Big Society Network

1 August 2014

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A Statement from the Trustees of the Society Network Foundation

In light of ill-founded recent media criticism of Society Network Foundation (SNF), a registered charity, and the Big Society Network (BSN), a not for profit company, the trustees of the SNF and the executives of BSN organisations issue this statement to provide an accurate account of the issues in question.

There have been unsubstantiated claims that SNF and BSN used political pressure to secure awards of funding and that money has been misused. The SNF Trustees (the Trustees) unequivocally reject all such suggestions for which there is no evidence whatsoever. The SNF trustees have duly instructed their lawyers who have made a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission concerning the Independent which originated the story.

In all their communications, the Trustees have been completely open. The SNF has been notified on numerous occasions by the Cabinet Office and the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) that they have responded to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests relating to the SNF. As far as the Trustees are aware, all communications between the SNF and the Cabinet Office, BIG and any other relevant public bodies regarding any awards of funds are in the public domain and have been so for some time. If there had been any political influence in the allocation of funding for the SNF then that would have emerged in that documentation.

Funding

The allegation that SNF received favourable treatment because of links to the Prime Minister and the Government is not true. If anything the association with the BSN made it more difficult for SNF to secure funding from private and public funding bodies that make political neutrality an imperative.

All the bids for funding for the many projects run by the BSN/SNF complied fully with the procedures laid down by each of the grant awarding bodies and none of the Trustees are aware of any funding that was granted other than in strict accordance to the criteria laid down by these bodies.

No credible evidence has been supplied to support media claims that the innovation charity NESTA was ‘forced’ to fund BSN. Any allegations that a public body was ‘forced’ to fund an organisation are serious and potentially very damaging to individuals concerned and yet the Trustees have received no evidence to support these claims and further note that NESTA have rejected these claims.

Directors’ payments

No unauthorised payments have been made to officers of either organisation. The payments made to Martyn Rose, for 2010-2014, for the provision of contracted office services and consultancy support to BSN totalling £40,000, was agreed by the Trustees. Martyn Rose contributed £193,000 personally to the Society Network Foundation a charity, and its operating subsidiary Big Society Network, a not for profit organisation, meaning that overall he made a net contribution personally of £153,000 to these entities.

As a successful entrepreneur and investor in early stage business, both private and social enterprises, Martyn Rose’s involvement in SNF was to give back to society and led him to devote a considerable amount of time to help further the organisation’s objectives.

Payments were made to two directors who are part of BSN’s executive management team for their work on behalf of BSN and the various projects with which they were involved as was both appropriate and as is standard practice in these circumstances.

Projects

Your Local Budget

BSN was founded in 2009 as a company limited by guarantee and was initially funded via a number of private donations. In 2010 the then Chief Executive Paul Twivy approached NESTA for funding. In collaboration with Participatory Budget Unit, BSN was awarded £80,000 to deliver a Your Local Budget to promote new forms of participatory budgeting. This project delivered according to all its requirements as per the contract.

NESTA Award

With the support of seconded staff from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) BSN received a one year award of £400,000 in December 2010 to support core organisational costs (£150,000) and £250,000 for core projects. The £250,000 award was conditional upon BSN developing projects that could secure match-funding and the charity registration of SNF. Three projects; Nexters, Spring Giving and It’s Our Community, were established with match funding and agreed with NESTA as part of a formal review process.

BSN facilitated the registration of SNF as a charity in April 2011. BSN fully reported on all these projects in line with NESTA requirements and delivered in line with all the conditions set out in the Grant Award.

Your Square Mile

This project was conceived by Paul Twivy in 2010 as a new online platform to support community empowerment and became the principle focus of the BSN development work in 2010/2011. Paul had previously served as a member of Gordon Brown’s Prime Ministerial Council for Social Action – further evidence of a lack of political bias on funding decisions. After a year of development Your Square Mile received an award of £830,000 from BIG in March 2011. The award was made on the condition that the funds would be transferred to a newly formed company, Your Square Mile Ltd, which remained the accountable body for the project.

Social Action Fund – Get In

In 2011 the Cabinet Office announced the launch of a new Social Action Fund (SAF) to be administered by the Social Investment Business (SIB). SNF responded by establishing a broad based partnership to develop Get In; a campaign to promote parental volunteering in primary schools to promote fitness activity. After reconsidering a more ambitious proposal, SNF submitted in January 2012 a revised Get In proposal to SIB.

SNF was awarded £299,800 to take forward its element of the programme in May 2012. SNF received an initial payment and then a second payment having met the initial targets. The project was then terminated and at a meeting with the Cabinet Office the Trustees sought and received reassurances that any remaining SAF funds could be used for unrestricted purposes, such purposes in line with the charitable objects of the organisation.

The Trustees were unaware until the NAO reported during the week commencing 21 July 2014 that the Cabinet Office made any changes to the eligibility conditions that applied to the SAF.

Britain’s Personal Best

Conversations regarding Britain’s Personal Best (BPB) started with BIG and other Lottery distributors in July 2012. Detailed proposals were submitted throughout the process to BIG and an announcement of an award was made in May 2013. In October and November the BPB team undertook a performance review of the project due to concerns that the partnerships in place did not have capacity to deliver key outcome targets.

Alternative proposals were submitted to BIG. They did not wish to proceed with these and in March 2014, they informed the Trustees that they intended to terminate the Grant Award.

Charity Commission

SNF is not under Charity Commission ‘investigation’, which can be confirmed with the Charity Commission. SNF has been in correspondence with Charity Commission since March 2014 regarding some aspects of its end of year reporting. We met with the Charity Commission on Wednesday and enjoyed an open and transparent conversation about SNF’s work and projects and reassured the Commission that these were conducted in accordance with both the guidelines of the relevant grant awarding bodies and SNF’s charitable objectives.

SNF is solvent but is not planning any new projects. In the Trustees’ work for the charity, the Trustees have always been ambitious. The support, both in terms of funding and as partners, the Trustees have received from organisations – private and public - and from individuals is recognition that others shared that ambition as well. The trustees of the SNF and the executives of BSN are proud of the projects that did succeed - including Nexters, the Social Innovation Investment Fund and the Big Society Awards all of which continue on today - and helped make a difference in society.

ENDS

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