The well-trousered philanthropists: Tory party chums and food parcels for the poor

Active citizen Mel Kelly discovers how private companies with Conservative connections are benefiting from 'reform' of the British welfare state.

Clarification from Our Kingdom, March 2013

Shortly after this piece was published in August 2011, Chris Mould, the Trussell Trust's part-time Executive Chairman and trustee, added a comment that he is a member of the Labour Party. Thereafter, we should have noted this fresh information within the article, which would also have been clearer if it had referred to Noel Atkins a Chairman of the Trustees (he has been succeeded by Sophie Melville) while Chris Mould is its executive chairmen rather than controlling it.

Chris Mould has asked us to note that the Trussell Trust was founded in 1997, and the Trust set up its first food bank to help people in 2000, when Britain was governed by a Labour administration; that the Trussell Trust developed and launched the food bank social franchise in 2004, again under a Labour government; and that the Trust's work is not an initiative related to the Coalition government or a response to recent policy initiatives. "It massively predates all that," he says. We are happy to add these facts.

(May 2013) Trussell have also requested it made clear that they are a registered charity that is not formally affiliated to the Conservative party.

The Saturday before Christmas I spotted a BBC website article about the government instructing Jobcentre staff in Salisbury and Gloucester to give out vouchers for food parcels in a pilot project that would expand across England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

The vouchers could be redeemed against food parcels from the Trussell Trust, whose director Chris Mould told the BBC:

"Although it has taken two years of campaigning to get to this point, we are delighted that ministers are listening to feedback from the front line of the voluntary sector.

"Their decision means people on the breadline will now get the help they need more easily and that's of course what matters to us in the foodbank network.

"This is about sensible working between a public service and the voluntary sector."

But that’s not the whole story.

I’m not a professional journalist, I’m an analyst programmer, a working mother with 2 daughters, a three hour daily commute — and a sense of curiosity.

The Trussell Trust’s website explains that the food parcels are designed to feed a family of four for three days and solicits contributions of rice, pasta, jam, biscuits, powdered potatoes, tinned fish, pasta sauce – emergency supplies.

The Trussell Trust describes itself as “a Christian charity that does not affiliate itself with any political party”. At the time this article was published, its chairman was Conservative Party councillor and Mayor of Worthing, Neil Atkins. The current chairman, Chris Mould, a member of the Labour Party, splits his time between the Trussell Trust and the Shaftesbury Partnership.

According to its website the Shaftesbury Partnership is a “social business” and a “practice of professionals committed to large scale 21st Century social reform.”

Immediately the word “reform” caught my eye; it pops up in so much government rhetoric.

Co-founder of the Shaftesbury Partnership was Nat Wei, a former McKinsey consultant experienced in both venture philanthropy and venture capital who was appointed the Government’s Chief Adviser on Big Society in May 2010 and made a life peer. He stepped down from the Shaftesbury Partnership and became an Honorary Founding Partner. (On 24 May 2011, Lord Wei stepped down from his Big Society role).

Other people in the Shaftesbury Partnership with links to the Tory Party include “Associate” Dominic Llewellyn (Conservative party candidate in 2010 election) who co-authored for the Tories what has now become the government’s Big Society policies.  Dominic is an associate in the Big Society Networkwhich was also co-founded by Cameron’s big society tzar Nat Wei.

Shaftesbury’s recently departed head of operations Antony Hawkins (he’s off to INSEAD business school) states on his LinkedIn profile that he “developed conservative unemployment and welfare reform policy (“The Work Programme”). Planned the implementation of Conservative welfare policies in the Get Britain Working manifesto”.

Shaftesbury’s Patrick Shine worked for 20 years in financial markets and investment management (specialising in “global fixed income and derivatives”) and was a director of Lazard Brothers Asset Management. Co-founder Andrew Tanswell is out of Ernst & Young and Coopers & Lybrand.

The Shaftesbury Partnership’s aim is to “design our solutions so that they are both scalable and have sustainable business models, maximising the potential for social transformation”.

Their philosophy: “We recognise that fear, or lack of trust, lie at the heart of these social problems; and that strategies to reduce fear and build trust can be much more effective than traditional resource-intensive interventions.”

They claim: “In just over two years our work has led to the creation of four social enterprises and charities in a wide range of sectors including healthcare, youth and community, and job creation.”

One of the charities set up by Shaftesbury’s Nat Wei and Patrick Shine is “Challenge Network”, whose chief executive and co-founder Craig Morley has worked for mining company Rio Tinto and Pampers-to-Pringles consumer-goods giant Proctor & Gamble. The Challenge Network got the lion’s share of David Cameron’s Tory Party Big Society Policy of National Citizens Service, to send English Children to camps this summer at a cost of £1,182 per child.

Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson also sent funds — a £100,000 grant — the Challenge Network’s way.

Like three of the Shaftesbury Partnership key people, two of the Challenge Network’s co-founders are McKinsey men.

My head was now swimming with Tory party chums.

I took myself back to the simple announcement of job centre staff giving out food vouchers. I wrote to my MP, Brian Donohoe the next day, and asked him to write to the minister in charge of the Department of Work and Pensions to find out more about this voucher for food parcels pilot scheme.

In February the minister, Steve Webb, wrote back. “These vouchers were only intended for those refused crisis loans or waiting on a benefit payment to be made,” he said.

But “crisis loans”, I learned, are small interest-free loans made by the DWP from the social fund to people in financial crisis due to unforeseen circumstances such as deaths, flooding, a child in hospital. They’re used to buy food and/or credits for gas and electric pre-payment metres in winter when social security benefits are unlikely to cover the weekly winter pre-payments required.

While researching crisis loans I stumbled across a coalition government consultation paper issued in February 2011 stating the government’s intention to abolish the social fund, and instead give the money, un-ring-fenced, to English Councils who could refer people to community schemes (citing the Trussell Trust Food Parcel Service) rather than giving people crisis loans.

I had come a full circle. Hadn’t the minister told me that only those refused crisis loans would be given vouchers for food parcels?  And here was the government proposing to abolish the social fund. . .in which case wouldn’t everyone who currently qualifies for a crisis loan get just a voucher for a food parcel in future? How many people would this affect?

In March I wrote again asking my MP to ask Steve Webb how many crisis loans were given out in England in 2010/2011.  The minister’s stated in reply, dated 26th of March, that “2,697,000” were given out. I was in absolute shock. The government was advising councils not to give crisis loans, as the DWP currently do, but instead to send perhaps 2.6 million families, each year, to their friends at the Trussell Trust with vouchers for a 3 day family food parcel containing no fresh meat, no fresh milk, no fresh bread or vegetables.

On Saturday 25th June, the BBC Breakfast show reported that rising food prices were prompting rising numbers of people to go the Trussell Trust with food vouchers (50% more in the past few months).  The BBC website reported Trussell Trust figures indicating it had fed 41,000 people in 2009-10 and almost 61,500 last year. Director Chris Mould (also Shaftesbury Partnership) told the BBC, “demand could grow to 500,000 by 2015”.

Launch of a 'Trussel Trust' foodbank in Bangor. Flickr, NI Executive, Some Rights Reserved

The BBC didn’t mention that rising demand for Trussell’s products had anything to do with the government instructions to jobcentre staff to refer people to Trussell, or that Chris Mould’s predicted nearly ten-fold increase in referrals might be prompted by the coming abolition of crisis loans.

Nor did the BBC spot Trussell’s links to the Tory Party.

And not a squeak about the Trussell Trust going around the country courting churches to set up food banks for which the churches pay the Trussell Trust £1500 in set-up fees plus a “small annual donation”  (value unstated) and must use the Trussell Trust Branding.

The BBC did indicate the government’s plans to “reform the broken benefits system”.

Channel 4 also gave the Trussell Trust a 15 minute story on their evening news a few months ago regarding their "charitable works" – with nothing of their Tory Party connections or the coming abolition of crisis loans.

Those shoddy news reports provoked me to go back to the Trussell Trust and Shaftesbury Partnership websites, where I spotted that the Shaftesbury partnership was going to start opening schools by setting up their “New Schools Fund” (NSF).

The team working on the project is — Mark Goodchild, Catherine Steven and Mita Bhattacharyya —  is, we’re told, “working on a part time pro bono basis and is looking to secure funding for the start of 2011 to finalise the concept and launch the pilot which would see two new schools created to open in September 2012, before rolling out further funds to support the creation of tens of thousands of new high quality school places across the country."

Is the government really funding the Tory Party's friends the Shaftesbury Partnership to open schools using their "free schools" policy and our taxes?

The answer would appear to be — yes!

It would appear that Mita Bhattacharyya, in her role in the Shaftesbury Partnership, is using a community website and has set up a Facebook campaign to try to encourage parents to create a demand for a free school to help the Shaftesbury Partnership to set up a free school in Southwark, London. But Mita doesn’t mention on the website or the facebook campaign that she is working on behalf of the Shaftesbury Partnership who hope to control tens of thousands of school places in England

For two months in 2009 Mita Bhattacharyya served on the steering committee of the West London Free School along with former Tory councillor  of Hammersmith Caroline Ffiske.

Is Mita Bhattacharyya involved in trying to set up any other “free schools”?

Already the private company Shaftesbury Partnership’s directors control a charity the government recommends councils should send millions of people to for food parcels, set up a charity to run summer camps for schoolchildren and is now embarking on setting up and controlling free schools by enticing parents into creating demand for the schools that the Shaftesbury Partnership will control.

None of this feels remotely like social reform or philanthropy to me.

 


Note: On 25 March 2013 the text in bold above was inserted, replacing the original text, which read: "It is controlled by Tory Party Councillor and Mayor of Worthing, Neil Atkins and director Chris Mould, who splits his time between the Trussell Trust and the Shaftesbury Partnership."

About the author

Mel Kelly is a systems analyst/programmer and mother of two.