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Priti Patel MP: If charity money was used to help fund Sir Stephen Bubb's birthday party, he should repay it

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Priti Patel is MP for Witham, and an elected Member of the Conservative Party Board, the 1922 Committee’s Executive and the Public Administration Select Committee

The revelations over the last week reported in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere about the amount of pay received by senior officials at some of Britain’s leading charities has come as a shock to many people. During this time of austerity and belt-tightening, these charities are going against the grain by increasing the numbers of staff members paid more than £60,000 a year and more than £100,000 - rather than using the money instead to help boost the living standards of the world’s most vulnerable. Eight of Britain’s most well known charities saw the number of staff being paid more than £100,000 a year jump by 72 per cent in the last three years while there was also a 60 per cent increase in six figure salaries paid out across the leading international aid charities. Some executives are also receiving large bonuses, such as the £160,000 bonus pot at Save The Children.

Many of these charities receive substantial funds from the taxpayer and are dependent upon the generosity of donations and grants from public sources. The fourteen members of the Disasters Emergency Committee have accumulated somewhere in the region of £1.1 billion from the public purse in the 2010-2012 period. When there is a concerted effort in the public sector and the private sector to exercise pay restraint and focus valuable resources on the frontline it is simply beyond belief that executive pay in charities is rising at this rate.

While the International Development Secretary Justine Greening deserves praise for calling for more transparency, and Sir William Shawcross, the Chair of the Charity Commission, is right to highlight how excessive pay can bring the sector into disrepute, the response from some charity leaders has been scandalous. Instead of supporting the calls for more accountability, transparency and reform, Sir Stephen Bubb, the Labour supporting Chief Executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), has gone on the warpath.

Sir Stephen has unashamedly defended present salary levels. On his blog, he has said that “these salaries are not disproportionate.” His most aggressive statements on the matter, under a blog post titled "Shawcross brings sector into disrepute" and published on August 6, have since been removed from his website. But his comments have none the less been reported. He referred to the comments made by Sir William as “a disgraceful distraction”, called for charities to “be robust in defending pay” and claimed that “MPs on the right hate effective charities who campaign.”

But Sir Stephen has completely misjudged this issue by trying to turn this controversy into a political issue. The concerns which have been raised have nothing to do with “MPs on the right”. There are some superb charities in my constituency and throughout the country that do outstanding work, often on a shoestring. Charities such as Home Start and Brainwave who look after my constituents would be able to do so much more to invest in frontline services if they had a small fraction of the amount that some charity bosses get paid. The essence of the matter is that the public deserve to know that the money given to charities in donations and by the taxpayer is spent in the most effective way possible, with charity bosses being held to account in an open and transparent way.

I am not surprised that Sir Stephen is silent on the need for reform when it has been claimed that AVECO – funded by charities and grants from the public purse – paid towards the costs of his 60th birthday party.  This claims has not been denied: indeed, the Telegraph reported that a spokesman for the organisation "justified spending members’ money on the event".) He wrote about his party held in Parliament on his blog, but failed to mention that AVECO footed part of the bill.

It is scandalous that money which could have been spent on good causes seems to have helped fund a knees-up for Sir Stephen and his friends. I know plenty of charities who could put to good use the money AVECO paid for Sir Stephen’s party to help many vulnerable people. It is through actions like these that confidence in charities is shaken and not, as Sir Stephen claims, by the comments Sir William Shawcross and I have made.  If money donated for charitable purposes helped to pay for his birthday party, I believe that Sir Stephen should now pay it back.

In recent days, members of the public, including people who work and volunteer with charities, have been emailing me about this issue, the overwhelming majority outraged about the salaries being paid and conduct of some charities. One stated:

"I found the revelations re executive pay somewhat disturbing.  Not unsurprisingly those with vested interests seek to defend high remuneration on the basis of “you’ve got to get the best talent.”  Whilst giving is very much a private matter I have been for some time concerned about the high costs which are defrayed on salaries, administration etc.  I don’t accept the premise that the public aren’t bothered about this.  The public expect their money to be spent in a transparent fashion, not to permit a greedy few to live a luxury lifestyle.  Charities appear to be becoming ever more aggressive re their pursuit of public money."

Another has written:

"The public is being scammed in at least two ways.
1. By collecting donation appealing to human Emotions and Generosity to Enrich themselves, 2. Taking Hard Earned Taxpayers money, But not Economizing and seeking Highest Value."

And a third remarked:

"The public needs to know the truth about how much the company people are making. People can't afford to give money to rich people. In my opinion it is a scam."

These sentiments show that the leadership of some charitable organisations is out of touch with their members, volunteers and the general public. Reform is needed and Sir Stephen, AVECO and some other charities should now reflect on their recent pronouncements and the way they operate.

Taxpayers and volunteers who foot the bill for charities have a right to know how their money is being spent. The Charity Commission needs to return to this issue as a matter of urgency. Transparency alongside political debate in this sector should be encouraged to ensure the delivery of high quality services and value for money for their donors and taxpayers.


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