Category Archives: General Info

Finding Phil Brewer

Phil Groom writes:

A number of suppliers and other creditors have been in touch to say that Phil Brewer is not responding to emails or other business correspondence. That’s his prerogative, of course, and hardly surprising given his shameful record of business practice here in the UK. I remain completely astonished that despite knowing the facts about his abusive treatment of his employees and the utter contempt he has shown towards his business partners, the powers-that-be at Durham Cathedral continue to provide him with a foothold and safe haven from which to operate: he should be summarily evicted.

Be that as it may, however, here’s a summary of the contact information that I have for him. All of this is drawn from publicly available sources, largely from a simple Google search for Philip W Brewer. A search for his brother, J Mark Brewer, is similarly rewarding, but for today, let’s focus on finding Phil:

You’ll find more info, as well as a round up of creditors already paid, here:

So no more excuses: send the man a Christmas card today; and why not drop the powers-that-be at Durham Cathedral a line as well to tell them what you think of the ongoing situation there? A Christmas card for the beleaguered staff at the Cathedral bookshop might go down well too, come to think of it…

Concerns about call for SPCK/SSG Creditors

Matt Wardman writes:

Following on from our previous posting about the call for creditors of the Saint Stehen the Great Charitable Trust to come forward within the next 2 weeks, only if they know that they are owed money from before July 2007, we have written to relevant magazines raising these concerns:

  • The complexity of the history of this whole affair, and the deliberate obfuscation introducd by the Messrs Brewer,  makes it very difficult for potential creditors to know whether they come within the restrictions laid down, or not.
  • As far as we are aware, the notice has only been published in The Bookseller, while the SPCK chain was a business with worldwide links – far beyond the book trade.
  • How can such a range of creditors can be realistically expected to respond to a notice with a 3 week deadline in a booktrade magazine, posted up to 3 years after the relevant debts were incurred?
  • Does this adequately meet legal requirements for informing creditors?

We are not publishing the full text of the letters here until after they have been published in the magazines and newspapers concerned, for obvious reasons.

We have not raised several further points, because we are not sure ourselves what difference they make, and would make our letters even longer than they are already:

Interim Manager's Notice

  1. The Interim Manager is in control of the two charities “Saint Stephen the Great”(1119839), and “Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust” (1119839-1).
  2. The Charity Commission website states that he controls the former, and he has himself declared himself to be in control of the latter when claiming possession of shops.
  3. These charities were forcibly merged by the Charity Commission around 23 July 2007.

So what is the basis for taking responsibility for actions of one charity only? Shouldn’t creditors of both of these charities be able to seek redress for debts incurred over a far greater period of time?

In any case:

  • Given the complexity, and lack of clarity, in this history, all creditors, and potential creditors, should get in touch with the Interim Manager using the contact details in the notice, and/or those given on the Charity Commission site; these are stsgct@gothamerskine.co.uk via email, or by phone on 020 7490 1880.
  • We hope that specific contact will be made with the hundreds of suppliers identified in the Court Documents, who are potential creditors even within the period before July 2007.
  • We also hope that the deadline for responses will be extended to a more realistic period, perhaps to the end of January 2010.

There may be more, as and when we have (or understand) it.

Loose Ends and Missing Links

Phil Groom writes:

1. Loose Ends

Sometimes you can’t see the woods for the trees, which is why a while back I started compiling a master index, imaginatively entitled Index of Indexes.

This includes such things as links to all the Bookseller reports tagged SSG and an index of reports in Christian Marketplace magazine, last updated for the July issue. Keep your eyes peeled for the August issue, due to land on doormats any day now: I gather there may be two or three SSG stories coming up. Remember, if you’re a church leader, dead or alive, you can sign up for a year’s free subscription.

2. Missing Links

It’s come to my attention that a couple of blogs we’ve linked to, whose owners were commenting on and following the SPCK/SSG saga, have dropped out of the blogosphere:

  • Doug Chaplin has discontinued ‘MetaCatholic’ (metacatholic.co.uk) to blog as Clayboy instead, clayboy.co.uk.
  • Matt Wills ‘Chinablogger’ (mattwillschinablogger.blogspot.com) has vanished without trace.

Rather than remove the old links, I’ve decided to leave them in place as a matter of historical record: apologies to anyone who’s run into a 404 ‘Page not Found’ as a result. As far as I know there are no C&Ds involved in either case.

3. Tag Cloud

Finally, our tag cloud. “Why?” you ask. Because I felt like it:

Recent Reports Roundup: Thank you all

Phil Groom writes:

Thought it would be good to have a roundup of recent reports: thank you to all those who have blogged, commented and posted during the last month or so; all posts that I’m aware of have now been added to the News Index.

Any I’ve missed, please accept my apologies, leave details via the comments below and I’ll update the list.

In date order, most recent first:

Now please show these folks some blogger love by clicking through and leaving some comments 🙂

Unravelling the Knots

Phil Groom writes:

Oh what a tangled web we weave
when first we set out practise to deceive…

I didn’t know the origins of that little quote but, courtesy those who’ve commented below, I do now: thank you. Corrected, it’s an even better fit for what we find ourselves facing here as the Charity Commission attempts to untangle the mess left strewn across the last two years or so by Messrs J Mark and Phil W Brewer.

Several recent comments have once again started pointing the finger of blame at SPCK and whilst I would not for one moment wish to deny SPCK’s culpability, I’m not convinced that we’ll do anyone any favours by going down that road at this stage. Please allow me to refer back to a couple of posts that addressed this side of things back in August last year:

I think Phelim McIntyre’s recent comment sums things up rather well:

SPCK are speaking, and are being sued for this – hence their silence. SPCK were not the only ones taken in by the Brewers – publshers and even some book staff said that it would be ok. When I was assistant manager at Chichester I read the SSG statement of faith on their US site and sent up warning flairs and some staff in shops around the south told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and no one can be that bad. Some even signed change of contracts when they were advised not to as they were illegal. Those who stood up, acted and spoke out to try and prevent the chaos were often in the minority. I often wonder whether I should name and shame some of those who tried to keep quiet but have decided not too as they are now in the same boat as everyone else concerning lack of justice.

Because SPCK acted and are acting about the use of the name the Brewers are attempting to sue SPCK and some of the people there for large amounts of money – we are talkign about six figure sums. Please don’t forget this.

This does not absolve SPCK from acting as much as they can but does mean that we should not get angry when they do not speak out as we would like.

As to the Charities Commission being aware whether SSG and ENC are the same thing – yes they are and unravelling such knots as the Brewers have attempted to make takes time.

So where does this leave us with the shops? Here’s how it looks to me, A-Z by location rather than from North to South or any such because, quite frankly, my geography sucks. In my world, London is South, everywhere else (including Australia) is North (except Leicester, which is Midlands, and I suppose we could make a concession for Wales and say it’s off to the West).

Links for each town are to the UKCBD listings, which I’m aware need updating. Unfortunately I always seem to have more to do than time to do it in *sigh*… other links are to reports of closures, photo-shoots where available or most recent comments, whichever seemed most appropriate whilst compiling the list. If you have more accurate or up to date info, please add it to the comments…

And to round things off, an excerpt from the January 2009 Retail Research “Who’s Gone Bust?” report (pdf, 144kb), which I discovered whilst compiling this report. A sad, succinct summary:

SPCK,  the 23-branch Church of England Bookshops,  had been acquired along with the leases at concessionary rents in 2006 by two Texan millionaires (the Brewer Brothers) who trade as SSG,  an Orthodox-Church charity. Since then it has been has been rapidly run down,  with complaints of staff ill-treatment (staff sacked by email etc) and an illiberal policy about what could be stocked. The owners attempted to close down the UK chain in 2008 by applying for personal bankruptcy in the US courts. Their bankruptcy motion was Dismissed With Prejudice (i.e. it was NBG). It is difficult to know how many stores are still left operating or what is the position regarding liabilities,  back pay,  legal liabilities, etc. Some SSG stores still trade,  but have no connection with SPCK. A poor outcome.

ECCR: PUTTING FAITH AND VALUES INTO ACTION, WORKING FOR JUSTICE

Matt Wardman writes:

q-logo-eccrOne of the organisations we have spoken to while pursuing the SPCK/SSG story has been the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility, a research and campaigning organisation started within the Industrial Chaplaincy movement that is now almost 20 years old. I first met them when they were developing a set of Environmental Benchmarks as far back as 1993 in partnership with organisations in the USA and Canada, and applying them to a large British Company. Miles Litvinoff has kindly supplied this article to bring their story up to date.

ECCR typically do long term work in partnership with groups such as Trade Unions and voluntary groups, and (in my view anyway) have demonstrated a great capability to engage in work for corporate responsibility at an institutional level.

The Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR) is a coalition of the British and Irish churches and others working for economic justice, environmental stewardship, and corporate and investor responsibility. It undertakes research, advocacy and dialogue with companies and investors and seeks to influence company policy and practice and to raise awareness among the churches, the investor community and the general public. ECCR member organisations control and influence more than £10 billion of invested assets.

ECCR was founded in 1989 following a meeting between British industrial chaplains and visiting Philippine trade unionists concerned about impacts of the operations of UK sugar transnational Tate & Lyle on communities in the Philippines. Responding to local concerns regarding operations of British business overseas has remained central to ECCR’s mission.

Church connections alerted ECCR in the 1990s to social conflict and human rights abuses linked to the oil and gas industry in Nigeria. After initial dialogue with the Shell Group, ECCR brought a ground-breaking shareholder resolution to Shell’s 1996 AGM. There had been few civil society shareholder resolutions in the UK before, and this helped bring about a major response on the part of Shell in of addressing corporate responsibility issues and relations with Niger Delta communities.

ECCR developed links with the Centre for Social and Corporate Responsibility (CSCR), a non-governmental organisation founded in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, in 2001. Since then we have maintained a joint dialogue with Shell directors in Nigeria and Europe to articulate the rights of people living in the Delta.

In 2006 ECCR brought a second shareholder resolution to Shell’s AGM, focused on the company’s social and environmental performance not only in Nigeria but also in Ireland (the Corrib gas project, County Mayo) and Russia (Sakhalin II oil and gas project). Some 17% of shareholders voted against or abstained from voting with the company on this resolution, a similar proportion as in 1996.

CSCR has provided ECCR with regular reports on the Niger Delta based on its participatory work with communities. This knowledge sharing informs ECCR’s and its members’ engagement with the company and brings considerable credibility to CSCR in Nigeria.

In 2007 ECCR and CSCR met in London with Wim Kok, former Dutch Prime Minister and chair of Shell’s Social Responsibility Committee, to discuss problems arising from poor implementation in Nigeria of its global operational standards. The meeting led to Shell’s Nigeria management participating in a multistakeholder forum with Delta communities co-organised by CSCR. And following concerted pressure involving ECCR and faith-based investors in the USA, CSCR has recently reported successful rehabilitation of neighbourhood water boreholes by Shell Nigeria. Admittedly, many severe oil-industry-related problems remain for Delta communities that ECCR, CSCR and other civil society organisations must still tackle.

Other recent work by ECCR includes researching and reporting on the worldwide operations of mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, co-founding the Working Group on Mining in the Philippines (chaired by former UK development secretary Clare Short MP), pioneering analysis on the global `water footprint’ of British and Irish food and drinks transnationals, and work-in-progress on vulnerable migrant workers in the British and Irish economies.

Shareholder engagement shows growing potential in the movement for greater corporate accountability in relation to human rights and the sustainable development agenda. The approach is in the main non-confrontational, mobilising institutional investors and civil society to press for constructive change on the part of companies. Although reforming corporate policies may be more easily achieved than changing practice on the ground, ECCR’s experience with Shell – and work by other coalitions such as on the cost of AIDS drugs, corporate lobbying, environmental standards and labour conditions in retail supply chains – shows that real change can be achieved.

Miles Litvinoff

ECCR Co-ordinator

Co-ordinator, the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR)
PO Box 500, Oxford OX1 1ZL, UK
tel. +44 (0)20 8965 9682

mobile +44 (0)7984 720103
email: miles.litvinoff@eccr.org.uk
web: www.eccr.org.uk

(ECCR is a company limited by guarantee in England & Wales (No. 2764183) and a Body in Association with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.)



The Twelve Days of Gerald the Sheep Day Two: Cartoon by Ben Gallagher

Typically, this was the only time Gerald completed a Rubik’s Cube

20081226-q-cartoon-gerald-the-sheep-12-days-day-two-rubik-cube

Cartoon: Ben Gallagher