Russell Hargrave: What do the Captain Tom Foundation accounts really tell us?

15 Feb 2022 Voices

Captain Tom was a fundraising phenomenon - but the foundation created in his honour must now find answers to difficult questions

Captain Tom Moore

For a short period during the pandemic, Captain Sir Tom Moore was the most famous person in the country.

In fact, his public life can be split into three rough sections: his emergence as a fundraising hero at the start of Covid-19 (NHS charities are £30m richer thanks to his efforts); widespread sorrow when he passed away in February last year; and a media scrum when information was published last week about the charitable foundation set up in his name. 

So, why the fuss? 

It is partly an effect of fame. I have sat in focus groups where people are asked to conjure up an image of the nation at its best. The same things always get mentioned: winning some wars; being stoical; the queen; generosity (but without shouting about it); and above all loving the NHS.

Shake those things together and you end up with someone looking a lot like Captain Tom. Thus a 99-year-old military veteran from Bedfordshire became a symbol of our collective quiet determination during the pandemic.

This also explains why the Foundation set up in his name received such negative attention last week. Captain Tom ended up representing the whole nation. This is a long way to fall if things go wrong – and the accounts suggest that it has.

Overheads? Meh. Call me in 2024

First, let’s deal with the big red herring in all this. 

Talking about overheads is a waste of time. The trustees decided to spend a lot of cash – over £160,000 – on fundraising and consultancy fees. It is an eye-catching number, but it tells us almost nothing about how well the charity is being run. 

If it turns out that Captain Tom’s name remains a totemic fundraising machine long into the future, funneling millions more to good causes, then early spending on getting the philanthropy and governance right will look like a smart decision. If progress stalls, and the fund struggles to attract more cash, it will look like a waste.

We can judge this spending two years from now. Until then, it is pure guesswork. The journalist Henry Hill wrote last week that such management expenditure was proof that the charity sector “regularly squanders money meant for good causes”. Total nonsense.

Regulators doing a lot of regulating

However, there are plenty of other things in the accounts which we can judge now, and most of them are worrying.

The vast majority of the country’s charities toddle along without ever attracting the attention of any regulators. It is rarely good news when a watchdog gets in touch. For the Captain Tom Foundation to end up liaising with three different regulators in its first year – the Information Commissioner, the Fundraising Regulator, and the Charity Commission – suggests there are some deeper problems.

This can’t be shrugged off as the growing pains of setting up a new, high-profile funder, either. A quick visit to the charity's website suggests that it still may not be following all the GDPR rules, while the Charity Commission, already involved last year, is now having a second look at the Foundation, specifically based on the contents of its accounts. 

Regulatory scrutiny has continued from year one into year two. This doesn’t augur well.

Ain’t nothing but a family thing 

All charity accounts devote a section to financial transactions with trustees. I read a lot of charity financial paperwork and these pages are generally very dull.

Not so in this case. Companies controlled by Captain Tom’s own family were reimbursed more than £50,000 from the charity’s coffers, including to cover Captain Tom’s “security” when he travelled to promote his foundation (work undertaken by a firm called Club Nook, where his daughter and son-in-law are directors) and to pay for office space and phone lines (supplied by the Maytrix Group, where the Ingram-Moores are again directors).

According to The Independent newspaper over the weekend, Club Nook was only registered with Companies House a fortnight before the Captain Tom Foundation was founded.

There is plenty here for the Charity Commission to look at. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with trustees and others working with – and being reimbursed by – charities. But around 5% of all the foundation’s income in 2020-21 went back into family businesses, including a firm barely two weeks old, to cover costs only vaguely described in the accounts. If nothing else, it looks terrible.

Getting down to booze-ness

The third question mark over the accounts comes with the charity’s opaque commercial partnerships.

Let’s say you like gin and you like Captain Tom. Have I got an offer for you! Tom has an exclusive line of gin, sold by a small distillery and branded with his image and signature, with proceeds from the £35.95 price going to his foundation.

But then it gets trickier. There is no way of knowing how much of that cash has gone to the small distillery producing the gin and how much went to the charity. A penny per bottle? A tenner? Neither party would tell Civil Society News when we looked at this over a year ago. There is no figure in the accounts, either.

I spoke with the chair of trustees last week to try again. He was utterly charming – but beyond confirming that a donation from the gin company was included in the foundation’s overall income, he would not give me an actual figure. (I spoke to the gin company too. Let’s just say they were underwhelmed by the chance to chat with a journalist).

Commercial partnerships can be great for charities. A consumer gets something they want, a business thrives, a charity gets a cut to do social good. But this can’t work on good faith alone. The foundation hid the details of its gin deal when it was agreed, and it is still hidden now. This may be against Charity Commission rules – and even if it just about sticks to the spirit of those rules, the lack of transparency is not good enough.

Tick tock

The charity obviously knew there were some difficult truths contained in their financial report. 

Presumably that is why the trustees decided to include some details of its charitable giving after the financial year 2020-21 ended (so-called ‘post balance sheet events’). It is good to see six more charities got donations from the Captain Tom Foundation after May 2021, with a focus on helping the incredible work done by hospices.

There is no obligation at all to share this information. Most foundations don’t bother. The trustees’ decision to do so suggests they were aware of the need to promote the fact that, after a shaky start, money has continued to flow to good causes.

What’s next is anybody’s guess. The recent media attention will have been bruising for the Captain Tom Foundation, and the trustees face more scrutiny from the Charity Commission. The publicity could even impact its ability to raise money – although the strength of Captain Tom’s brand may still trump everything else.

Plus, the board know that reporters will pore all over the charity’s next accounts a year from now. Trustees need to address some of the questions raised in the last week, and the clock is already ticking.

Civil Society Voices is the place for informed opinion, and debate about the big issues affecting charities today. We’re always keen to hear from anyone, working or volunteering at a charity, who has something to say. Find out more about contributing and how to get in touch.


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