Watchdog censures Yorkshire charity over unmanaged conflicts of interest and unbalanced research

The Charity Commission has criticised the trustees of Just West Yorkshire (1121074), a charity set up to promote racial equality, after reports they produced did not appear to properly consider the charity’s purpose or the need for balance, and trustees failed to manage conflicts of interest. After the regulator issued notice of its intention to issue an Official Warning over the trustees’ actions, but before it was able to complete this, the trustees closed the charity.

The Commission opened a compliance case to examine the administration of the charity after receiving complaints, particularly in relation to 2 publications by the charity: ‘Rethinking Prevent: a case for an alternative approach’ and ‘A Temperature Check report (Understanding and assessing the impact of Rotherham MP, Sarah Champion’s comments in the Sun Newspaper on 10 August 2017)’.

In its report, published today, the regulator concludes that there was misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity.

Failure to manage conflicts of interest

The Commission is critical of trustees’ failure to manage conflicts of interest, which saw two trustees receive unauthorised payments from the charity’s funds. One trustee received £6,000 to work on the Rethinking Prevent report. Investigators found no evidence that the individuals recused themselves from decision-making when their payment was discussed. They also found no evidence that conflicts of interest were managed, and no agreements or contracts were in place.

Concerning lack of balance of opinions and transparency

The Commission was concerned by how research was conducted. Methods used to promote a survey to gain information for the Temperature Check report were not transparent.

It was also not clear how participants were selected to participate in research, or how ‘Rethinking Prevent’ reached such definitive conclusions on the basis of 36 interviews.

The Commission also found that the charity’s press release made conclusions that the ‘Temperature Check’ report itself did not reach and that were not part of the report’s stated objectives.

The report also appeared to baselessly link two murders to remarks made by Sarah Champion MP. However, both murders occurred before the remarks were made.

The MP was also not given a right to reply to the ‘Temperature Check’ report, despite the claims made about her, which did not appear consistent with the charity’s hope of building bridges in the community.

Further regulatory concerns about the management and administration of the charity are set out in today’s report.
On 6 September 2019, the regulator issued notice of its intention to issue an Official Warning to the charity, under section 75A of the Charities Act 2011. However, the trustees submitted representations to the proposed Official Warning and dissolved the charity at Companies House before the Official Warning could be issued.

Just West Yorkshire was removed from the register of charities on 23 January 2020.

Tim Hopkins, Assistant Director of Investigations and Inquiries at the Charity Commission said:

Charities should be distinct from other types of organisations in their attitude and behaviour, in their motivations and methods. It is unacceptable that the trustees of this charity failed to fully discharge their legal duties in this way, resulting in unmanaged conflicts of interest and private benefit.

Charity trustees should honour their responsibility and legal duty to act in the best interests of their charity at all times. As shown here, failure to do so can cause irreparable damage to a charity.

The full report is available on GOV.UK.

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