Last week, the Wrexham Leader (3 January daily and 5 January weekly editions) published this article on John Gallanders’ views about smaller charities in the Wrexham area being close to collapse.
I wrote this letter to the editor in reply:
Re. article in the Big Wrexham Leader 5 January: Smaller Charities ‘close to collapse’
John Gallanders, Chief Officer of AVOW, says: “Charities in Wrexham are really starting to struggle and the future is looking bleak for some.” It strikes me that individuals and funding bodies might have more confidence in giving to local charities if the umbrella body set up to represent them, AVOW, had more credibility. AVOW is still being run by a Chief Officer who was found by an employment tribunal to have abused his position and behaved reprehensibly, to have manipulated the Trustees and usurped their role, and a Trustee Board (including Chair and Vice-Chair) who failed in their duties, took no proper decisions of their own, deferred all decisions to their officers, even when dealing with a complaint about the Chief Officer, and oversaw grievance processes that the Tribunal found to be “from start to finish… a sham”. The employment tribunal panel stated more than once in their findings that they were “shocked”, commenting that this was not a word they used lightly.
John Gallanders says: “With larger charities doing such a good job on drumming up support, smaller charities get forgotten about.” He is presumably talking about his own charity as one of the successful larger ones. AVOW’s empire building, which has led to it having around 60 members of staff, could be seen as directly contributing to the demise of smaller local charities. There is also a big question to be asked about the continued funding of AVOW, given the serious findings of the employment tribunal and lack of change at the top following those findings.
AVOW took over the running of Plas Madoc Communities First project, which had serious governance problems, after AVOW’s own serious governance problems had been identified and exposed at the Employment Tribunal. This move doubled AVOW’s staff team overnight. Neither AVOW nor the Welsh Government has provided an answer to the question: When did AVOW inform the Welsh Government about the Employment Tribunal and its findings, which were known to AVOW on 14 March 2011? If there was more transparency about public funding of charities, there might be more public confidence among those considering making voluntary donations.
The article states: “Mr Gallanders revealed many of the grant-giving organisations such as the National Lottery are experiencing a significant increase in the number of applications resulting in the same amount of cash being spread more thinly among the ever-increasing number of charities which rely on it.” I can reveal that the Big Lottery Fund is one of the most frequent and regular visitors to my blog notavow.wordpress.com, which details the sorry tale of AVOW and the employment tribunal. I would suggest that AVOW’s damaged reputation is likely to impact negatively on all charities in Wrexham applying for funds.
John Gallanders talks about smaller charities facing mergers and downsizing to keep them afloat. In the past, we had one Voluntary Services Council for the old Clwyd local authority area and it is open to question why public money is being used to pay for separate voluntary services councils in Wrexham, Flintshire and Denbighshire. Given the findings against AVOW and the lack of any action (beyond a secretive internal investigation that won’t reveal its full terms of reference, will not say whether its findings will be made public and has declined to interview me, the main witness, as part of its inquiry), it would seem appropriate that public funders should be looking at transferring the governance of AVOW to another body in the same way that the governance of Plas Madoc Communities First was transferred. Maybe AVOW needs to be merged.