Category Archives: Opinions

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.

and finally….. Durham?

David Keen writes

It sounds like the bookshop formerly known as SPCK Chichester is now closed, which leaves only Durham still under the control of the Brewer brothers. Durham Cathedral have already given them notice to quit – by April next year – but the Charity Commissioners may have other views.

If Chichester has been closed because the CC’s deem it to be an asset of the former ‘Society of St. Stephen the Great’ charity, and therefore part of the tribunal settlement with former staff, then logic suggests that they do the same with Durham. Every other remaining shop in the former SPCK chain is already under Charity Commissioners control.

If you’re planning to buy anything from Durham, then you might want to get a move on. The Cathedral want to re-open the shop after they’ve evicted the Brewers, but I can’t see the Commissioners waiting until April 2010. Former staff have been promised full payment of their tribunal settlement within 3 months, so I guess the CC’s will be looking to identify assets during that time frame.

And that will be that: the end of the SPCK bookshop chain in its final incarnation. Several former shops have reopened under new management, and places like Durham will probably be viable under proper management, but there’s wider issues in Christian bookselling, and this isn’t exactly the best time to be starting up a new shop.

Still a stack of ongoing issues:
– If SPCK passed on the shops to the Brewers under a covenant stating that they should continue to operate as Christian bookshops, does that still stand now the Charity Commissioners have taken possession?
– If so, will we have a government agency running a chain of Christian bookshops? (!!??!)
– SPCK themselves have been very quiet for much of the last 2 years, possibly for legal reasons. But having made the decision to hand the bookshops over to Mark and Phil Brewer, there has to be some kind of review of that decision, and some learning of lessons.
– There are other untraced monies, like pension contributions.
– At what point will Phil and Mark Brewer be brought to justice, rather than simply be forced by the courts to cough up what they already owe?

…And so on…. please pray for all the folk caught up in this, it’s deeply sad, and bookshop staff are caught in an incredibly difficult position. However if a stocktake (of the orthodox sort) in Durham is on the cards, then that might be of some help to the Charity Commissioners.

cross posted from St. Aidan to Abbey Manor

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?

Supporting Gaza

Phil Groom writes:

Hope you’ll forgive me going off-topic today: I’m kinda angry with the BBC and their so-called “impartiality” in refusing to broadcast the DEC Appeal for Gaza. Puts our gripes about them dropping us from the Sunday Programme into perspective, though, I think. I’ve gone on about it more here: Supporting Gaza. Please do. Support Gaza, I mean; and yes, of course Hamas launching missiles in Israel was wrong, but that doesn’t make Israel’s brutal retaliation right.

Here’s the appeal the BBC wouldn’t show: