Storm Albert, or whatever silly name has been assigned to it, is about to revive the allotments swamps and we cleaned out the squabbling hens with undue haste this morning. But we faint-hearts should perhaps pause from our panic to reflect on the courage and fortitude displayed by Henry Worsley, the former army officer who has died in the footsteps of Shackleton. This was no maverick who set off solo across Antarctic on a whim, he was meticulous, focused, experienced and has raised more than £100,000 for the Endeavour Fund that supports injured servicemen and women.
The elements haven’t changed noticeably in Antarctica for a century. With no dogs, kites, supply drops or team members Henry set off at a roaring pace, covering 913 miles in appalling conditions, only to falter 30 miles from the end of his quest as temperatures fell below -40C. “My summit is just out of reach,” he told supporters in a final audio message. Major Tim, currently orbiting the Earth in the space station, called Mr Worsley “a true explorer, adventurer and inspiration”. We can only say Amen to that and reflect that his death humbles us all and reminds us of our individual insignificance when faced by nature’s might.
But we were still casting apprehensive glances at the sullen skies as we headed for the welcoming protection of our hut. Once settled around the fire we were intrigued to read the leaked letter from Sir David Dalton, the Government’s chief negotiator in the Junior Doctor saga. It seems that in decrying the recent initial strike as “pointless”, Jeremy Hunt was once again demonstrating his propensity for flights of fancy. The government is adjusting which evenings and weekends would attract out-of-hours pay premiums and is conceding that no doctor will have to work consecutive weekends. Above all else it is recognising that excessive hours are dangerous and unfair. What a pity that it took uncharacteristically militant action to force respect for young men and women whose dedication shames the overpaid muppets of Whitehall.
But our attention quickly shifted to a subject close to our ancient hearts – charities. Most of us devote our spare time to working for the Rosemere Cancer Foundation, a local charity devoted to raising money to buy life-saving equipment not available through the cash-strapped NHS. The office is located within the cancer centre itself, and overhead costs are minimised. Virtually every penny that drops into rattling tins, or is raised at hundreds of fundraising initiatives, goes straight into kit identified by the clinicians as needed for patient treatment. in short we dedicate ourselves to the cause in the knowledge that we are not simply subsidising high salaried executives sitting in some remote London five-star offices.
And so it is with most local charities, most of whom probably share our suspicion of the large national organisations. We have always been suspicious of our larger brethren in the charity industry, but it was the investigation carried out last summer by the Daily Mail that reinforced our doubts. Yesterday the parliamentary public administration committee gave leading charities a final warning. In a devastating report MPs say that “well-paid bosses have been incompetent or wilfully blind”. They add that statutory regulation will be needed if the charities cannot restore public trust. They noted in particular the NSPCC, the British Red Cross, Oxfam and Macmillan – all of whom were identified by the Daily Mail as being, to put it kindly, unethical and wasteful.
All were found to be using “boiler room” tactics to raise cash. Firms paid by them were regularly contacting homes on the official “no-call” list, They were also prepared to take money from those who revealed that they had dementia. Staff were ordered to be “brutal” and “ferocious” when asking for cash and told even the poor and old were “fair game”. In other words rather than use volunteers the major charities have used call centres, and we all know just how intrusive and unethical they are.
The investigation also revealed that some charities, including Great Ormand Street Hospital and Macmillan Cancer Support, made it difficult or impossible for donors to block further communication by mail or phone. Personal information was sold on and fell into the hands of scamming companies. Vulnerable people were seen as fair targets, and great distress was caused to people too conscience stricken to use the bin or to put down the phone. Abuses by fundraisers and charities shocked public and politicians alike and cast a dark shadow over many well-run and ethical organisations.
MPs rightly paid tribute to the Daily Mail for exposing large charities and their cold call sharks. We hope that new and far more penal regulation will follow, and that trustees will be obliged to exercise their duties of governance. We all hate call-centres but we cannot afford to hate charities which have the capacity to do so much good.
Our worry is that MPs of the government are becoming increasingly distracted. A significant number of backbenchers yesterday attacked our dear leader for trying to strong-arm them into the EU referendum ‘In’ campaign, and for being too feeble in his renegotiation demands. To make things even worse the think-tank Civitas yesterday published a report claiming that the single market is a disaster for the UK.
Yes that is important, but we pray that the issue of rogue charities will not be brushed aside. For many they represent hope. But trust is an equally important feature!
QUOTE FOR TODAY ” I have made it clear that the charity sector has one last chance to prove that self-regulation can work. But I am willing to step in and impose statutory regulation if necessary”….Rob Wilson, minister for civil society.