Pensions Authority whom have accepted this plan.
 “To that end we and the relevant authorities consider our agreed repayment programme to be satisfactory and sustainable for both the fund and Keep Britain Tidy.”
Now that is all well and good – but I don’t believe it doesn’t restrict its activities. It has got some income from the 5p levy on plastic bags ( notably £500,000 from Lidl) but as a Defra paper reveals most private companies use the levy to fund other worthy causes whether it is the Alzheimer’s Society, the Woodland Trust, animal welfare or Kew Gardens.
The other major reason why Keep Britain Tidy does not seem to be working well was shown up when MPs questioned the former chief executive at the Commons communities and local government committee.
 He was taken apart by MPs of all parties in an evidence  session.
He produced figures which he couldn’t defend, evidence that MPs found flawed and finally admitted that Keep Britain Tidy refused to talk to the tobacco industry. Given cigarette stubs are a source of litter MPs found this extraordinary.
Clive Betts MP

Clive Betts MP, chair of critical House of Commons report on the state of England’s litter.

Clive Betts, the Labour chairman of the committee, also made this observation.

 ” Frankly Keep Britain Tidy was not a main part of our report or inquiry,. We were more interested in some of the innovative work down by local authorities to tackle fly tipping and litter.”
 Now this is really damning with faint praise given Keep Britain Tidy was meant to be the leadership body.
Since then nothing has improved much. A House of Commons library briefing on litter last July said this :
“Levels of litter in England have hardly improved in over a decade and 81% of people have said they are angry and frustrated by the amount of litter in the country. Local government net expenditure on street cleaning (which includes but is not limited to clearing litter) in 2015/16 was £683 million.”
It also clear that by dividing up responsibility between four Whitehall departments doesn’t work. Perhaps the Cabinet Office should take over responsibility for a national litter strategy. At the moment neither Keep Britain Tidy nor the various ministries seem capable of negotiating with a paper bag.

 

Q:Who’s afraid of the big bad Fox? A:The Charity Commission

Liam Fox:Back in the News Pic courtesy:Metro

So Liam Fox is back from the political dead after having to quit as defence secretary.  How interesting! It comes after a little noticed report  from the Charity Commission into the affairs of  his doomed charity, Atlantic Bridge.  Conveniently it closes down any further investigation into his dubious past.

Remember this was the charity that promoted the Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan view of Anglo-American relations and gave a Margaret Thatcher Freedom medal to Henry Kissinger.

 The Charity Commission would never have looked at it if it had not been the persistence of Stephen Newton the Labour blogger who lodged a complaint. The charity run by Mr Fox and his best man, former special adviser,Adam Werrity ( remember him too?) was found not to be a charity, not have charitable purposes and was also operating in breach of Parliamentary rules from Liam’s office in the House of Commons.You might have thought after the furore  over the Smith Institute which was dragged through a formal inquiry for being too close to Gordon Brown,you would get  a devastating critique from them. You’d be wrong.

The report reveals that because it was a faux charity – HM Revenue and Customs demanded that some £50,000 in back tax, which according to the Financial Times, was paid by Tory donor.billionaire City trader Michael Hintze. See http://on.ft.com/N5zxqS as part of a £53,478 loan to the charity from his hedge fund company CQS.

However the Charity Commission did not believe any of the trustees or for that matter their advisory board were culpable so it could not recover the money from them. As the report says: “in taking such proceedings it would need to be clear that the trustees were sufficiently culpable in law to make good the loss and the proceedings were in the public interest.”

It added that there was ” no evidence the trustees acted in  bad faith” and “no compelling evidence of deliberate wrongdoing.” It accepted the evidence from the trustees that they just thought they were acting lawfully and its was perfectly proper to set up a charity to pursue the political objectives of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Of course it could just be that  Professor Patrick Minford of Conservative Way Forward, Lord Astor of Hever, a hereditary Tory peer, and the lobbyist Andrew Dunlop a former advisor to Margaret Thatcher, were a load of naive gits who didn’t have a clue how a charity works or an inkling of charity law. And of course their board of advisers was not stuffed with clever worldly political activists – it  was only composed of William Hague, George Osborne and Michael Gove.

And Liam Fox is so innocent he seems to have forgotten to declare some other US lobbying appointment in his ministerial interests, according to revelations in today’s Political Scrapbook.http://politicalscrapbook.net/

Curiously Dame Suzi Leather . chair of the Charity Commission, could have referred the matter up to Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, to rule on whether there was a case to answer. But conveniently for  Dominic he was not placed in such an embarrassing position.

Of course it was different for the Smith Institute – everybody knows that Gordon Brown and Ed Balls  were  through Wilf Stevenson (now Lord) manipulating charity law and unlike Liam Fox had to be taken to task in much stronger terms. 

Job not well done, Dame Suzi. But I am sure you will be up for peerage as soon as your appointment ends, as a thank you for saving the present Establishment a lot of angst.

Four Cabinet Ministers and a Tory special relationship “charity” get off lightly

Henry Kissinger- a star speaker at Atlantic Bridge's uncharitable events- picture courtesy UPI

Any political activist knows that party politics and charitable status don’t mix. And if they do and someone complains the effects can be toxic for the organisation and any leading figures involved.

The Smith Institute found this to its cost when it was torn apart by a Charity Commission investigation two years ago accusing its trustees and organisers of appearing to be too party political and too close to Gordon Brown. The damage to Labour was enormous and the Commission used its powers to hold a full inquiry and directed its trustees to reform the organisation or else.

This week it was the turn of the Tories – or did you notice it?

 Atlantic Bridge- patron Margaret Thatcher  and an advisory board composed of four prominent Tory Cabinet ministers, Liam Fox, George Osborne, William Hague and Michael Gove – was given a year to change its act- after facing exactly the same allegations as Labour. The charity which promotes the “special relationship” with the US – was found in a damning report to be little more than a promotion for Thatcherite party political beliefs and neo-Cons in the US.

But one reason why it may not have hit the headlines is that the Charity Commission was far softer on the offending Tory charity. For a start its press officer advised after they received the initial complaint from Labour activist Stephen Newton that the word investigate could not be used as they had not launched a formal investigation. Instead the phrase “engaging with the charity to address concerns” through a regulatory compliance case was used instead.

Now nine months later the report has been issued with the almost same findings against The Smith Institute. The key phrase is the finding that the charity is “promoting a policy which is closely associated with the Conservative Party.”

But instead of a six month direction the charity has been given a year to change and only then is there a threat against the charity’s trustees of further action.

But more significantly while it is clear that the charity had broken the rules for at least seven years nothing is being done about its tax free position.

These are not minor sums. This was the charity that was charging £700 a seat for VIPs and £400 a seat for ordinary mortals to hear Henry Kissinger speak at a luxury London hotel last year and see him presented with a Margaret Thatcher Medal of Freedom. The commission’s report discloses that the charity admits this event was part of a tax free fund raising drive. The donors – probably mainly higher rate taxpayers – could claim the money against their tax returns. And it is now clear that Atlantic Bridge can’t claim the same charitable status as the National Trust.

So why hasn’t this been referred to Revenue and Customs?  Why aren’t more searching questions not being asked of the advisory panel of Cabinet ministers who presided over an organisation that clearly broke charity rules?

Atlantic Bridge is not actually being repentant either. In a statement they reluctantly promised to follow the Commission’s ruling and have taken down their website for “updating”. But it expressed its  “ disappointment” at the Commission’s ruling  and refused to answer any questions about the role of their trustees or advisory panel.

 The Charity Commission is being a little too careful in handling this scandal. I wonder why.

A similar version of this blog has now appeared on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website.