Tag Archives: SPCK

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.”

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.”

 

Final Former-SPCK Bookshop Expels Philip Brewer: Durham Cathedral

Matt Wardman writes:

Today we have a victory: the last bookshop in the country to remain in control of J Mark and Philip Brewer, the Shyster-Charlatans who have taken hundreds of thousands of pounds from the chain, while abusing and exploiting staff, has been closed. It was in Durham Cathedral, and will soon be re-opened under proper control.

20100121-durham-cathedral-sanctuary-knocker-flickr-artiii-2557245050 de57bb76db

Durham Cathedral Sanctuary Knocker

Photo credit: Artiii on Flickr

This our most important milestone for some months, and we are pleased that Durham Cathedral have acted. As Dave Walker at the Church Time blog has put it:

The end of St Stephen the Great in the UK

The Durham Cathedral shop was the last remaining former SPCK bookshop run by the St Stephen the Great charity (SSG). SSG were given the bookshops by SPCK in 2006.

This is the full text of the notice at the Durham Cathedral website:

The Cathedral Shop temporary closure

The Shop which was managed by St Stephen the Great is now closed.

A new shop under the management of The Cathedral Chapter will open in due course.

Please check the Cathedral Website for the latest news.

(Posted on Friday 22nd January 2010)

No more comment yet, but we are all allowing oursleves to dance a small jig at this point.

However we are still watching, because there are the interests of the members of staff at stake here, and then there will be the small question of what sort of shop will be reopened.

20100121-durham-cathedral-sanctuary-knocker-flickr-artiii-2557245050 de57bb76db

Stories of Unpaid Creditors 1: Employment Agency £15.5k

Matt Wardman writes:

We have been highlighting Brewer non-payment of creditors for a long time now, mainly through data about unpaid creditors and more than £1m of debts from the period summer 2007 to summer 2008, which came into the public domain when J Mark Brewer purported to take “Saint Stephen the Great LLC” into Bankruptcy in Texas in 2008.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, however.

Throughout the period 2008/9 the recruitment agency staff were supplied to the latest operating company (ENC Ltd) running the former-SPCK Bookshops, even while the Charity Commission were investigating Brewer mismanagement. As with the previous generation of creditors shafted the year before, invoices were simply not paid. In this case the debt is £15,500.

Thanks to Paul, who left this comment on our “2 week warning” post on December 7th.

We are the recruitment agency that supplied the staff to the Brewers during 2008 / 2009.

Although we had a good working relationship with Philip Brewer at the start we have been left out of pocket to the tune of £15,500.

We thought that supplying staff to a Christian organisation would have been to some extent a “safe bet” only to be proved wrong.

We are an independent agency and losing this amount of money is, as you can imagine a huge blow to us. As we were supplying ENC Shop Management we probbly have no claim from SSG charity.

May I add that throughout this relationship all staff were paid in full every week and no one other than ourselves are out of pocket.

It’s very sad reading through the posts that the Brewers won’t tough up and pay their creditors. Since they are based in the USA we are finding it increasingly difficult to speak with them, but we’re not going to give up.

Our comments:

  1. We applaud that you have treated staff fairly despite the way you have been treated.
  2. Mark and Philip Brewer run a Christian organisation? Yes – like water runs uphill!
  3. They seem to simply ignore words until people give up and go away – and plenty have written debts off, but have been known to respond to embarrassment or legal action. They may be past responding to embarrassment now.
  4. We have no real knowledge of the position of ENC Ltd, or if it has assets which can be recovered – but I think that they will happily stonewall creditors until the cows come home.
  5. The only company that we *know* is trading is that running the Durham Cathedral Shop.


“Former-SPCK” Creditors: Letters to Church Times, The Bookseller

Matt Wardman writes:

I mentioned in a previous posting that we had written to a number of outlets to publicise the call for Creditors of the former-SPCK bookshop chain, and to raise a number of concerns about the way the brevity of the deadline, and the narrowness of the subset of creditors likely to see a notice placed only in The Bookseller.

Edited versions of our letters have been published in both the Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper, and the full letter in The Bookseller. Christian Marketplace has also carried an article on their website about the Call for Creditors.

We hope, in particular, to start a wider debate in the Book Trade about the nefarious activities of the Messrs Brewer over the last several years, which is long overdue.

In our view, and based on published and unpublished information, a criminal investigation is more than merited.

The Church Times edited out the bits about the deceptive 2008 Bankruptcy attempt in Texas. We are grateful to all publications which carried the letter.

This is the full text of our letter to The Bookseller:

Call for Creditors of Saint Stephen the Great Trust to come forward

Dear Sir

We write as the editors of the SPCK-SSG News Blog (spckssg.wordpress.com). We have been working, with many others, to scrutinise the management of the former-SPCK bookshop chain for 2 years now.

The chain of bookshops was taken over in October/November 2006 by a charity controlled by J Mark Brewer and Philip Brewer, and has been gradually run down since that date.

At least 7 different corporate entities have been used to in managing the chain. These comprise 3 charities (1119839, 1119839-1 and 1109008), 3 private companies (FC028292, FC028290, FC028291), and a Company Limited by Guarantee (06110519); some have similar or identical names, and all were controlled at the outset by various permutations of Brewer family members.

After complaints in 2008, and after a Charity Commission “Section 8” investigation (case ref WTF 1119839/685451), in April this year an “Interim Manager” was appointed to oversee the Saint Stephen the Great charity (1119839), and the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust ( 1119839-1).

Last week The Bookseller included a notice from the Interim Manager, suggesting that “Creditors who believe that they have a valid claim against the Trustees of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust incurred before 1 July 2007, should write to the Interim Manager at Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP, 32 Cornhill, London EC3V 3BT under ref S8703 before the close of business on 16 December 2009.” This notice causes us several concerns.

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. SPCK creditors may include English Cathedrals, communion wine suppliers, development charities, craft businesses, religious communities in the UK and overseas and others. 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?

In summer 2008, J Mark Brewer attempted to take an organisation, which he called “St Stephen the Great, LLC”, into bankruptcy in the South Texas Bankruptcy Court (case 08-33689-H1). His court submission failed to identify the UK bookshops under his control, but did provide a substantially accurate listing of unpaid debts which had arisen over the previous 12 months. This included several hundred creditors, and more than £1m of debts. This case was subsequently dismissed “with prejudice”, and Mr Brewer – himself a lawyer and former Congressional Candidate – required to pay a penalty and take remedial education in the area of Legal Ethics. Under the quoted cutoff date of July 2007, many debts identified in these court submissions may be ruled out of a possible settlement.

We encourage all potential creditors to 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 also hope that specific contact will be made with creditors identified in the Court Documents, who are potential creditors even within the restricted period, and that the deadline for responses will be extended to a more realistic date.

Yours etc

Phil Groom. Editor, UK Christian Bookshops Directory, christianbookshops.org.uk
Matt Wardman, SPCK-SSG News Blog, spckssg.wordpress.com


And our letter to the Church Times:

Call for Creditors of Saint Stephen the Great Trust to come forward

Dear Sir

First of all we must thank the Interim Manager appointed to oversee the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, and Saint Stephen the Great, charities for his work in “stopping the rot” in the former-SPCK bookshop chain, and recovering the shops (Durham Cathedral Bookshop excepted) from Philip and J Mark Brewer. At least we are now on the way *out* of the woods.

However, we note that last week The Bookseller trade magazine included a notice from the Interim Manager of the Saint Stephen the Great Trust, suggesting that “Creditors who believe that they have a valid claim against the Trustees of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust incurred before 1 July 2007, should write to the Interim Manager at Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP, 32 Cornhill, London EC3V 3BT under ref S8703 before the close of business on 16 December 2009.” This causes us some concerns.

We have been working to scrutinise the mismanagement of the former-SPCK bookshop chain for more than 2 years now, and we are concerned by several aspects of the statement made by the Interim Manager.

The Interim Manager is completely right that this whole affair has been made fearsomely complex by the use by J Mark and Philip Brewer of at least 7 different corporate entities to obfuscate their actions over the last 3 years. These comprise 3 charities (1119839, 1119839-1 and 1109008), 3 private companies (FC028292, FC028290, FC028291), and a Company Limited by Guarantee (06110519), some of which have similar or identical names, and all controlled by various permutations of Brewer family members. There was also an 8th alleged corporate entity, SSG LLC, which appeared in J Mark Brewer’s sworn submissions to the South Texas Bankruptcy Court in summer 2008, but which turned out to exist only in his imagination.

The USDAW Employment Tribunal action, which was settled out of court earlier this year, was impeded by this complexity, and a lack of clarity as to which entity J Mark and Philip Brewer were acting on behalf of at different times, whether their actions at each point were legal or not, and their peculiar reluctance to keep written records. In the end USDAW had to name three separate bodies as respondents because it was not clear which entity employed and managed different members of staff at different points in time. If the Interim Manager had not commendably reached a negotiated settlement, this Tribunal would be going round in ever-decreasing circles even now.

The notice as published seeks creditors of “St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust”, without identifying a specific charity number, and restricts the call to debts incurred before the end of June 2007. Given the confused governance and business relationships, we suggest that the Interim Manager needs to cast a far wider net, at least initially.

We are also concerned that the deadline for responses to the notice has been set for December 16th. The SPCK bookshop chain was a business with worldwide links, and the range of creditors may well include Cathedrals owed rent, communion wine suppliers, development charities, craft businesses, religious communities in Eastern Europe, a consulting engineer used to design an improvement scheme, and others. All of these creditor groups appear in the 2008 Texas court documents referred to above, and – despite the 2008 bankruptcy attempt having been fraudulent – we have found the records of debtors declared to be largely accurate.

We are a little baffled as to how 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. Also, would a single notice adequately meet legal requirements where such a wide range of creditors are affected?

So we urge all creditors, and potential creditors, to get in touch with the Interim Manager using the contact details in the notice, and/or those given on the Charity Commission site, which are stsgct@gothamerskine.co.uk via email, or by phone on 020 7490 1880.

We have done what we can to bring wider attention to the published notice, but 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 June 2007. Any debts before this date would be in addition to the more than £1m of debts identified in the 2008 Court submissions.

We also hope that the deadline for responses will be extended to a more realistic period, perhaps to the end of January 2010.

Yours etc

Phil Groom. Editor, UK Christian Bookshops Directory, christianbookshops.org.uk
Matt Wardman, SPCK-SSG News Blog, spckssg.wordpress.com
Simon Barrow, Co-Director, Ekklesia, ekklesia.co.uk


Debts of the former SPCK bookshop chain: Church Times letter

Matt Wardman writes:

We have a  letter published in the Church Times this week about the former SPCK bookshop chain. Kudos to the CT for putting it outside the paywall, where everyone can see it.

A fuller version, with a few points about the J Mark Brewer attempt (known to us as the Great Texan Wild Goose Chase) to dodge debts by putting a sort-of conflation of various bits of his organisations into Bankruptcy in South Texas, declaring lots of debts but none of the assets, is in this week’s Bookseller – but they don’t always put letters online.

Debts of the former SPCK bookshop chain

From Mr Phil Groom and others

Sir,

We must thank the Interim Manager appointed to oversee the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, and Saint Stephen the Great, charities for his work in stopping the rot in the former SPCK bookshop chain, and recovering the shops (Durham Cathedral Bookshop excepted) from Philip and J. Mark Brewer. At least we are now on the way out of the woods.

We note, however, the notice from him in The Bookseller last week suggesting that creditors “who believe that they have a valid claim against the Trustees of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust incurred before 1 July 2007” should write to him at: The Interim Manager, Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP, 32 Cornhill, London EC3V 3BT, under “ref. S8703” before the close of business on 16 December.

This causes us some concerns. The Interim Manager is completely right that this whole affair has been made fearsomely complex by the use by J. Mark and Philip Brewer of at least seven different corporate entities over the past three years. These comprise three charities, three private companies, and a company limited by guarantee, some of which have similar or identical names, and all controlled by various permuta­tions of the Brewer family members.

The notice as published seeks creditors of “St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust”, without identifying a specific charity number, and restricts the call to debts incurred before the end of June 2007. Given the confused governance and business relation­ships, we suggest that the Interim Manager needs to cast a far wider net, at least initially.

We are also concerned about the deadline for responses. The SPCK bookshop chain was a business with worldwide links, and the range of creditors may well include cathed­rals, communion-wine suppliers, development charities, craft busi­nesses, religious communities in Eastern Europe, a consulting engineer, and others. All of these creditor groups appeared in Texas court documents in 2008.

We urge all creditors, and potential creditors, to get in touch with the Interim Manager using the contacts in the notice, and/or those given on the Charity Commission site stsgct@gothamerskine.co.uk, via email, or by phone on 020 7490 1880.

We hope that a specific contact will be made with the hundreds of suppliers identified in the court documents. We also hope that the deadline for responses will be extended to a more realistic period, perhaps to the end of January 2010.

PHIL GROOM
MATT WARDMAN
SIMON BARROW

SPCK/SSG Creditors have 2 weeks to Act (Updated)

Matt Wardman writes:
This advert appeared in this week’s Bookseller.
Note that you only have about a fortnight to write in.
ST STEPHEN THE GREAT CHARITABLE TRUST

This charity has been in the press over recent years as a result of concerns expressed over its operations. In April 2009 the Charity Commission appointed Peter Gotham of Begbies Traynor as Interim Manager to take over its running – other than with respect to its religious mission in the churches it controls. This objective was made more complicated by virtue of the fact that since July 2007 the shops previously operated by the charity were managed instead by other companies appointed by the Trustees. The Interim Manager has now completed his initial work, has retaken possession of most shops, and is moving towards meeting valid claims on the charity’s assets. In order to do this he has instructed agents to put various of the Trust’s properties on sale. He is now advertising for creditors’ claims incurred before 1 July 2007 in order to ensure that no valid claims go unmet. (Any claims incurred after 1 July 2007 will be the responsibility of the various companies engaged by the Trustees.)
Creditors who believe that they have a valid claim against the Trustees of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust incurred before 1 July 2007, should write to the Interim Manager at Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP, 32 Cornhill, London EC3V 3BT under ref S8703 before the close of business on 16 December 2009.
Presented by: Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP
Presenter’s Reference: S8703/PJG/NGA/BRS
———————————————————————————-
Editorial Note: I am not at all convinced by the cut-off date, though, without seeing rock-solid evidence. For example, Mark Brewer was reported by the Bookseller as acting for SSG in November 2007 when the chain dropped the SPCK name.

And which external companies were responsible for running the shops after 1 July 2007? The company which seems to have been responsible for running most of them – ENC Shop Management Ltd – was not registered at Companies House until 11 March 2008

Groups such as the Church of England Pensions’ Board and various government agencies, and other creditors, need to take a close look at this.

And you only have 2 weeks to do so.
[Update: 27/9/1009.
We have been in touch with the interim Manager’s team during the afternoon.
The reason why responsibility is accepted for debts incurred before 1 July 2007 is that the Interim Manager was appointed to manage the “St Stephen the Great Trust” (no 1119839) charity, while a separate  charity – a Company Limited by Guarantee – had been created to manage the bookshops. The Interim Manager was not appointed to manage this Company Limited by Guarantee, and so they are not accepting reponsibility for debts incurred by this Company.
Editorial note: This is all horribly complicated, and we will try and submit a list of detailed questions to the Interim Manager and the Charity Commission over the weekend.  The Company Limited by Guarantee was merged with the parent charity (no 1119839) by direction of the Charity Commission on 27 July 2007 – see the “subsidiary charities” page on the link above, so it is not clear to us how the Interim Manager is entirely not responsible for actions of this charity.
In the meantime, there is an email address for the Interim Manager on the Charity Commission website, where you can send your precise queries.
My brain still hurts.]


SPCK AGM 2009 – Salient Points

Matt Wardman writes.

On this blog we have attempted to keep up with a dozen or more different strands, and have communicated formally or informally with everyone from bullied staff to suppliers left high and dry to the USDAW Union to the Church of England Pensions’ Board.

More than 12 months on, some of the tectonic plates in the SPCK-SSG saga have shifted, some staff have received compensation after a long legal battle, and the Bookshop Chain is nearly (except for Durham Cathedral Bookshop. Bah!) under the control of trustworthy management in the shape of the Charity Commission Interim Manager of the SSG Charity. Painful decisions will continue, but the management can now be relied upon to follow the law of the land, and a set of honest principles.

The saga will continue for a long time to come, as debt recovery action takes place (I hope), assets are recovered, the Messrs Brewer are (we hope) brought to what justice is possible, and some new initiatives and bookshops continue to emerge from the rubble of the destroyed SPCK chain.

Following the SPCK Annual General Meeting on October 1st, these are some joint reflections drawing out some of the more salient figures from the Accounts and Annual Report.

SPCK Annual General Meeting 2009

The performance of SPCK in its current format of publishing and mission still holds relevance and concerns for former bookshops staff, and the publication of the latest Annual Report at http://www.spck.org.uk/about_spck/spck_2009_rept_accts.pdf gives cause for question.

Former bookshop staff still have a loyalty to the Christian mission of SPCK as it affects the wider Christian world through its publishing programme and world wide literature initiatives; feel worried about the fate of the bookshop premises once owned by SPCK which were funded by the giving and the support of thousands of Christians for nearly 200 years; and apprehensive about the shortfall in the pension fund which affects existing SPCK pensioners and those yet to receive their pensions.

Those with financial expertise and insight can read the Accounts and draw conclusions but key paragraphs in the Annual Report are as follows:-

From the Chairman’s Overview

“First, we experienced a large drop in the valuation of our investments; and second, we suffered from the outcome of a revaluation of a pension fund.”

From the Financial Review

“The Society recorded a net surplus , before exceptional items and gains and losses, of £294,000 (2008: surplus of £751,0000. Exceptional items in this time of economic downturn include an increased provision of £3,832,000 for funding a revised larger deficit in pension funding relating to a now-closed scheme, which was identified after a revaluation of funds by the Church of England Pensions Board. In addition, there was a large non-cash cost in the form of a net loss on the revaluation of investment assets of £3,111,000 (2008: net loss of £1,318,000). The net movement in funds for the year was a deficit of £6,648,000 (2008: deficit of £674,000).”

Further on investments

“The investment in William Leech (Investments) Limited has been used as security to guarantee the Society’s liability for additional pension contributions to the Church of England Defined Benefits Scheme”. Presumably because of stock market performance, the ordinary shares in William Leech, at market value fell from £4,640,000 in 2008 to £3,521,000 in 2009.

Sales

Sales income from Publishing in 2009 was £1,733,000 – in 2008 £1,834,000. The budget figure for 2010 implies a further fall.

Freehold Properties

The freehold properties housing the former SPCK Bookshops are no longer quoted assets.

Commentary

The Christian book trade is said to be in a fragile state at present, and the loss of 23 SPCK Bookshops can have been no help to publishers especially coinciding with a Recession. One hears worrying rumours about the future of Biblica/STL and the Wesley Owen shops. If SPCK did not survive, not only would the future of Christian mission and publishing be harmed, but also the pensions of former staff would be jeopardised and the William Leech Foundation, a generous charitable donor, harmed.

The pensions of former staff are held by the C of E pensions board, so if SPCK itself suffered really serious trouble, those funds are safe.

Finally, things may change (again) as the economy recovers from the current recession – perhaps particularly for investments held by the pension fund.

Wrapping Up

If SPCK wish to respond to any comments here, we are happy to publish a statement or commentary.

The SPCK AGM, Unfinished Business and Unanswered Questions

David Keen writes

The SPCK Annual General Meeting is happening this Thursday – 1st October – and the annual report and accounts for 2008-9 are online. There is a passing reference to the former SPCK bookshops:

“SPCK continues to have a number of significant legal issues with Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust in regard to matters connected with the former SPCK Bookshops. The Charity Commission has appointed an Interim Manager for the Trust, and progress is being made.” (page 6)

Others have stronger views than I over how much responsibility SPCK should shoulder for handing over their bookshops (and staff, customers, and suppliers) to a family of charlatans, who have unfairly dismissed over 30 former staff, been censured in the US courts for a fraudulent bankrupcty claim, and finally been booted out by the Charity Commissioners. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Some better news for former staff: the report reveals that their pension scheme, which is managed by the CofE pension folks (as far as I can tell), had a big shortfall as a result of the CofE revaluing its pensions (though it was struggling before this). SPCK has started making additional payments into the fund of £285,000 to top it up. This is going to be paid for the next 15 years, and the whole amount has been put on this years balance sheet – £3,832,000.

As I recall from comments on this blog, there is some question about whether the Brewers have kept up with pension payments to the staff they inherited from SPCK. Whose job is it to retrieve those: SPCK? Charity Commissioners? Church of England Pensions Board? What happens if they aren’t paid? Maybe this is a question which needs to be asked at the AGM.

Though the pension fund has imploded, SPCK are at least doing their bit to support former bookshop staff on this front. But we’re not out of the woods by any means.

Couple of other things:
– SPCK have nearly £300k in a restricted fund for Newcastle Bible House, which seems to be for the purpose of Christian retailing in Newcastle. This is listed in the accounts. What’s going to happen to this?

– Do the premises of former bookshops still belong to SPCK, or were they completely made over to the Brewers? The shops, as I understand, were given over with restrictive covenant, and at least one has been sold on by the Brewers for another use. I’m not sure what the legal situation is here, whether the shops revert to SPCK if the covenant has been transgressed.

There are other questions which need asking at the AGM, so if any readers of this blog are planning to be there, here is your mission, if you choose to accept it…..