True and Fair Foundation had been warned of inaccuracies in its report

14 Dec 2015 News

Gina Miller was personally urged not to publish her organisation’s report A Hornet's Nest, which questions the level of charitable expenditure at some of the UK’s largest charities, because it contained a number of errors.

The report contains a table identifying 17 leading charities with an average spend on charitable activities of less than 65 per cent. It was reported on the front page of The Daily Telegraph on Saturday.

Civil Society News understands that the Office for Civil Society as well as the Charity Commission warned the Telegraph about the quality of the report.

Karl Wilding, director of public policy at NCVO, got in touch with Miller in early December to warn that the report “contains serious errors – both factual errors and errors of interpretation” and urged her not to publish it.

“I fear you have made the mistake of thinking that spending on other categories is some form of waste,” he said, and explained how charities with large retail chains or those receiving an endowment would be penalised under her proposed analysis.

Wilding warned that: “This report is so flawed that it constitutes a reputational risk to anyone associated with publishing it.”

In a follow-up email, further detailing inaccuracies in the report, he said: “I would implore you to talk to those in the field who have worked with charity accounts so that you can do that which you intend and in doing so, protect and enhance you and your foundation’s reputation.”

Miller accepted that there were “minor” inaccuracies, but dismissed the warning that she had misunderstood charity accounts.

Following the publication of the report on Saturday, Wilding published a blog on NCVO’s website, outlining the issues.

“We spent a long time, as did several of the charities mentioned in the report, and other experts, trying to explain all this to Ms Miller and to the Telegraph,” he said. “I’ve offered to meet and help Ms Miller if they do in fact wish to develop an analytical framework. They didn’t want to listen.”

‘Report has come at a bad time’

Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive at Acevo, told Civil Society News that publishing the report just before Christmas, was “unfortunate” as “for many charities this is a key time for fundraising”.

Bubb said that the report “perpetuated silly myths about charities” and pointed out, as others have, that under Miller’s proposed system Kids Company would have been considered a great charity.

He added that the sector “must continue to make the case for the effective and professional running of charities” and this means “charities spending money on strong professional leadership and governance”.

Response from Miller

Miller responded to NCVO’s criticism on the True and Fair Foundation’s website. She also used several social media accounts to respond.

She accused NCVO of being “an industry lobbying body that seeks to defend the indefensible”.

“For six years now I have been trying to debate transparency and accountability in the sector,” she said “– through debates, co-authoring excellent reports produced by the Centre for Social Justice, articles, and giving polite speeches. I am frequently met by denial and abusive comments from the NCVO, Acevo and others; it is no wonder that the situation has been getting worse when the charities, their industry lobby groups, and their regulator refuse to act properly and responsibly.”

On the Charity Commission, which had described her analysis as “flawed”, she said: “Since they are now claiming that our data and analysis, which is also theirs, is misleading, the professional standing of the Charity Commission must come under question in these circumstances.”

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