"Inspiring Communities Together is not fit for purpose and the £90,000 annuity should be withdrawn..." Lower Kersal community member
A £90,000 community legacy fund is currently at the centre of a huge storm, with Irwell Riverside councillor Stephen Ord accusing personnel working for the charity that controls the money of acting "out of greed...and self interest on a number of occasions", while accusing them of being "power grabbing control freaks"...
The £90,000 annuity is made up from rents and fees accumulated from buildings associated with the failed £53million government-backed ten year Charlestown and Lower Kersal New Deal for Communities (NDC) which ended in 2011.*
Each year, via Salford City Council, the money has been passed to a `community-led' organisation, originally called the Charlestown and Lower Kersal Development Framework Group, and latterly Inspiring Communities Together, or ICT, which became a charity two years ago...
And each year, the Salford Star and members of the local community have questioned the fact that the money didn't appear to be spent on local community projects; instead being largely paid to the Chair (Ann-Marie Pickup), the Chief Executive Officer, CEO (Bernadette Elder), and other staff.
In its first year of operation, 2011-12, and after waiting five months for a Freedom of Information response, the Salford Star revealed that one part time `staff' and one part time Chair were paid almost £35,000 from a total spend of around £69,000, with only £15,000 going towards grants for community groups (see here).
By 2015-16, of the £81,000 NDC community legacy funds (plus £9,000 for rent), £66,000 was used to pay a part-time Chair and managers – while the total amount paid to local community groups was nil, and volunteers got £13.80p between them (see here).
For community members who weren't happy with the situation, the issues have always been around transparency, accountability and why the funding wasn't reaching local groups which are struggling in the face of massive spending cuts. After all, one of the aims of the legacy group is "Investing the annuity in a way that has a positive and meaningful impact on the local community".
The Salford Star spoke to some wider community members of ICT who aired their worries...
"I was concerned about the pay scale of Bernadette going up via the City Council each year, and I was also concerned about the lack of funding going into projects in Charlestown and Lower Kersal" a local resident explained "At one point the wages were around sixty to seventy thousand pounds with only six thousand going into the community...
"...but I wasn't aware of where it was going, there was no advertising for community funding anywhere by ICT" they added "Now there's nothing, except £13.80p for bus fares. I said that they would try and take over everything and they have. I'm glad I'm out of it."
Another community member with some knowledge of ICT added: "I have concerns that Bernadette and Ann-Marie seem to make all the decisions. I have spoken to other community people and they have the same thoughts. There doesn't seem much coming back into the community – where is the £90,000 going?"
The Salford Star understands that local councillors on the board of ICT began asking the same questions and challenging the need for a paid Chair, who in 2015 was given an `honorarium' of £12,248. It was then that it all got very nasty.
Firstly, after a very tight vote, a new Chair was elected last year – Ray Walker, a former UNISON branch secretary and member of the Labour Party, who was sold to ICT member Graham Cooper as "a council stooge" meddling in the organisation's affairs...
"As a member of ICT I was approached by Bernadette Elder to put a motion to the board asking that the council representatives be taken off that board" Graham recalls "With all the floods and everything that had happened I didn't get around to signing it until one day, when both her and Ann-Marie turned up at the Broughton Trust with a memorandum to be signed. I never even read it. The way they had put it, I was under the impression that Ray Walker was a council stooge and that the Council was trying to take over the board of ICT. I signed it.
"In actual fact it was the opposite" he insists "It was certain people within ICT trying to retain that money, and the authority and power that goes with it and therefore weakening the Council's influence, or even the transparency of that organisation and its governance. That has transpired since.
"When I met Ray Walker my mind changed, as he said he wanted to alter ICT, and at that point I declared to him what I had done, and that it was wrong" Graham adds "Since then I have been trying to rectify that mistake but it seems to me that no-one wants to deal with it, for whatever reasons."
Ray Walker, as the newly elected Chair, was actually working to make the post – his post – unpaid and put the £12,000 back into the community. However, before Graham knew what was going on `his' motion was passed and the councillors were removed from the board - not without controversy, as, according to Ray Walker, the motion was never discussed or debated...
"I questioned the validity of a motion that can't be questioned" he says "A motion normally gets debated but the constitution ruled that out. How could that be fair? There was a vote but no discussion."
An investigation into how the motion came about was instigated. And then, affairs became even stranger...
First, Ray Walker suspended the CEO pending the investigation but never strictly followed procedures so she was reinstated. Then Salford Council representative, Councillor Jane Hamilton was appointed to investigate, and interviewed Graham Cooper. But before she could report back to a board meeting it was cancelled...
"I got an email from Ann-Marie saying that the meeting wasn't going ahead" Ray recalls "I was outraged so I reinstated meeting but the only ones who attended from the board were me, James Eagle, Jane Hamilton and Linda Carr. We had our board meeting and then I get a message from Ann-Marie saying that under the rules I was suspended as Chair, as was trustee Linda Carr."
In other words, the people doing the investigating of ICT were themselves suspended – by the people they were investigating!
"At the moment they are supposed to be having a meeting to remove me and Linda but I'm not resigning" Ray insists "I believe I have been treated badly and that the Charities Commission needs to investigate.
"I think it was the shock factor of Ann-Marie losing that election and she wanted to get back in" he adds "The fact that we were working towards an unpaid chair made a lot of sense, but I suspect that it will be reinstated if Ann-Marie gets her way."
Meanwhile, Councillor Stephen Ord, who represents Irwell Riverside and was one of the councillors who got de-appointed from the ICT board in the Council cull, has provided a written statement to the Salford Star absolutely slating the personnel at the centre of the storm...
"...my perception of Ann-Marie Pickup and Bernadette Elder is that it would appear they have acted out of greed; power grabbing control freaks; and self interest on a number of occasions" he writes "The reality is that Bernadette Elder and Ann-Marie Pickup have worked too closely, for far too long. This, I believe, has developed into an unhealthy mutually beneficial relationship that has lost both the balance, and the line, of where public interest ends and private interest begins. Personal greed is not too strong a word to use to describe this issue.
"Add to this fundamental anti democratic practices, and ignoring conflicts of interest, and you have all the deviant elements of what has lead up to the current power grab" he insists "I have not heard their side of the current argument, but on the face of it, it is unethical and bullying at its worst and in contravention of the constitution of ICT. After seeing them in action for two years however, I wouldn't have expected anything less. Most of these issues start small, and on their own seem mostly minor, but put together over years, add in the serious issues, and the pattern is consistent."
Councillor Ord believes that "Salford Council should look at organising a full and independent inquiry, with the cooperation of ICT" and has called for a number of other actions... "The board to strike down the motion and re-ballot it at the AGM... Alternatively, Graham should submit a motion to the AGM to reverse the change... Salford University should replace their representative on the board...Local residents and workers within the community should become members and get actively involved in the organisation..."**
It's all incredibly complicated and very bureaucratic, about who followed what procedures and rules and points of the constitution. But behind it all is the accountability of the £90,000 NDC legacy fund and how that money is spent...
"I'm concerned that ICT aren't representative of the community and that they do not appear to follow their own rules as how they are to behave" said one Lower Kersal resident "The behaviour is entire nonsense. They're not fit for purpose and the annuity should be withdrawn."
Ray Walker is more diplomatic... "I'm very sad for ICT and the community which it's supposed to be serving because I think it's gone from being a genuine community organisation to a self perpetuating business" he says "And I think it's lost its reason to exist."
Graham Cooper adds: "It's about transparency, decision making and this organisation's involvement with the community. There should be an independent investigation and that hasn't occurred."
The Salford Star contacted the Charity Commission and asked if there had been any calls for an investigation, and whether it would be launching an investigation into the affairs of ICT.
"The Charity Commission can confirm that it received a complaint in November 2016 regarding the charity" a spokesman said "The Commission advised that it was unable to become involved in a dispute within the charity. When there are disputes that occur within charities it is the responsibility of trustees to try to resolve any disagreement or dispute.
"The Commission will only become involved in limited circumstances and in line with our published Risk framework and published guidance 'Complaints about Charities - CC47'" they added "The Commission will assess any information it receives...we will look at any information provided."
The Salford Star also contacted ICT and asked the organisation to comment on some of the serious allegations being made...
"As you point out the Board of Trustees are currently going through some challenges which as with all issues the organisation face are being managed using our own policies and procedures alongside working closely within the rules and guidelines issued by the Charity Commission" said ICT CEO Bernadette Elder "As these are ongoing internal matters it would not be appropriate for anyone from the organisation to discuss any individual involved at this time.
"We continue to deliver our activities within the community to the highest standards expected by the community, commissioners and partners and despite our internal challenges continue to receive positive feedback from those we work with or for" she added.***
*See previous Salford Star article for full background on the £53million scheme: The NDC and Salford Council: an `unpredictable menace bogged down in failure' – click here
**The full statement from Councillor Ord is as follows...
"The issue that seems to have triggered the recent events revolves around a motion that Graham Cooper submitted to ICT to limit the number of Council appointees to the board. Whilst Graham has since come forward and personally apologised to me and raised this issue with a number of Councillors, the reality is he must have thought it was a good idea at the time.
"I have no doubt Graham is telling the truth and I have seen a written response from Bernadette Elder which would appear to not be denying that these events took place. Whilst this certainly raises moral questions about the actions of Ann- Marie Pickup and Bernadette Elder, I don't believe anything illegal has taken place. Further the poorly attended meeting of members to change the Constitution voted in the required manner and passed this motion.
"This situation does not surprise me, nor the subsequent events, as my perception of Ann-Marie Pickup and Bernadette Elder is that it would appear they have acted out of greed; power grabbing control freaks; and self interest on a number of occasions. The reality is that Bernadette Elder and Ann-Marie Pickup have worked too closely, for far too long. This, I believe, has developed into an unhealthy mutually beneficial relationship that has lost both the balance, and the line, of where public interest ends and private interest begins. Personal greed is not too strong a word to use to describe this issue.
"Add to this fundamental anti democratic practices, and ignoring conflicts of interest, and you have all the deviant elements of what has lead up to the current power grab. I have not heard their side of the current argument, but on the face of it, it is unethical and bullying at its worst and in contravention of the constitution of ICT. After seeing them in action for 2 years however, I wouldn't have expected anything less. Most of these issues start small, and on their own seem mostly minor, but put together over years, add in the serious issues, and the pattern is consistent.
"I believe half of the board have acted in the best interests of the organisation at all times, and part of the board has acted in the interests of one member of that board and to past positions and decisions. That person has allowed their own interests to overlap with the interests of the organisation which is fundamentally unacceptable, and this has been actively helped by the CEO.
"Whilst I fully understand that board members who have been involved since the days of the NDC may feel issues of loyalty, they have questions to ask themselves. In my 2 years on the board some members of the board did not ask a single question of the organisation at a board meeting. So why are they there?
"The Salford University representative also has questions to answer over her role on this board.
"In relation to the recent power grab by Ann-Marie Pickup, I am not in possession of the full facts, or aware of what powers she has used to do this, and I do not recognise her as the Vice Chair, nor as the acting Chair. This organisation needs a fundamental review of its structure and the events that have happened, and I am led to believe that this was actioned by the board, but what its current status is now I have no knowledge.
"Whilst I feel ICT often overlooked the environmental remit it has, the real tragedy in all this, is that both the work it does, and its team of staff and volunteers, are good, and this could all be lost if this situation continues.
"In relation to bringing the item to the O&S [Overview and Scrutiny] board, this has not been done as the agreement between the Council and ICT is a very strong one and it would currently appear that ICT are delivering the objectives of that agreement. The issues at present are of an internal, organisational nature and as such there is little the Council can do to influence the final outcome. Additionally any review carried out by the Council would be classed as partisan by one element of the board, but really it couldn't be classed as having anything but a conflict of interest.
"Personally, it is my belief that these issues need the following actions –
"The board to strike down the motion and re-ballot it at the AGM. At that time the current Chair (Ray Walker) should invite Graham Cooper and Ann-Marie Pickup to provide their background to the motion and explain its aims. Alternatively, Graham should submit a motion to the AGM to reverse the change.
Salford University should replace their representative on the board.
Salford Council should look at organising a full and independent inquiry, with the cooperation of ICT.
Local residents and workers within the community should become members and get actively involved in the organisation..."
***To read about the work of ICT see its website – click here