Common Purpose is registered with the Charities Commission as charity no: 1023384. But are the activities of the organisation itself, and those of its 'graduates', truly charitable according to law and who is responsible for making that determination?
In order to answer these key questions these logical steps need to be followed:
1) an examination of the evolution of the law governing Charities and the definition of charitable purposes.
2) an evaluation of the specific powers of the Charity Commission to regulate and control charities.
3) an examination of the objects clause in the Common Purpose Articles of Association.
4) the identification of evidence of a range of activities of Common Purpose personnel and trained operatives (graduates) which potentially conflict with the charity's objects clause.
5) the consideration of evidence of direct of indirect connections between the Charity Commission and Common Purpose which could call into question the impartiality of the Charity Commission and raise pubic suspicion of bias in its decision making.
The evolution of law governing Charities and the definition of Charitable Purposes
Charity law has developed over many centuries as evidenced by the fact that charitable purposes were originally found within the Charitable Uses Act 1601. The preamble of the Charitable Uses Act 1601 provided guidance on what activities could be charitable and gave the following examples:
the relief of aged ... and poor people; the maintenance of sick and maimed soldiers and mariners; schools of learning; free schools and scholars in universities; the repair of bridges, ports, havens, causeways, churches, sea banks, and highways; the education and preferment of orphans; the relief, stock, or maintenance of houses of correction; marriages of poor maids; support, aid, and help of young tradesmen, handicraftsmen and persons decayed; the relief or redemption or prisoners or captives; and the aid or ease of any poor inhabitants covering payments of fifteens, setting out of soldiers, and other taxes.
The institution must exist for the benefit of the public, and, the institution must be exclusively charitable.
The law reports contain many cases where the courts have been asked to determine if an organisation's purposes have been charitable or not. In many cases charitable entities were found to be masquerading as being for educational purposes when in truth they had political aims.
Cases such as Re Bushnall (1975), McGovern v AG (1981) and Southwood v AG (1998) established that a trust or organisation whose purposes are ostensibly educational will not be accorded charitable status where these purposes are meant to further some political agenda, ideology or goal. In particular, the cases of Baldry v Feintuck (1972) and AG v Ross (1986) held that bodies that are considered to be charitable in educational circles will be precluded from engaging in political activities or supporting political causes.
The Charities Act 1993, Part X, section 97 stated that "charitable purposes" means purposes that are exclusively charitable according to the law of England and Wales. But what is exclusively charitable under the law? This has been the ambiguity since the preamble of 1601.
Amendments to the Charities Act (1960) are set forth in the Charities Act 1993, Schedule 6. However, the 1993 Act did not make any substantial change as to the definition of charitable purposes.
The Charities Act 1993 was still in force in 2004 when the Charity Commission published guidance on campaigning and political activities. This guidance indicated that:
a charitable body may engage in political activity where to do so will enhance or facilitate or support its work.
Further guidance was provided in 2008. The Charity Commission website now states that
There is no automatic presumption that an organisation with a stated aim that falls within one of the descriptions of purposes is charitable. To be a 'charitable purpose' it must be for the public benefit. This has to be demonstrated in each case.
The charitable purposes are now found within Section 3 (1) of the Charities Act 2011. Unfortunately, this appears to have created more uncertainty due to the fact that Section 3 (1) (m) adds further activities that may be charitable under the broad brush term 'any other purpose'. But what exactly is 'any other purpose'?
The specific powers of the Charity Commission to regulate and control Charities
S 1 (a) Charities Act 1993 created the Charity Commission for England and Wales. The Charity Commission's functions, according to section 15 (1) Charities Act 2011, includes 'determining whether institutions are or are not charities', and, identifying and investigating apparent misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of charities and taking remedial or protective action in connection with misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of charities.'
In performing its' general duties section 16 requires that 'regulatory activities should be proportionate, accountable, consistent, transparent and targeted only at cases in which action is needed'. Part 5 of the Act confers powers on the Commission in relation to the initiation of Inquiries. For example, section 46 provides a general power for the Commission to Institute inquiries 'either generally or for particular purposes', sections 48 & 49 concern the Commission’s powers to obtain and execute search warrants for the purpose of any inquiry, and Section 50 concerns the 'Publication of results of inquiries'.
Examination of the objects clause in the Common Purpose Articles of Association
The objects of Common Purpose UK, as listed on the Charity Commission website, are as follows:
The advancement of education for the public benefit and in particular but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing to educate men and women and young people of school age, from a broad range of geographical, political, ethnic, institutional, social and economic backgrounds in constitutional, civic, economic and social studies with special emphasis on civil and social awareness and responsibility in the United Kingdom and elsewhere provided always that nothing contained herein shall authorize or be deemed to authorize the carrying on of any activity for any purposes save those regarded as charitable by the laws of England and Wales.
Their filed Consolidated report and financial statements year ended 31 July 2017 contains the statement
The Trustees confirm that they have complied with the duty in section 17 of the Charities Act 2011 to have due regard to the Charity Commission's general guidance on public benefit, 'Charities and Public Benefit'.
On 1 October 2008, the Charity Commission was asked about Common Purpose’s objects via Freedom of Information request. They responded:
Common Purposes objects are not political and we have not received any evidence to suggest that Common Purpose is engaged in anything illegal or in any activities that would lead us to question its charitable status.
The activities of Common Purpose personnel and trained operatives (graduates) which potentially conflict with its' Objects Clause
We have examined evidence where Common Purpose jealously guard their activities by actively seeking to prevent disclosure of information to members of the public.
For example, senior public officials, including a Chief Constable, have been given instructions by Common Purpose in how to respond to freedom of information requests. In this letter, dated 21 March 2008, Common Purpose wrote 'we have written to the Information Commissioner about this vexatious use of the Freedom of Information Act.
We have also noted that many Common Purpose trained officers in the public sector fail to disclose their Common Purpose connections when occupying various roles, as evidenced within the Common Purpose Effect article series.
In fact, so secretive has this organisation been that, despite operating since 1989, none of its' training materials can be found within the public domain. Although this could be attributable to a claim of 'commercial sensitivity' it could equally be true that disclosure of such materials would reveal that its' core activity is not in itself charitable.
In 2004, three years before the introduction of the UK Smoking Ban, it was reported that 'Leaders in Merseyside's Civil, business and community sectors who formed the 100-strong Common Purpose Group met to share a debate on a smoke free Liverpool before casting their final vote'. The press release indicated that 'Common Purpose is a campaigning organisation that believes the UK needs more diverse leaders.'
Also in 2004 the Bristol Common Purpose group discussed advertising in the Evening Post for an elected mayor and see who applied. Jerry O'Brien, from the Fire Service, came up with the idea. Jerry O'Brien is a Common Purpose Matrix Graduate 2002. Early in 2005 the Evening Post ran the article and also posited a number of potential candidates that included John Savage, George Ferguson and Dick Penny. A Bristol 24-7 article revealed that 'Jaya Chakrabarti from Bristol-based digital marketing agency Nameless said an elected mayor would help people engage with local politics.'
According to her LinkedIn profile Chakrabarti was a "Conspirator for the Bristol Elected Mayor Campaign" between 2010 - 2011 where she "helped to change our part of the world a little with a fantastic band of co-conspirators."
Chakrabarti is a Common Purpose Matrix Graduate. George Ferguson became the first independent mayor to lead a major city (Bristol) in Britain. He was officially sworn in at a ceremony held on 19 November 2012. Fergusson was the Moderator at a Global Parliament of Mayors Planning Session on the 19 September 2014. The inaugural Global Parliament of Mayors convened on the 10 September, 2016 in The Hague.
In November 2005 Common Purpose appears on the list of consultees for a review of Northern Ireland's Liquor Licensing laws.
Jack Law, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus, Scotland graduated as a Common Purpose 20:20 graduate in 2005.
The June 2008 Minutes of the Coventry Partnership Business Group Meeting provide us with another link between Common Purpose and unelected partnerships. In this meeting presentations were given on Alcohol Harm Reduction and Smoking with the group agreeing that healthier lifestyles should be promoted as a general issue rather than addressing smoking and alcohol separately. Among those present was Faye Williams, Common Purpose. Apologies for absence included the name of Louise Teboul, also of Common Purpose.
In a letter dated 23 October 2009 Julia Middleton, Common Purpose CEO, wrote to the Information Commissioner to explain breaches of the Data Protection Act, in particular relating to Common Purpose compiling a 'black list' of concerned members of the public who had submitted Freedom of Information requests. Middleton makes reference to 'vexatious use of the Freedom of information Act.' We also note that the Communications & External Relations Director, Information Commissioner's Office, Wilmslow graduated from Common Purpose in 2002/03.
In November 2012 the Leveson Inquiry was exposed as a crude attempt to gag the British mainstream press. Not only were Common Purpose senior officers David Bell and Julia Middleton sitting alongside other Common Purpose members in the Media Standards Trust, which spawned the 'hacked off' campaign, David Bell also sat on the Leveson Panel itself and evidence was presented to that panel by other Common Purpose graduates.
For many years Common Purpose have been connecting their graduates, also termed Alumni, together via social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Here's a screenshot of one of their LinkedIn groups.
On 6 March 2014 Common Purpose alumni (Over 60 leaders from key public, private and not for profit organisations) gathered at a Common Purpose graduate event to discuss what Bristol's new role as European Green Capital 2015 means for the city as a place, as well as for its businesses, employment, communities and transport systems. The news release claimed that:
in every society, there is an invisible, vital 'space' where people come together and act for the greater good. At Common Purpose, we have a passionate belief in the importance of this space. In our view, this is at the core of society ... Our aim is to fill this space with as many people as possible.
The Leadership Partnership, which includes such bodies as the Leadership Centre, the Virtual Staff College, and the NHS Leadership academy is itself heavily connected with Common Purpose, the Tavistock Institute and a range of senior Neuro-Lingistic Programming (NLP) Practitioners such as Richard Bandler. This partnership provides a 'conveyor belt' system of training to leaders across British public authorities.
In Rotherham and Nottingham independent investigative reports have revealed that senior officers, charged with a statutory duty of care towards children, have failed to protect these children by omitting to act appropriately when evidence of child sexual exploitation was presented to them.
This omission is further compounded due to the composition of the child safeguarding partnerships (public / third sector partners). Of those that we investigated most included graduates of Common Purpose, who claim to provide specialist training to assist leaders to 'work across organisational boundaries'.
Despite their heavy presence in Rotherham one of the key findings in Professor Jay's report was that 'an issue or responsibility that belongs to everybody effectively belongs to nobody, and in the case of sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham, accountability was key.'
The weight of evidence presented above should be sufficient to trigger a Statutory Inquiry by the Charity Commission. But is such an expectation a realistic one?
Nemo Judex In Sua Causa: A Man Shall Not Be A Judge In His Own Cause
There is no better known rule of natural justice than the one that a man shall not be a judge in his own cause.
In Webb and Hay v. The Queen (1994) it was stated that:
the area covered by the doctrine of disqualification by reason of the appearance of bias encompasses at least four distinct, though sometimes overlapping, main categories of case … The third category is disqualification by association. It will often overlap the first and consists of cases where the apprehension of prejudgment or other bias results from some direct or indirect relationship, experience or contact with a person or persons interested in, or otherwise involved in, the proceedings.
The case of R v Bow Street Stipendiary Magistrate ex parte Pinochet (No 2)  involved the unprecedented setting aside of a House of Lords judgment based upon the possibility of bias. This was because the wife of one their lordships, Lord Hoffmann, was an unpaid director of a subsidiary of Amnesty International which had in turn been involved in a campaign against the applicant, and as a party.
Is there any 'direct or indirect relationship' between the Charities Commission and Common Purpose that might raise a public perception of bias in its' quasi judicial role? Indeed there is.
The identification of Charity Commission personnel with links to Common Purpose
Dame Suzi Leather was Chair of the Charity Commission from 1 August 2006 to 31 July 2012. She was therefore 'on watch' at the time of the significant changes introduced by the the Charities Acts of 2006 and 2011. Suzi Leather appears in part 2 of the 2009 Common Purpose video, A question of leadership - Crisis, communication and lessons. She was a highly controversial figure as these reports demonstrate
* Axe hovers over Quango Queen: Dame Suzi Leather accused of bias at Charity Commission
* Quango queen Suzi is savaged for allowing tax scam to receive charitable status due to lack of checks
More details of her background found on the website of Hospiscare.
The Rt Hon Baroness Stowell of Beeston MBE is Chair of the Charities Commission and Helen Stephenson, CBE is currently Chief Executive.
Helen Stephenson previously served as Director and Deputy Director of the Office for Civil Society, and has filled senior roles at the Big Lottery Fund and the Shaftesbury Society. Between 2013-2017 she was a Board Member, Big Society Trust. Whilst occupying this latter role it is more likely than not that she would have come into contact with Peter Holbrook, as a fellow trustee. In 2010, Peter was appointed as a member of the Cabinet Office's Mutual's Taskforce and Trustee of the Big Society Trust (overseeing delivery of Big Society Capital). He was a participant in CSC Leaders in 2013. CSC Leaders is delivered by a partnership between Common Purpose and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh's Commonwealth Study Conference (UK Fund). Holbrook is also a Common Purpose Focus Graduate 2002.
The Rt Hon Baroness Stowell's appointment as chair was not without controversy. Writing in Civil Society on 7th February 2018 Andrew Hind, the former CEO of the Charity Commission (2004 - 2010) stated that 'the constitutional changes of 2006 have had the unintended consequence of politicising the role of Charity Commission chair. Both the public and the 168,000 charities regulated by the Commission deserve better.'
As part of the selection process, the government's preferred candidate, Baroness Stowell, appeared before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC) on 20 February 2019. The Committee wrote to the Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, on the same day:
I am sorry to report that we cannot support the Government's nomination. This is the first time that this Committee has not supported the Government's candidate, and it is not a decision that we have taken lightly. The Committee was unanimous in its view that, for four reasons, Baroness Stowell should not be appointed.
It turns out that the government's preferred candidate had only limited experience of the charity sector having been appointed as a director of Crimestoppers on 19 July 2017 only to resign on 22 February 2018. Crimestoppers was chaired by Lord Ashcroft whom Stowell admitted had directly approached her to take on that role. She had also been been appointed as a director of the 'little known' Transformation Trust on 1 January 2018, which is presumably shortly after she applied for the role of Charity Commission Chair.
The Chair of trustees of Transformation Trust is none other than Sir David Bell. Bell had been a director of Common Purpose (UK) between June 1998 - September 2012, director of Common Purpose International between June 1996 - September 2009, and, director of the Common Purpose Charitable Trust until his resignation in June 2015 after his impartiality was questioned following his appointment to the Leveson panel. Lord David Puttnam is one of the Transformation Trust's patrons. He is probably best known as an independent film producer, although he was President UNICEF UK 2002 - 09; trustee and fellow, World Economic Forum 1997-2008, and, Chair of Forum for the Future 1985-92. By mere coincidence he has his own dedicated web page on the Common Purpose website. Neither Sir David Bell nor Lord Putnam mention their connections with Common Purpose on the website of the Transformation Trust.
Returning to Baroness Stowell, during her attendance before the DCMSC, she emphasised her past experience in various roles at the BBC. She had previously been head of communications for the BBC Trust 2003 - 2008 and head of corporate affairs 2008 - 2010.
Examination of a partial list of BBC Common Purpose graduates allowed us to identify three 20:20 graduates. These were Madeline Denmead, the former divisional finance director, BBC London. In 2011 she moved on to become Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Design Council before again moving on to become COO WWF-UK in 2018 and COO Cancer Research UK in 2019. She is a former Audit Manager at PwC (1984 - 1996); Peter Robertson, former managing editor, BBC monitoring, Reading, now Founder and Director of A Big Wide World a 'change management specialist consultancy'; and Jon Williams, former World News Editor, BBC London Television centre. See Jon Williams, former World News Editor, BBC - CSCLeaders (Part One) 2013, London. Chris Patten, who was chair of BBC Trust between 1 May 2011 and 6 May 2014 was previously featured on the Common Purpose website.
The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP responded to the DCMSC letter on 23 February claiming that 'past political activity should be no bar to a public appointment' and that despite Baroness Stowell 'never claiming to possess significant experience of working in charities ... [she] does have significant executive and Government experience.' He concluded by stating that 'Baroness Stowell was the best and right candidate for the role.'
The third report of the (DCMSC) - Appointment of the Chair of the Charity Commission was published on 28 February 2018. This states rather harshly that
the Secretary of State's quick response to our initial letter showed scant regard for both due process, and for Parliament's role in public appointments. The Commission is accountable to Parliament, not the Government of the day. There is an established role for select committees in the public appointment process, for good reasons. Ministers should, therefore, listen to their advice, rather than proceed regardless on as if committees' careful work had never happened.
In paragraph 32 the report has this to say of the Committee's perception of the Neutrality of Baroness Baroness Stowell:
On the basis of the evidence that we have, we cannot endorse Baroness Stowell's proposed appointment as Chair of the Charity Commission.
Baroness Stowell was appointed, by Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as new Chair of Charity Commission from 26 February 2018. Shortly after Stowell's appointment as Chair it was reported, in Third Sector, that the Charity Commission had commenced an investigation into the Transformation Trust. This apparently followed revelations that:
the charity's accounts, for the year ending 31 August 2016, stated it did not have any employees yet incurred staff costs of £219,649.
As far as can be determined, no Charity Commission report into these revelations has been published during 2018 or 2019.
It is also known that a number of senior Charity Commission officers became Common Purpose Matrix Graduates between 1997 and 2004. These include the acting Chief Operating Officer (October 2014 - March 2015) who moved on to become director of risk before retiring in 2016. A selection of invoices submitted to the Charity Commission by Common Purpose, issued between January 2002 and November 2004, were addressed to the same senior Charity Commission officers who were themselves Common Purpose Graduates.
In conclusion, we feel that certain activities of Common Purpose personnel and their trained operatives (graduates) demonstrate potential breaches of this charity's objects clause and are therefore not charitable purposes under the law. Whether these concerns are of sufficient gravity to trigger a Charity Commission Inquiry into the Common Purpose Group of registered charities is open to doubt.
One issue that has become clear during our own investigation is that the Charity Commission has permitted its own impartiality as regulator to be tainted by the close proximity of some of its' personnel to Common Purpose. In our opinion this more than raises public suspicions of bias in its' future decision making, and we now have to ask if the Charity Commission itself is fit for purpose?