Tag Archives: Charity Commission

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…

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.

Peek-a-Boo: Where are you? Playing Hide and Seek with the Charity Commission

Phil Groom writes:

As the Charity Commission say, it may simply be an oversight. J Mark and Philip W Brewer are not usually backward about coming forward. But in the meantime it seems that the Charity Commission investigation into SSG may have run into a wee problem:

Chester shop is also still using bags with the SPCK name and charity number on.

I have contacted the charity commission to complain about this and they told me that at present they have no contact address for Saint Stephen the Great as any letters are being returned to them as not known at the address.

When I said surely no charity can operate without a contact address they said it was probaly just an oversight that no one had thought to give them a new address.

yorkshire pride, January 6, 2009, 8.01pm

The good news is that there are other options; as I said in response to yorkshire pride:

It should be possible to contact J Mark Brewer here:

Brewer & Pritchard PC: Contact. Assuming he’s still with the company, of course. But if not, as a wannabe US Congressman, his campaign address is also a matter of public record: Campaign Money: John Mark Brewer.

(Don’t get too excited about the outstanding debt of $559,846 from his 2000 campaign; it was self-loaned: “Brewer ranked fifth among U.S. House candidates for self-loans during the first half of the year” – Texas Weekly: ‘Tis the Season to Spend Money.)

Mark, old chap, if you or any of your colleagues should happen to be reading this, please do get in touch with the Charity Commission, there’s a good fellow. Thank you.

Charity Commission Replies: Formal Inquiry In Progress

Phil Groom writes:

Following on from Matt Wardman’s note yesterday that the Charity Commission have launched an inquiry, this is the the full text of their response to my enquiry:

Charity Commission Direct
PO Box 1227, Liverpool L69 3UG

t: 020 7674 2492
f: 020 7674 2301
 
Your Ref:       
Our Ref:          WTF 1119839/685451 C & S Ldn
 
Date:               13 November 2008

Dear Mr Groom

St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (the Trust) and St Stephen the Great (The Company) (1119839)

Thank you for your email dated the 27 October about the above charities. I confirm  that concerns have already been raised with the Commission relating to governance and internal financial controls at the Trust and the Company.
 
We have therefore contacted the trustees to clarify the situation with regard to some of the points raised. On the basis both of the initial concerns raised with the Commission and of the information provided by the charity in response, on 26 September 2008 we opened a formal inquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993.
 
Because this inquiry remains open and ongoing I will not be in a position to go into further detail at this time, but we would normally look to make a report available once the inquiry was concluded.
 
Nevertheless, I have noted your concerns but would like to mention that some of these fall outside the remit of the Commission.

Any concerns regarding gift aid should be referred to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs which is the organisation with the necessary expertise to deal with such matters. Furthermore, the Commission cannot get involved in employment matters.

I hope the above is clear.

Yours sincerely

William Thomas Fahey

Section 8 of the Charities Act 1993 legislates for the Commissioner’s Information Powers: General power to institute inquiries.

David Keen has also received a reply to his enquiry: watch his blog for details…

David Keen writes to the Charity Commissioners

Cross-posted from:

Letter to Charity Commissioners about the Society of St. Stephen the Great, and the former SPCK bookshops

Thanks to David for this. As always, comments are welcome here; but please be sure to also post your comments on David’s original post.

Thank you — Phil Groom.

David writes:

With no reply from Mark Brewer after 2 weeks, I have re-sent the original letter from the 498 ‘We Support Dave Walker‘ Facebookers. I will also be putting the following letter in the post later today. I’m not really interested in who gets back to me first, I just want justice.

Re: St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (charity no. 1109008, registered 12/4/05, removed 8/8/07)
St. Stephen the Great (charity no 1119839, registered 27/6/07)
St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (subsidiary of St. Stephen the Great, registered 19.8.07)

Dear Charity Commissioners,

I have a number of concerns about the charities listed above, and would be grateful if you could look into them.

The St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT) has not filed any accounts with you since March 2006, either in its original incarnation as a registered charity, or as a subsidiary of ‘St. Stephen the Great’ (SSG) SSGCT was removed from registration on 8.8.07 and re-registered as a subsidiary of SSG on 19.8.07. It is now over 30 months since any financial records have been submitted. In the meantime the company has attempted to file for bankruptcy in the USA, is subject to 30 claims through employment tribunals in the UK, and employees are reporting that pension contributions have not been kept up to date.

The claim for bankruptcy itself was thrown out by the US courts, on the basis that the main creditors were in the UK, and legal action was promptly begun against the principal SSG trustee for attempting to use the US courts to evade their responsibilities elsewhere.

Saint Stephen the Great is also the name of a trading company, registered at Companies House (Company No. 061105190), whose Directors are the same as the SSG charity Trustees. It was incorporated on 16.2.07 and as yet has filed no accounts, their last return was due in March 2008 and is now more than 7 months overdue.

SSGCT ran a chain of bookshops, which it acquired from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in 2006. In June 2008 the Chairman of SSG and SSGCT emailed shop staff to inform them that:
“SSG (St Stephen the Great – limited liability company) has been terminated as the trading company to operate the bookshops formerly known as SPCK Bookshops…. The bookshops will now be operated by ENC Management Company”
ENC is listed on the Companies House website as Company Number FC028292, and it’s Directors and Secretary are the same 3 people as the St. Stephen the Great charity trustees, and the directors of the St. Stephen the Great trading company.

My concerns are as follows:
1. Your website states: Trustees of charities with income exceeding £10,000 in their last financial year are required to complete and submit an Annual Return and a copy of the trustees’ annual report and accounts. This must be done within 10 months of the end of the charity’s financial year. 

SSG/SSGCT has not done this. In view of the financial situation detailed above, financial transparency would seem to be vital, yet the latest accounts only cover 2005-6. As a private citizen I would be fined if my tax return was submitted more than 9 months after the end of the tax year, but this has now been 30 months and rising. What is happening, and what processes are being followed to make SSG/SSGCT publish its accounts? Many suppliers and staff remain unpaid, and there seem to be pension payments missing as well. It is vital that up to date accounts are published to enable these claims to be properly processed.

2. If the bookshops are now being run by ENC Management Company, which has no formal relationship with any of the SSG charities, then is there a proper process for the transfer of assets from a charity to a private company, and has this been followed?

3. A memo from one of the ENC Directors, Mr Phil Brewer, to shop staff in August 2008 stated: “ On all purchases of 10 GBP or more, offer a 2 GBP discount if a donation of 1 GBP or more is made. They must also fill out a gift aid form.” A scanned copy of this memo is attached, retrieved from https://spckssg.wordpress.com/2008/08/24/philip-brewer-says-immediately-post-this/

However, given that the chain is now being run by ENC Management Company (a registered company) and not SSG (a charity), then is it legitimate to claim gift aid on purchases? If not, what is the legal position of staff who are being asked to do this?

4. The memo also instructs staff (no.5) inform customers that ‘thirdspacebooks’ – a website set up to support the bookshops – ‘supports charity’. However, ordering books through the site (http://thirdspacebooks.com/) merely takes you to Amazon, and there is no indication on the site of which charities it supports.

5. The confusion of names does not help, nor does the fact that Third Space Books, in its photographs of the shops, shows them still trading under the name ‘SPCK’, a name SSG is not entitled to use.

My concern in this is as someone who has used these bookshops, and has become concerned about various aspects of the way this business is run. If you are not already looking into these irregularities, can I please ask you to do so as a matter of urgency. There are 30 former staff, and many more suppliers, who remain unpaid by this organisation, and financial transparency is essential to make sure that people receive what they are owed.

Yours sincerely
Rev David Keen