Tag Archives: Former SPCK Bookshops

Charity Commission releases report on the SPCK/SSG Bookshops

Saint Stephen the Great: Charity Commission inquiry

IT’S TAKEN A LONG, LONG TIME but today the Charity Commission has at last issued its assessment of the Brewer brothers’ gross mishandling of the former SPCK Bookshops.

The nine page report (available here) fails to identify the Brewers by name but nonetheless makes damning reading as it brings to light huge irregularities in a wide-ranging and complex inquiry that examined four specific areas:

  • Conflict of interest/loyalty, trustee benefit and self-dealing
  • Exposure to financial liability of the company and the trust
  • Bankruptcy proceedings in the United States of America
  • Potential damage to public trust and confidence

After a brief introduction to the Saint Stephen the Great Trust and Company, the report  identifies the issues under investigation, summarises the Commission’s findings, reviews the interim manager’s activities and findings, and draws the following conclusions:

The interim manager concluded that the trustees had mismanaged the trust. There were unmanaged conflicts of interest and loyalty related to directorships of associated companies and contracts entered into by some of the trustees.

The inquiry considered that some conflicts were so intrinsically linked to the trust’s administration that they could not be managed. The inquiry was concerned that the trustees’ lack of ability to manage conflicts of interest and loyalty arising from their involvement in connected organisations could lead them to consider it appropriate to use the trust’s funds to satisfy the liabilities of the other entities.

The inquiry highlighted poor governance, lack of due diligence and inadequate record keeping on the part of the trust trustees and the company directors. Trustees are under a duty to be prudent with the charity’s assets, the lack of prudence in this case and the lack of trustee awareness of their responsibilities has led to the demise of the trust and the company.

The interim manager concluded that it would be expensive and risky for the trust to restart managing the shops. There was no prospect of new trustees wishing to manage the trust and no evidence that beneficiaries or interested parties wished the trust to continue. It was in the trust’s best interest for it to be wound up with surplus assets transferred to charities with similar objectives.

The inquiry concluded that there had been serious mismanagement and misconduct of the trust and company by the trustees.

It then goes on to outline the extent, cost and impact of the Commission’s regulatory action, briefly noting the vast sums involved:

Trust assets of £3,226,100 were safeguarded by the appointment of the interim manager and claims of £4,171,710 were managed. £1,928,853 was disbursed in settlement of claims and £144,486 was disbursed to Orthodox communities.

Finally, the report considers issues for the wider sector, highlighting lessons to be learned from the failings noted and highlighting the duties and responsibilities of charity trustees, who must always:

  • act only in the best interests of the charity
  • actively manage actual or potential conflicts of interest
  • familiarise themselves with the appropriate legal requirements and take professional advice
  • keep proper accounting records and an adequate audit trail

Sadly, as well as failing to name those responsible for this Christian book trade disaster, the report also fails to consider the human cost for those caught up in it — the distress, hardship and misery caused to so many — noting only that “Thirty four of the shops’ ex-employees submitted redundancy claims” and that “Settlement of the redundancy claims from ex-shop employees was made and claims were paid in 2009 and 2010.”

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Final settlement with SSG worth “over a million pounds” (updated 12/10/2013)

SPCK Trustees' Report and Accounts for the year ended 30th April 2013 (pdf, 1.7mb)

SPCK Trustees’ Report and Accounts for the year ended 30th April 2013 (pdf, 1.7mb)

THE FINAL SETTLEMENT between SPCK and the Brewers/SSG was worth “over a million pounds” according to the Rt Revd John Pritchard in his Chair’s Overview in the Society’s 2013 Annual Report. This income, he continues, has strengthened SPCK’s “overall financial position” and enabled them to support the pension fund set up for former shop workers. He also acknowledges that it has been a painful process, particularly for those workers:

The very long legal struggle with the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT) has finally been concluded with a settlement involving the value of the remaining shop freeholds, which were already in the process of being sold or prepared for sale. This represented over a million pounds, which has strengthened our overall financial position and is helping us to support the Designated Fund dedicated to paying into the pension scheme that was operating in the days of the shops. We are very glad to have brought this difficult matter to a conclusion at last. It has been painful for everybody, and particularly for the staff of our former shops. The settlement is good news for SPCK and good news for the church.

Update, 12/10/2013: AGM Records Vote of Thanks

The following note has now been posted on the SPCK news page as part of the Society’s AGM report:

We reached a resolution with Saints Stephen the Great Charitable Trust and the million pounds recovered will help to strengthen the pension fund to the benefit of our former bookshop staff who were in the scheme.  The valuable service which the SPCK shops gave to the Church and to their communities over many years was acknowledged with a vote of thanks and appreciation to all those who had been part of this ministry.

Freeholds Reclaimed, Disbursements and Pension Fund top-ups promised as SPCK settle dispute with SSG

IT’S BEEN A SLOW TRAIN COMING, but SPCK have at long last drawn a line under their long-running legal dispute with SSG, the charity set up by Phil & Mark Brewer to run, but which ultimately ruined, the the former SPCK bookshops. In a news bulletin posted yesterday, Friday 14th September 2012 — just short of six years since the original handover of the shops to SSG was announced — SPCK declared that it had “finally concluded” the matter with “a predicated settlement involving the return of some shop freeholds or their realised value” and further anticipated “substantial disbursements – as yet unquantified – and legal costs which will be clarified in the coming months.”

Describing the settlement, Simon Kingston went on to say,

In particular, SPCK is committed to paying substantial sums into the fund relating to the pension which was operating in the days of the shops.

Congratulations must be made to Simon in particular for his quiet determination and persistence in pursuing this matter to a conclusion. The damage done by the Brewer brothers can never be undone but most of those who suffered at their hands should now be able to begin to look forward to a brighter future and, hopefully, some measure of restitution.

SPCK News: SPCK Legal Dispute Concluded

SPCK News: SPCK Legal Dispute Concluded

Full Statement: SPCK Legal Dispute Concluded

SPCK is pleased to announce that it has finally concluded its long legal dispute with Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. Simon Kingston, CEO and General Secretary, says: “We are very glad to have brought this difficult matter to a conclusion at last. It has been painful for everybody, and particularly for the staff of our former shops. We therefore welcome the news that SSGCT is unlikely to continue as a charity.

“We are now in a better position to focus all our energies on our core aim of bringing knowledge of the Christian faith to the whole world.”

As part of the agreement, SPCK receives a predicated settlement involving the return of some shop freeholds or their realised value. This will be reflected in SPCK’s annual accounts. However, we anticipate substantial disbursements – as yet unquantified – and legal costs which will be clarified in the coming months.

“Funds from this settlement will be vital at a time that is so challenging financially,” said Mr Kingston. “In particular, SPCK is committed to paying substantial sums into the fund relating to the pension which was operating in the days of the shops.”

The Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, Chair of SPCK, also welcomed the announcement. “This is good news for SPCK and good news for the Church. Now that this is resolved, SPCK can look to the future with confidence.

“And there is plenty to celebrate. Last year, for example, SPCK gave away 12,000 International Study Guides to students training for ministry in some of the poorest parts of the world. Closer to home, the (free) Assemblies website had 37 million hits, and the charity sold over a third of a million books in the UK and another 300,000 overseas. There are more exciting developments in hand for 2012, including the launch of resources supporting literacy in prisons.”

 

The sad and empty shell of the former SPCK Christian Bookshop, Chester

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Photo posted on Flickr by majestik_12, Rob Poulson, 27 March 2011:

Former SPCK Bookshop in Chester, 27/03/2011

Former SPCK Bookshop in Chester, 27/03/2011

Sad to see the shop still sitting there like this more than a year after the removals fairies struck back in January 2010…

2010: SPCK/SSG Blog Overview

Phil Groom writes:

THANK YOU to the stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com for the following snapshot summary of how this blog did in 2010; but EVEN BIGGER THANKS to you, its readers, without whose involvement it would all be dust and ashes. I guess the good news is that those money-grubbing scoundrels, Messrs Phil Brewer and J Mark Brewer, no longer have their snouts in the trough since it all turned to dust and ashes in their mouths, although Phil Brewer still has the audacity to brag about his involvement in the whole sorry story as if it were some sort of success. Nuff said: here’s the breakdown from 2010:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy Numbers

Featured image

About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 34,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 17 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 278 posts. There were 17 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 4mb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was January 22nd with 418 views. The most popular post that day was Removals Fairies Strike at former SPCK Bookshop, Chester.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were christianbookshops.org.uk, christianbookshopsblog.org.uk, facebook.com, mattwardman.com, and twitter.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for proposal to strike off, spck ssg, spck, active – proposal to strike off, and gemstar exeter.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Removals Fairies Strike at former SPCK Bookshop, Chester January 2010
28 comments

2

SSG at Companies House: “Status: Active – Proposal to Strike off” January 2009
14 comments

3

Final Former-SPCK Bookshop Expels Philip Brewer: Durham Cathedral January 2010
37 comments

4

Durham: Cathedral Shop Reopens March 2010
24 comments

5

A Tangled Web for Creditors as Durham Cathedral announces plans to Re-Open Shop under its own Management February 2010
36 comments

Good News in Leicester as Cathedral Square Relocation Plans are Confirmed

Phil Groom writes:

THE UNCERTAINTY that has hung over Christian Resources, the former SPCK Bookshop in Leicester, since the sad death of Peter Hebden (who was sole proprietor) has come to an end at last. The following brief announcement was posted to the Christian Resources Leicester facebook group on Monday 20th Dec 2010:

Christian Resources Leicester: WE ARE MOVING!

Christian Resources Leicester - WE ARE MOVING! We can now officially tell you that we will be relocating to a BRAND NEW SHOP next March as part of the new Cathedral Square Development next to Leicester Cathedral. More news coming soon....!!

In February, when I last reported on the situation in Leicester, it was hoped that the new premises would become available during the autumn of this year, but this was delayed. Although the bookshop itself isn’t specifically mentioned, this video, presented by Pete Hobson, Project Director, gives an insight into the development:

I have to say that for me personally it’s all very nostalgic: this was my school! That gym you see is where I had PE lessons and those upstairs rooms are where we had our science lessons, oh yes! And if you seriously think those little wooden knobs would stop teenage boys sliding down the bannisters, you were never a teenage boy!! And now — somewhere — the place is going to be home to Leicester’s leading Christian bookshop: bring it on!

Former SPCK Bookshops Four Years On: watching, waiting, wondering: it isn’t over yet

The Watcher writes:

The photograph below, sent in by a concerned individual, of the former SPCK Bookshop in Worcester, looking empty and neglected, is symptomatic of the present state of play regarding the former SPCK Bookshops four years after they were handed over to the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust aka Messrs Mark and Phil Brewer on 31st October 2006.

Former SPCK Bookshop, Worcester, 26 Oct 2010

Former SPCK Bookshop, Worcester, 26 Oct 2010

As well as handing over more than 200 staff, and we’ve seen the tale of pain and destruction which has taken place regarding that event, SPCK also handed over valuable freehold shop premises.

Five shops – Bradford, Canterbury, Exeter, Truro and York – were handed over immediately. Exeter was sold in 2008 and York is in the process of being converted into a restaurant. No doubt we shall have news of other sales in due course.

However, six shops – Chester, Hereford, Newcastle, Salisbury, Winchester and Worcester – were destined to be handed over fully to SSGCT in 2013 if they were still being used as Christian bookshops. Obviously none of them are, as the photograph demonstrates, so a logical thinker would say that ownership was still with SPCK who could do as they liked with the buildings as the Brewers had reneged on their part of the deal. [1] If only life were that easy when the Brewers are around! They fight for their rights (and they’re always right) regardless, and now the Charity Commission and their Interim Managers are also involved.

As so many legalities are involved, no one outside of the situation can be exactly sure what is happening, but it would appear that although the Interim Managers had stated they could only be involved in SSGCT affairs because that was a charity, not in any of the later organisations set up by the Brewers because they were companies, they are still working with SPCK but it could take until 2013 for any resolution.

In the meantime shops stand empty in prime high street locations and suppliers who were not paid by the Brewers from mid 2007 through to the end of 2009, are still owed money at a time when trading conditions are difficult. It is sad that they would have to take the time, trouble and expense to chase up what they are owed because of the “technicality” of the Brewers trying to separate Charity and Company. The former SPCK shops existed because of the support of thousands of ordinary Christians. Some shops had their opening funded by local Christians raising the money to enable SPCK to purchase retail premises. All shops continued to stay open over many years because customers shopped there. So, what is the answer? Can anyone ignore what is happening and think the story is over?


[1] Excerpts from SPCK’s 2007 Annual Report

 

From p.6:

On 31 October 2006, all our bookshops and their staff were transferred to St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. The Society will retain six freeholds for a period of seven years, when (subject to agreed conditions) they will also be transferred.

From p.20:

On 30 October 2006, SPCK entered into an agreement with St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT), a registered charity no: 1109008, for the creation of a new Christian Resources Group including the SPCK Bookshops open at that date. Under the terms of the agreement and in furtherance of its charitable purposes, SPCK transferred its Bookshops activities to SSGCT on 31 October 2006 including the transfer of certain freehold and leasehold properties, fixtures fittings and stock. SPCK also agreed to grant leases to SSGCT, at peppercorn rents, on certain other freehold properties for a period of seven years, after which time they will be transferred to SSGCT if the SPCK Bookshops Group remains in operation on an agreed basis.