Tag Archives: Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust

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.”

Advertisements

Durham Cathedral Staff Tribunal Starts

Our thanks to Valiant For Truth for bringing to our attention that in The Journal Newspaper yesterday there was an article of great import to those who frequent this site,

Durham Cathedral Bookshop Staff Launch Legal Fight

This in many ways marks the official start of Durham Staff in their fight for Justice against the Brewer Brothers and their tactics of playing fast and loose with employment law and the rights of workers to be treated fairly and dismissed in a right way.

However Durham Cathedral itself via their trading arm are also in the dock as it were, again something that may not come as any great surprise to readers of this blog who have at times been dismayed, upset and hurt by some of the Cathedrals inactions and actions throughout the saga.

The article begins by saying:

CATHEDRAL bosses could become embroiled in a complex legal fight after bookshop staff launched tribunal proceedings.

Six workers at Durham Cathedral’s bookshop are seeking compensation after their employment was allegedly terminated when the shop unexpectedly closed on January 22 this year.

But confusion has arisen over who is potentially liable for any payouts and proceedings have been listed against several different companies, including the cathedral’s trading arm, Durham Cathedral Trading Ltd.

The article then goes on to say:

Miss Jeram, representing the Trust, (inserted clarification for blog readers – that’s SSGCT) said: “There are a number of uncertainties. There has been a great deal of confusion right from the beginning over their employer.

“The only issues can be who the employer was immediately prior to the closing of the bookshop and who the employer was at any time after that, in the period between January 22 and March 1.

“We’ve got to consider whether the claims should be struck out against the first respondent. At some point after June 2007 and before July 2008 it is my understanding that the Brewers attempted to wind up SSG LLC in Houston. After that time their employer could not have been SSG so it would have become the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company.”

Claims against employers involve redundancy pay, unfair dismissal, breach of contract and unpaid work.

Sara Brody, representing the staff on behalf of shop workers union Usdaw at the hearing, argued the Trust should remain on the list of potential employers.

She said: “The claimants believe the Trust was their employer throughout, so their primary claim is against the Trust.”

Last year Durham cathedral bosses served SSG notice to vacate the shop, the last in the UK to be involved with the Trust, by May of this year.

Again these issues as raised are nothing new to anyone aquainted with this situation, previous tribunal actions and this blog.

So again we would ask that anyone who has any information, paperwork or correspondence of any sort that could help USDAW and the Durham staff to clear up the issue of employers please do get in touch with them directly.  Anything that demonstrates who people believed they were doing business with or indeed were doing business with during the time frames mentioned can all help in proving who the employers were and give credence to the staffs perception of employer, so please do get in touch with USDAW and offer your help to them in making sure justice is again done.

As always our thoughts are with those involved in this action and we hope for a swift and just outcome for the Staff at Durham.

Trick or Treat? Three Years Today

Phil Groom writes:

Came across this whilst revisiting last year’s Trustees Report & Accounts from SPCK (pdf – p.20, under ‘Exceptional Items’; scroll down to p. 22 in Google’s cached version), figured we shouldn’t let this third anniversary go by without marking it. Hadn’t thought much about it being Halloween before: trick or treat, anyone?

Transfer of Bookshops
On 30 October 2006, SPCK entered into an agreement with Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT), a registered charity (no. 1109008), for the creation of a new Christian Resources Group including the SPCK Bookshops in operation 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 and 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 would be transferred to SSGCT if the SPCK Bookshops Group remained in operation on an agreed basis. From the date of completion, SSGCT became responsible for the trading activities of all bookshops continuing to trade under the ‘SPCK Bookshops’ name, which it had been agreed could be used by SSGCT under an annually renewable licence. The licence was withdrawn in November 2007 in view of their failure to abide by the terms of the agreement.

Official Usdaw Press Release: Victory for workers sacked by email

Download Full Press Release (pdf, 224kb)

Download Full Press Release (pdf, 224kb)

Phil Groom writes:

Usdaw released the Press Release (html | pdf, 224kb) copied below today, Wednesday 19 August 2009. The Notes to Editors appended to the press release give a superb summary of the whole Brewer debacle to date, so be sure to click through to read that; and don’t miss this BBC report: Sacked bookshop staff win payout!

The story is, of course, far from over yet, with Philip W ‘Slippery Fingers’ Brewer apparently still in personal control of the Chichester and Durham shops. Reports emerging indicate that the Charity Commission are closing in, however…

Victory for workers sacked by email

32 sacked Christian bookshop workers have finally won a substantial payout with the help of shopworkers’ union Usdaw.

The workers were employed by the long-established SPCK chain of Christian bookshops until they were transferred to a charity called Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG) in November 2006, controlled by two American brothers, Mark and Philip Brewer.

The Brewers tried to force the staff to sign new contracts which gave them longer hours, fewer holidays and poorer pension rights.

Between February and June 2008 the 32 workers were sacked by the Brewer brothers, with many getting the news by e-mail, breaking UK employment law.

Usdaw launched a legal fight to help the workers get justice and the money they were owed when they were sacked, lodging claims in the Employment Tribunal.

Heather Leather, one of the sacked workers, said:

“We were so pleased to have Usdaw behind us when all this happened. At the shop where I worked the staff had a total of more than 100 years’ service between us. We simply didn’t know what was happening when the Brewers started all this, and we never expected to be treated this way, when we had done nothing wrong. But Usdaw was behind us from the start and guided us round all the legal hurdles the Brewers tried to put in our way.”

John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary, added:

“We are delighted that these long-serving and dedicated members have finally won the compensation they deserve. We believe they have been treated appallingly, with no regard for British law or for the loyalty of the staff.

“Usdaw’s Legal Department has worked hard to ensure that justice was achieved for these workers. Because the case was so complex, affecting people in shops across the country, they would never have been able to get such a great result without the backing of a union, and Usdaw is proud to have been able to help them.”

Changing the Locks: Official Notices as seen in Chester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Worcester

Phil Groom writes:

  • Updated July 11, 2009

Thanks to our intrepid photographers in Chester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Worcester for these snapshots of the official ‘Changing the Locks’ notices (see previous post). Transcripts below the photos.

1. Chester

The locks on this property have been changed...

The locks on this property have been changed...

Notice:
The locks on this property have been changed under the authority of the Interim Manager of Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (1119839-1) who was appointed by Order of the Charity Commission for England and Wales, made under S. 18(1)(VII) of the Charities Act 1993 as amended by the Charities Act 2006, on 28 April 2009.

If access is required to the premises please contact Fergus Jack at DTZ on 0207 643 6579

Fergus Jack

DTZ
48 Warwick Street, London W1B 5NL
Tel: +44 (0)20 3296 4494

2. Newcastle-upon-Tyne

… and thanks to yet another intrepid photographer in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Again, transcript below the picture.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne - Keep Out, by Order of the Interim Manager

Newcastle-upon-Tyne - Keep Out, by Order of the Interim Manager

NOTICE

St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust
(Registered no 1119839-1)

8 Ridley Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8JW

Take notice that I, Peter Gotham, was appointed Interim Manager of the Business and Assets of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust by the Charity Commission under case no. 685451 on 28 April 2009.

No entry to this building is permitted without my express authority.

Any enquiries regarding access should be addressed during office hours to:

Fergus Jack

Telephone: 0207 643 6579

P Gotham
Interim Manager
St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust

… and if anyone’s wondering, there is still some stock in the Newcastle shop:

Newcastle Shop, July 2009

Newcastle Shop, July 2009

3. Worcester

Courtesy of Doug Chaplin, aka Clayboy:

Worcester - No entry to this building is permitted...

Worcester - No entry to this building is permitted...

NOTICE

St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust
(Registered no 1119839-1)

105 High Street, Worcester, WR1 2HS

Take notice that I, Peter Gotham, was appointed Interim Manager of the Business and Assets of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust by the Charity Commission under case no. 685451 on 28 April 2009.

No entry to this building is permitted without my express authority.

Any enquiries regarding access should be addressed during office hours to:

Fergus Jack

Telephone: 0207 643 6579

P Gotham
Interim Manager
St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust

SPCK or SSG? Bookshop Photocall

Updated 20th Sept 2008

Earlier this month Matt Wills posted photos of the Winchester and Salisbury branches, still decked out in their SPCK colours and signage almost two years on from the handover. More to the point, it’s now almost a year since SPCK withdrew the licence to trade under the SPCK name:

SPCK Trustees' Report and Accounts, Year Ended 30 April 2008

Annual Report 2008

SSG (the former SPCK Bookshops)  

In November 2007, SPCK withdrew the licence granted to Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust to use our name in relation to the Bookshops in view of their failure to abide by the terms of our agreement. It has proved a very difficult and distressing year for the shops and staff, and the process has involved us in a considerable amount of activity. There are a number of significant legal issues between SPCK and SSGCT that have not been resolved at the year end.

SPCK Trustees’ Report and Accounts, Year Ended 30 April 2008 (pdf, 944kb)

Not wishing to be outdone, it seems, Mark Brewer put his own spin on the story: it wasn’t so much a case of SPCK withdrawing the licence but of SSG feeling uncomfortable with SPCK’s theology:

Book chain drops SPCK name

Bookseller, 07.11.07: Book chain drops SPCK name

Mark Brewer said that “with more and more SPCK [published] books carrying a decidedly ‘liberal’ agenda rather than traditional Christian values, [SSG] feel the time has come to distance themselves from SPCK”.

The Bookseller, 7th Nov 2007

Being a man of his word, of course, Mark immediately sent out a team of shopfitters and signwriters to dismantle all remaining vestiges of SSG’s association with SPCK. In fact, so worried was he by the possibility of SSG’s good name being tainted by association with SPCK that he immediately discontinued SSG’s use of the spckonline.com domain and rebranded the entire enterprise Third Space Books

That’s the fantasy version, by the way: the reality, as many readers will be only too painfully aware, proved a little different. Mark’s grasp of “traditional Christian values” (complicated things like honesty, integrity and paying your workers and suppliers, for instance) were evidently a bit much for an “exceptionally well trained” lawyer from Brewer & Pritchard to get to grips with…

Here, A-Z by location, to help illustrate that reality, we present Matt’s photos together with a few others from around the country, all pictures taken this year. If you click through the pictures to the original posts you’ll find most of the photographers asking much the same question: why are (or were, as the case may be) the shops still trading under the SPCK name so long after the licence was withdrawn and so long after Mark Brewer himself declared that he wanted to disassociate SSG from SPCK?

Birmingham

Birmingham, September 2008, courtesy of Pauline Edwards.

Birmingham, September 2008, courtesy of Pauline Edwards.

Pauline has posted more photos in facebook, but you’ll need to be logged in to facebook to see them…

Cambridge

Cambridge, 17th Feb 2008, photo by Jeremy (blog.parsonses.co.uk), retrieved from Dave Walker's blog as reposted at opendebatenotlibelthreats.blogspot.com

Cambridge, 17th Feb 2008, photo by Jeremy (blog.parsonses.co.uk), retrieved from DW

For some more recent Cambridge photos, SPCK signage cleared but SPCK/SSG carrier bags evidently in use (albeit as rubbish bags!) see Shame and Disgrace: St Stephen the Great, Cambridge

Canterbury

Canterbury, 11th Feb 2008, photo by Dave Walker (retrieved from his blog, reposted at opendebatenotlibelthreats.blogspot.com)

Canterbury, 11th Feb 2008, photo by Dave Walker (retrieved from his blog and reposted at opendebatenotlibelthreats.blogspot.com)

Chester

 

Chester, 20th June 2008

Chester, 20th June 2008, photo by Peter Owen (with apologies to Peter for the delay in adding this)

Exeter

 

Exeter, June 2008, courtesy of Neil Denham

Exeter, June 2008, courtesy of Neil Denham (with apologies to Neil for the delay in adding this!)

the Exeter shop stripped bare, 19/09/2008, courtesy once again of Neil Denham

And so it ends: the Exeter shop stripped bare, 19/09/2008, courtesy once again of Neil Denham

For more photos showing the now empty shelves — and an excerpt from an email describing what happened — see Neil’s report, SPCK Bookshop Exeter – R.I.P.

Lincoln

Lincoln, June 2008

Lincoln, June 2008, photographer unknown

Picture from Hodgson Elkington’s flyer advertising the premises to let.

Salisbury

Salisbury, 2nd Sept 2008

Salisbury, 2nd Sept 2008, photo by Matt Wills, A very ordinary title for a blog...

Winchester

 

Winchester, 31st August 2008

Winchester, 31st August 2008, photo by Matt Wills, A very ordinary title for a blog...

Worcester

 

SPCK Worcester, 26th July 2008

Worcester, 26th July 2008, photo by Doug Chaplin, MetaCatholic

York

 

Photo by Richard and Gill, Flickr

York, 22nd May 2008, photo by Richard and Gill, Flickr

York, 9th July 2008, photo by Peter Owen (with apologies to Peter for the delay in adding this)

York, 9th July 2008, photo by Peter Owen (with apologies to Peter for the delay in adding this)

 
Thanks to those concerned for permission to reuse the photos here. Any others out there? Please either send them in or point me towards where they’re posted to help complete the picture. Pictures taken this year, please.

– Phil Groom. Posted 08/09/2008; updated 20/09/2008.