Daily Archives: August 8, 2008

Hard Questions for SPCK

So far we’ve been challenging Mr J Mark Brewer, but let’s not forget who handed the shops over to him in the first place: SPCK. Doug Chaplin has been raising questions over at MetaCatholic.

Discussing the situation in Worcester, where the shop is still trading under the SPCK name, he asks:

Behind everything, and rather overlooked, is the question whether the trustees of SPCK ever really did due diligence on the handing over of their chain to SSG in the first place. Were they so anxious about the way in which (like many independent bookshops) they were losing money in a not very friendly marketplace, that they simply took the first plausible solution that presented itself? Did they bother, in fact, to inspect the gift-horse’s mouth? They have been publicly very silent on this.

As the chain fell apart, so SPCK realised that the agreement was falling apart, and withdrew their trustees, and the licence to use the name SPCK. But how seriously have they policed the misuse of their trademark? What are they doing about such glaringly obvious breaches as that in this picture. Do they not mind that another “charity” is trading in their name?

Another part of the agreement, as I understand it (I’d be grateful for correction if I’m wrong) is that if the bookshop chain was viable after a number of years (seven?) was up, then the shop properties owned outright by SPCK would be transferred to the ownership of SSG. If (and I think the situation given UK law must be dubious) SSG has filed for bankruptcy what are SPCK doing to take back control of their property?

It might be that the SPCK trustees are acting behind the scenes. Or it might be that they have washed their hands of an embarrassing mess. But in the meantime bloggers like Dave Walker who have tried to keep this in the public eye, are effectively taking the brunt of SPCK’s failure.

I am not convinced that it is enough to say in their annual report: “There are a number of significant legal issues betwen SPCK and SSGGCT that have not been resolved at the year end.” (p7). Isn’t it time the Bishop of Gloucester as chair, and Simon Kingston as General Secretary, were a bit more overt and courageous in defending, literally, the honour of the SPCK name, standing up for all those employees they left stranded, and supporting those like Dave who have upheld their cause? I wonder if Bishop Michael Perham has been by Dave’s cartoon tent for a supportive word?

These are good questions, especially when set against the backcloth of this letter from the Revd Dr Julian Cummins (sadly now deceased), published in the Church Times back in December 2006:

Sir, — I resigned as a Governor of SPCK because I opposed the decision to transfer the 23 bookshops to the St Stephen Charitable Trust (SSG) (News, 1 December). I feared the worst, but felt that SPCK should be given the chance to prove me wrong.

[comments about SSG’s ban on selling the Qur’an]

SPCK has run bookshops across the world for well over 100 years. They have been open to theological and religious exploration. They have been a joy to visit. That is why I became a Governor of SPCK five years ago. Those principles have now been undermined at their fundamental roots.

I believe the transfer to SSG was a gross error. I opposed it as strongly as I could. The deed has now been done, and the next step must now be determined. It is time for the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Michael Perham, Chairman of SPCK, to come up with a credible plan for the future, and to ensure a reversal of the SSG decision.

My thanks to Mark Bennet for bringing this letter to my attention.

SPCK: your silence almost speaks more loudly than words. 

  • With objections expressed this strongly at the time, why did you still go ahead with the transfer?
  • Why did you not put adequate safeguards in place for your staff?
  • What are you doing to address the current situation?
  • Why have you left it for people such as Dave Walker and myself to — as Doug puts it — take the brunt of your failure?
  • What are you doing to support the staff you abandoned? 

It’s supposed to be books that get remaindered, not people!