Wednesday, 2 March 2016

More Alfred than Batman

Like Batman, I have two jobs. But unlike Batman, I am not a millionaire playboy by day and a masked vigilante by night. At night, I serve drinks (more like Alfred than Batman) and by day I write thoughtful articles (like Lois Lane?) for the websites of local tradespeople. Sometimes, I forget that I am not a crusader for justice (like Batman) and write what I think. Like when a local firm of plumbers asked me to write about 'Energy Saving Tips for Pensioners' in the wake of the Age UK/E.On energy firm scandal.

I sent them the following that they (rightly, I should concede) rejected, but did graciously say I could publish elsewhere provided I didn't link the views therein to their company in any way!

The Charity Trap: How Big Business Ruined Charity

Proverbially, charity begins at home. As far as big business was concerned, a system based on helping your neighbour was a system crying out for monetizing and they muscled in on the act. The deal struck was that a corporation would donate huge amounts of money to charities and this would improve the company’s image and the donations could be written off against paying tax. Plus, if charities were more like businesses, everyone reasoned, more money would be available to help the disadvantaged. Charity directors could pay themselves six-figure salaries like business CEOs and there would still be more money available for the disadvantaged than there was under the old system. Everyone’s a winner.

Case Study: Age UK

Take charity Age UK as a case in point. Eight of their executives pay themselves more than £100,000 a year. This is justified by the principle that because this is a huge charity with a commercial arm, it needs to be run by people with the relevant business skills and the only way to attract them is to pay them wages equivalent to what they would earn in the corporate sector. Age UK’s dealings with the corporate sector brought in double the money that donations did - over £100 million. So far so good.

A Scope for Corruption?

One of the dangers of the big-money private sector corporations being too closely intertwined with the charity sector is corruption. One company that donates to Age UK is energy giant E.ON. When Age UK wrote to elderly people with an “outstanding deal” on energy, it was a package offered by E.ON for £1049 that was being advertised. We hope that not too many hard-up pensioners took the charity’s word for it - E.ON’s cheapest tariff is £245 cheaper than that. Age UK have refused to apologise.

Charity volunteers (as distinct from the paid 'charity muggers') have always done great work, giving up their time for a good cause. It is the involvement of big business interests that threatens the good reputation of charities whose intentions historically have generally been good. At [local plumbing firm], we think that everybody deserves to stay warm at a reasonable cost. One way to ensure this is to have your heating system serviced. An efficient heating system will burn less gas, saving you money on your bills.

Were charities right to make a deal with big business? Let me know what you think.

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