Shame on the fat cat charities who treat us with contempt
IT was founded nearly 180 years ago as a small charity with the laudable aim of looking after carthorses.
Fast-forward to 2016 and the Scottish SPCA was being run by racehorse-owning Stuart Earley — who earned more than £220,000 a year.
From a group of committed volunteers to a big business with a well-heeled chief executive, its transformation is typical of the way the so-called ‘third sector’ has evolved.
The process of corporatisation saw a gradual drift away from the charity’s founding aims, with fat cat Mr Earley apparently deaf to concerns about his racehorse ownership and enormous wage.
The ensuing political row led to the cancellation of so many direct debits among supporters that the charity, which relies on public donations, could no longer afford to keep its boss in post and he quit last year.
Any hope that there would be a hiatus to allow the charity to regroup is comprehensively dashed by our damning revelations today.
As part of an ongoing probe into the charity sector, we discovered a catastrophic breakdown in the charity’s ethical investment policy.
It invested in Shell, which carries out animal testing on such a scale that each year it produces a lengthy annual report detailing its laboratory experiments, and BP — which is hardly renowned for its caring approach to wildlife.
This appears to be a startling breach of the charity’s own rules which — not unreasonably — stipulate that it must not invest in companies that ‘undertake tests on animals’.
Weary subscribers who bankroll the Scottish SPCA’s work can only assume that the experts who manage investments on behalf of the charity put profit ahead of its original principles.
And the Scottish SPCA is not alone in treating its supporters with such unforgivable contempt.
Other disclosures this week show charities with less public recognition have been making investments that — while certainly profitable — are hardly in keeping with their objectives.
Yesterday we revealed that Youth Scotland, which raked in £781,000 of public cash in the last financial year, had invested in Vanguard Group Funds.
It, in turn, has invested in PetroChina, the publicly-traded arm of China National Petroleum Company, widely condemned for helping to finance genocide in Sudan.
LGBT Youth Scotland, which was handed nearly £1 million of public cash in 2014–15, invested in a Vanguard fund which backs General Electric, the US giant that last year made sales of military equipment worth £2.2 billion.
An animal charity indirectly financing a firm which experiments on guinea pigs and rabbits; a youth charity linked through its financial dealings with genocide; and a gay rights group whose funds have been invested in a company producing military hardware…
Granted, it is hard to imagine charity trustees enthusiastically signing up to a pro-genocide agenda — but our revelations point to a blatant disregard for the charity-supporting public.
Here is a sector that has so much money that it is able to play the stock market, ceding control over vital public funding to City fund managers who make a laughing stock of their aims and values, and those of their supporters.
There is a vast and growing disconnect between key figures in the charity sector and the people who line their pockets — and indeed the hard-working volunteers whose faith in their bosses has been tested to breaking-point.
As we have revealed this week, there is a parasite class of charity that leeches millions in public funds for such dubious endeavours as gay-only belly dancing, lessons about Malawian lightbulbs and Gaelic concerts for prisoners.
No need for street collections: today we reveal that Relationships Scotland last financial year received Scottish Government funding of £2.3 million — with only a comparatively paltry £354 coming from public donations.
The definition of charitable endeavour has also changed fundamentally, so that many of these organisations appear to exist merely to promulgate Scottish Government policy.
Despite their own legion of well-remunerated civil servants and special advisers, ministers have effectively outsourced much of their work to the ‘third sector’, helping to politicise it.
This explains why the SNP has refused to duplicate proposed moves south of the Border to prevent political lobbying by charities — another example of its parochial disdain for any policy that originates outwith Scotland.
Hence the spectacle of taxpayers’ money lavished with unrestrained abandon on bodies which are technically charities, but which exist effectively as vehicles for the promotion and implementation of government policy.
A great deal of this work has been focused on the Named Person scheme — currently on hold following a devastating Supreme Court judgment last year ruling key parts of the legislation unlawful.
Unabashed cheerleaders of this highly contentious agenda, aimed at allocating state guardians to every child in Scotland, have spoken out as if they were politicians rather than charity managers.
Jackie Brock, chief executive of Children in Scotland, the proud recipient of £1 million a year in taxpayer funding, wrote on the Scottish Government website: ‘I too have argued, and will continue to argue, that there is no evidence of increased state intrusion into family life.
‘At Children in Scotland we will be focusing on providing practical support to organisations and individuals as they prepare for implementation of the Named Person service.’
Judges at the Supreme Court — the UK’s highest — thought differently, and in July last year warned that the ‘first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is get at the children’.
Can any charity that is so reliant on taxpayer subsidy be considered truly independent of the government that allows it to function (as Miss Brock’s charity claims to be)?
Miss Brock, it transpires, is a former senior civil servant at the Scottish Government and worked as its deputy director of learning and support until 2012.
The annexation of the ‘third sector’ as an unofficial arm of government has been an insidious process.
We also demonstrate today that it is a deeply incestuous world.
In the absence of any rigorous scrutiny, it has flourished in the shadows, with some of the charity fat cats living in the same Edinburgh street — in luxurious homes that those they seek to help could only ever dream of owning.
We shine a light on the inner workings of this group, and the myriad connections between the organisations they run: links that until now have avoided public scrutiny.
Underlying our revelations of eye-watering salaries, extravagant spending on vanity projects, unethical investments and the use of taxpayers’ money to promote government policy, there is a common thread: the failure of regulation and oversight.
The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) is a largely ineffectual watchdog that has presided over runaway executive pay in the sector despite a rising clamour of public protest.
Instead the quango is better known as the body that has hounded private schools for years to prove they are fit to hold charitable status, in accordance with legislation passed under the last Labour-led administration at Holyrood.
Some critics have claimed that OSCR was set up simply to pursue a class war, while the sector it was supposed to police has clearly spun out of control.
Ministers may well be disinclined to act: after all, why dissolve a vast empire that has a vested interest in slavish adherence to every ministerial demand?
But there can be now no doubt that political leadership is urgently needed to restore rapidly haemorrhaging public confidence in charities.