Monthly Archives: May 2009

Picking up the Pieces: the Wow Factor in Winchester’s Christian Bookshop

Phil Groom writes:

They say a picture paints a thousand words. I guess that’s just as well because on this occasion, words almost failed me. Then I thought of a few captions: other suggestions welcome.

Anyway, this is the mess that the Charity Commissioners must now pick up from J Mark and Phil W Brewer’s so-called mission to rescue Britain’s Christian Heritage in Winchester. Pictures taken on May 16, 2009, by — well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it? You know who you are: thank you.

Winchester: Front Entrance

The door is open...

Winchester Window Display, 16/05/2009

Let's see what's in the window...

Winchester 3 - Opening Times 16/05/2009

Opening times: let's go in

Winchester - Ownership Info 16/05/2009

Handle with care: stock may be fragile

I said, 'Handle with care - stock is fragile!'

I said, 'Handle with care - stock may be fragile!'

We really care about our stock (but we don't care where it came from)

We really care about our stock (but we don't care about its history)

We practice a deep and sincere spirituality

We practice a deep and sincere spirituality...

Strategic Planning Department, Brewer and Pritchard PC

Around the Back: Strategic Planning Department, Brewer and Pritchard PC

Do we need an Anglican Books Forum?

Matt Wardman writes:

This is not within the strict remit of the SPCK campaign group, but we are a network including booksellers, readers, authors, publishers and all manner of interested parties – so I thought I would run a flag up the flagpole.

Future of Church House Publishing

Phil Groom has posted about a decision to hand over Church House Publishing, currently owned by the Archbishops’ Council which is the Church of England “Cabinet”, to the Hymns Ancient & Modern company:

The Archbishops’ Council is in discussion with Hymns Ancient & Modern with a view to outsourcing the Council’s publishing services. The proposed agreement would maintain the Council’s long-term commitment to publishing liturgy, key reference titles and other resources for the Church.

Clearly the SPCK/Brewer experience has caused us to realise that the people who will get hurt – if anyone does – who are the staff, customers and suppliers, need to have a voice. This applies even – and I need to emphasise this – if the other party is basically trusted as is certainly the case with Hymns Ancient & Modern, which is a different world from Philip and J Mark Brewer.

There are still important questions about the concentration of influence and other questions, and Phil puts this better well:

  • Does the Church of England need an independent voice for its publishing division?
  • Is it right to concede so much control of the Church’s voice to the owners of the Church Times?
  • What provision — pastoral as well as financial — is being made for staff who now face the very real possibility of redundancy?

There is more detail on Wannabe Priest’s blog.

Anglican Books Forum

That has set off the thought whether we need a group / network / whatever that can be an arena where the range of people interested in books can have these conversations.

These are some initial thoughts.

  • When the Brewer detail is finally revealed, everyone will be looking for a network or body to comment on these kind of questions.
  • The current question around CHP demonstrates the need for something independent but comprehensive to raise alarm.
  • I’m suggesting that such a setup could have its seed as a spinoff from SPCKSSG.
  • We have seen the the need for an Anglican focus, e.g., a group that can raise a hue and cry in General Synod etc if necessary, but also be consulted by e.g., the Archbishops’ Council. Of course there’s a “promote books” role as well.
  • Needs to encompass publishers /booksellers /readers /writers / bookstaller people / various other stakeholders.

Note: clearly “books” is the wrong word, since we are in a multimedia age – but it’s the best I could do for now.

Wrapping Up

This needs to be talked about more widely, since it is not our core purpose – which continues to be the scrutiny of the run down of the former-SPCK bookshop chain until the bitter (or not) end.

Also, it’s not something we can drive from here – anyone interested in picking up the baton? We can advise.

What do you think?

Is this the ‘Best Use of New Media in a Christian Campaign’?

David Keen writes:

The ‘Bloggies’ – Christian Web and New Media awards – are now open for nominations. I’ve taken the liberty of nominating this blog for ‘Best Use of New Media in a Christian Campaign’.

Phil’s blog is very much the hub of the SPCK campaign, but there’s much more going on. Many of us who are involved have never met face to face, but through blogs, email, Facebook, online petitions, Google Groups, and even Twitter we’ve built a network of supporters from several countries, and in the last 2 weeks there has been a mini-avalanche of remarkable results from the pressure that the campaign has brought to bear:

  • Durham Cathedral have served notice on the Brewers to leave the premises
  • The Charity Commissioners have taken control of the assets of the Society of St. Stephen the Great.
  • Following the CC action, an out of court settlement with unfairly dismissed staff may now be possible
  • and Dave Walker is back to blogging about the SPCK story. Mark Brewers initial ICBM (inter-continental bullying manoevre) seems to have backfired spectacularly in the intervening 10 months. Welcome back Dave.

I have a slight quibble about the Bloggies, in that anyone using new media effectively will, hopefully, be using more than one website to do it. The online SPCK campaign – which effectively began as Dave Walker’s ‘Save the SPCK’ campaign on The Cartoon Blog – has diversified into several ‘new media’ as it has evolved. Any campaign simply using one platform probably shouldn’t get past first base!

If you’d like to nominate the SPCK/SSG campaign too, please do! Here’s what I put in the ‘additional information’ box:

A campaign to scrutinise and hold to account the new owners of SPCK bookshops, which recently resulted in decisive action by both the Charity Commissioners and Durham Cathedral. The campaign provides a discussion space, as well as a focus for scrutiny and lobbying.      

Use of new media includes

– Several blogs, of which the named blog is the key one. With the censorship of Dave Walkers blog, it’s been important to have several blogs reporting the story, so that ‘divide and rule’ through legal threats won’t work.  The reposting on over 70 blogs of material which the new SPCK owners attempted to censor was vital both in building a public profile, and in demonstrating support for those victimised by the new owners.
– Online petitions
– Facebook: there are two related groups on Facebook, which give the campaign an online mailing list of around 600 people, as well as a forum for spreading information.
– Google groups, as a forum for the leaders of the campaign to communicate and share information.
– more recently, Twitter.

Many of those involved in the campaign haven’t met face to face, but new media has enabled us to network, co-ordinate our efforts, and spread information to a wide group of people.

David Keen blogs at St. Aidan to Abbey Manor, and has just joined the team on SPCK/SSG News, Notes and Info.

What is happening with the shops?

Phelim McIntyre writes:

OK – we have had movement with the SSG saga but I was asked a question by Clem Jackson of Christian Marketplace as to the number of shops still operating. The list on the Thirdspace website is as follows: Bradford, Canterbury, Chester, Chichester, Durham, Hereford, Manningham, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Poole, Salisbury, Truro, Winchester, Worcester, York. This list (though updated in January according to the website) is really inaccurate. So over to you – what is the latest at each shop if anything? Durham, Chichester, Chester are still open. Is the shop in the Bradford area actually the Bradford shop or the one in the church in Manningham?

The atmosphere at CRE/CBC #CBC09 #CRE09

Phelim McIntyre writes:

As some of you may be aware the Christian Resources Exhibition and the Christian Booksellers Convention were under the same roof. I had the joy of bumping into Dave Walker (of Cartoon Church), Clem from Christian Marketplace and many publishers and booksellers. So what was it like from an SPCK/SSG viewpoint? Putting aside that for many the combination of the two events was a failure there was a HUGE sense of relief. I have never been hugged or shaken by the hand by so many people.

The news of the industrial tribunials being sorted, marching orders at Durham and the Charity Commission acting is, as one person put it “the light at the end of a very long tunnel”. Yes there are more battles going on, some of which I can’t mention because silence is the better part of discretion – but I can say that the dam is about to break.

As someone who, with Dave W, Dave K, Matt W, Phil Groom, Singleblog and others (you know who you are) has been at the forefront of speaking with the press (I was one of the naughty people who sent documents to the papers when I was at SPCK), networking ex-staff, blogging and so on I have been asked was it worth it? The answer is yes. Justice must be done. So to all of you who have not been told this but have been campaigning – consider yourselves shaken by the hand and hugged.

Some one did suggest that we organise a firing squad for the Brewers Grimm but changed their mind as a firing squad would be too quick. So someone suggested that as they see us as heretics we treat them as heretics and burn them at the stake. I see some Brewer effegies this coming Novemeber.

The Church Times has reported the news here http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/75134. This is a subscriber only page this week but will probably be readable next week. Christian Marketplace will also have something soon.

Just a final word from someone at CRE/CBC. “Don’t give up until they (the Brewers) are finished”. As I said, more is happening which we hope to be able to blog soon.

Tribunals Postponed: Statement from USDAW

Phil Groom writes:

New post from Dave Walker on the Church Times blog yesterday with an official statement from Usdaw confirming Matt Wardman’s last update:

St. Stephen the Great tribunal update

Both parties agreed late on Friday to postpone today’s preliminary hearing on St. Stephen the Great, which had been scheduled to consider who the employer of the claimants was at the time they were dismissed.

The hearing is being postponed to allow time for members to consider a settlement offer. However, members have to agree unanimously to the offer for the case to be settled. Each claimant has been sent a letter outlining the settlement proposal and seeking instructions from them. They have been asked to respond as soon as possible, so that the union is able to negotiate terms of settlement or proceed with the hearing if no agreement can be reached.

11 May 2009

At present the only info about this case on Usdaw’s website appears to be the statement issued on 24 June 2008, Usdaw fights for mistreated bookshop workers.

As others have said, fantastic to see Dave posting on the story again.

Dave: I suspect I speak for many when I say I look forward to seeing you regain sufficient confidence to repost your missing material, complete with comments. Even if you don’t open it up for discussion, think of it as a public service: there’s sure to be information in those comments that the Charity Commission’s Interim Manager and solicitors would find very helpful…

Out of Court Settlement Offered in ex-SPCK Staff Employment Tribunal case to USDAW

stand-up-spck-up-3

Matt Wardman writes:

[Update 12/5/2009: I have spoken to USDAW and can clarify the following two points:

1 – The Out of Court Offer that has been made is a comprehensive offer of settlement for all matters including unpaid wages and all other matters in dispute.

2 – The Employment Tribunal hearing is formally “suspended” not “cancelled”. This preserves the option of continuing the case should the settlement offer not prove acceptable to all staff involved.

USDAW are now starting a process of consultation with all 32 people in the Employment Tribunal action; the hearing this week only included a small number of test cases.]

Breaking news is that the Employment Tribunal relating to staff of the former SPCK Bookshop Chain has been cancelled, as the Interim Manager has offered an Out of Court settlement, which is likely to be accepted.

I am told that the settlement is likely to be acceptable to USDAW, who have fought a year-long Industrial Tribunal claim against the multi-headed hydra of several organisations created by J Mark Brewer and his brother Philip on behalf of bullied, victimised, sacked, and unpaid staff.

This is a direct result of the imposition of an Interim Manager by the Charity Commission, which in turn is a direct result of complaints submitted by campaigning bloggers and others committed to scrutinising the exploitation and mismanagement of the chain by the Brewer Brothers, detailing information that had been discovered over a period of months by a wide network. These complaints happened as far back as last August (2008).

It is also a direct result of a campaign of accurate reporting, initially by Dave Walker, but then by dozens of blogs (including my Wardman Wire site) which have discovered information, documented abuses, exposed lies (and probable perjury), and kept on going regardless.

I am hopeful that the fact that the charity is now controlled by the Charity Commission rather than the modern version of Shyster, Flywheel, and Shyster means that payments will be made of unpaid wages going back the best part of two years. Based on information I have picked up over the last months, there are quite substantial sums involved, well into six figures.[Update for clarity: I mean total sums, and I quote claims for “unpaid wages going back over 2 years” to illustrate that significant numbers are involved. ]

Special acknowledgements are due to the legal team at USDAW for dealing with a monstrously complicated case, and the staff who kept on fighting. It is also a victory for blog campaigners and fellow travellers who knitted it all together, especially Dave mentioned above and my colleague at SPCK/SSG News and Information, Phil Groom, and Unity at Ministry of Truth.

Several important aspects of the SPCK case – compensation to one significant group of staff for lost wages, and possibly bullying and victimisation – will have been resolved if this goes through, so we can have a big party. And some ex-staff can take a well-deserved holiday when the money comes through.

Continue reading

Tribunals: Next Round Begins

Phil Groom writes:

Please spare a thought and/or pray for everyone involved in the next round of Employment Tribunals, which start today.

The Charity Commission’s appointment of an Interim Manager is good news on the one hand in that at last an outside agency is responding to the Brewers depredations of the former SPCK bookshops; but on the other hand, the solicitors appointed by the Interim Manager have specific responsibility “to preserve the assets of the charity and contest the legal claims of the Usdaw members.”

Let justice roll on like a river!

USDAW Statement as reported on the Church Times blog:

St. Stephen the Great tribunal

The long-awaited first stage of the St. Stephen the Great tribunal is due to take place next week in Bury St. Edmunds, commencing Monday 11 May, and is scheduled to run for three days. This is a preliminary hearing to consider who the employer of the claimants was at the time they were dismissed (the charitable trust, or one of the two limited companies).

Since the date was arranged, the Charity Commission has been conducting an investigation into how the charitable trust has been run and has now used its powers under the Charities Act to intervene and appoint an interim manager to manage the affairs of the charity (in place of the previous trustees, who were the American-based Mark Brewer and other members of his family). The interim manager has, in turn, appointed new solicitors to preserve the assets of the charity and contest the legal claims of the Usdaw members.

These new solicitors asked the tribunal to postpone the hearing in order to allow extra time for them to get up to speed with the cases. But Usdaw objected, as our members had been waiting so long for their cases to be heard. The hearing will now commence on the Monday morning with legal arguments for and against the granting of a postponement of the tribunal.

Usdaw is hoping that the court will consider the best interests of the claimants, who have waited patiently for justice, three of whom will be travelling to Bury St. Edmunds to appear as test case witnesses on behalf of all those dismissed, and allow the case to continue on the day.

Brewers Skewered as Charity Commission Takes Action – Part 2

What are they saying about CBC/CRE?
For behind the scenes conversations, follow these twitter hashtags:

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to Mark Bennet, who explains a little of what this situation means:

The interim manager’s job is to obtain control of the assets and to ensure that they are used for the Charitable purposes for which they were intended. I would hesitate to say that someone just appointed would have control of all the assets, but they will be moving quickly to obtain such control, and also to trace any assets which have ‘gone missing’.

Whether this is good news so far as the USDAW cases are concerned is unclear, since court awards cannot be paid if there are no assets to pay them. However, it should bring some much-needed clarity to the situation.

Here is an official explanation:

Interim Managers: 2007/08

An excerpt from that page:

The Charity Commission has the power to appoint an Interim Manager [1] to act as a receiver over a charity’s property. We can use this power only after opening a formal Inquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993 (as amended by the 2006 Act) and after we have obtained evidence of misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of a charity or if it is necessary to protect the charity’s property.

Usually we appoint an Interim Manager to manage a charity to the exclusion of the trustees and the charity normally has to pay the Interim Manager’s fees. For this reason we appoint an Interim Manager only after very careful consideration of other possible solutions to the problems the charity in question faces. Where possible, appointments are made after a tender exercise, the purpose of which is to find an Interim Manager with the right skills and experience at a price that will provide the charity with value for money.

Although we can make appointments with the agreement of the charity trustees, most are imposed because in our view the problems facing the charity are sufficiently serious and the trustees are either unwilling or unable to put matters right themselves.

Brewers Skewered as Charity Commission Takes Action – Part 1

What are they saying about CBC/CRE?
For behind the scenes conversations, follow these twitter hashtags:

Phil Groom writes:

Hot news on the Church Times blog:

Charity Commission appoints interim manager to manage St Stephen the Great

The Charity Commission has appointed an interim manager to manage St Stephen the Great (SSG), the charity running the former SPCK bookshops. The Saint Stephen the Great page on the Charity Commission website shows this latest status, and there has been a statement from USDAW about this and the tribunal hearings for former employees…