in the back
Wage concern
Charity Sector, Issue 1484
raj-dhokia.jpg
Snouts-in-the-trough culture brings charity low
WHEN oldie charities Age Concern and Help the Aged merged in 2009, most local branches came under the umbrella of the new national charity, Age UK. But one wealthy independent branch, Age Concern Slough and Berkshire East (Acsabe), with an income of around £3.5m a year, decided to continue to go its own way. Alas, a snouts-in-the-trough culture and bitter rivalries among senior managers have since brought the charity low – and its elderly clients have been the losers.

Back in 2014 Acsabe chief executive Tracey Morgan was suspended after accusing chairman Raj Dhokia and his board of poor governance and mismanagement. Morgan was unhappy at the board’s generosity to one London law firm, Freedman Green Dhokia (FGD) – of which Raj Dhokia was and is a partner. Dhokia was allowed by the board to pay his own company a retainer of £1,800 a month for “legal services”, whether FGD did any work or not. The arrangement brought FGD about £150,000 over seven years. In the financial year 2013-14 it raked in £54,000.

‘Another beneficiary’
A contract worth £100,000 was also awarded to Dhokia’s friend Satish Lakhani, of Harrow accountancy firm Lake and Company. Yet another beneficiary of Dhokia’s generosity was Gareth Pountain, recruited as a “governance consultant” on £1,000 a week for a three-day week, earning him some £150,000 over three years.

Dhokia and his loyal board of trustees decided to turn the tables on Morgan by accusing her of claiming £45,000 in unauthorised overtime. They took her to county court, a legal manoeuvre that prevented her from claiming “constructive dismissal” at an employment tribunal. They also paid £50,000 to an outside company, Conflict Management Plus (CMP), to investigate Morgan’s alleged misbehaviour and draw up a list of charges. But CMP dismissed all the allegations and Morgan was vindicated.

At Oxford county court Judge Charles Harris lambasted Dhokia and his trustees for their “lax attitude” and declared that Morgan’s overtime must have been sanctioned by previous chairpersons, including Dhokia. Finding in Morgan’s favour, the judge said Dhokia had instituted retaliatory proceedings against Morgan because of her “whistleblowing”. The award of contracts to Dhokia’s company and his friend Lakhani were conflicts of interest, said Harris.

‘Secret financial settlement’
After a series of trustee resignations, the Acsabe board decided not to appeal the judgment. Both sides agreed a secret financial settlement to avoid bankruptcy. The total cost of the legal battle against Morgan is estimated to be well over £300,000 – easily swallowing up a recent legacy of £250,000 donated by a local benefactor.

Since the case was dropped, Morgan, who served Acsabe for 16 years and earned £66,000 a year at the time of her departure, has sold her house in Maidenhead and is running a business in France with her husband, Mark Stevens, who also worked for the charity. Dhokia resigned as chairman in June. As a result of the financial debacle, it has been decided that board members must in future be unpaid volunteers and cannot make any money out of the charity.

Meanwhile Acsabe has had to leave its HQ in Slough High Street and relocate to a trading estate. Slough borough council has pulled the plug on its £900,000 subsidy, which accounted for nearly 30 percent of Acsabe’s annual income. Turnover is down by £1.5m a year and services for old folk have dwindled. Seven of the 22 charity shops have closed.

Still, for Dhokia and his friends it was good while it lasted!

More top stories in the latest issue:

POST TRUTHS
Documents released in the trial investigating subpostmasters’ claims that they were wrongly sacked or prosecuted thanks to the defective Horizon IT system take what looks like a Post Office cover-up to the top.

SNAKES AND LOSERS
As the privatised Royal Mail share price tumbles, hedge funds cash in.

BLAZING START
North Yorkshire’s stretched fire brigade is using up its financial reserves at a rapid rate, according to an independent report.

FATAL NARRATIVE
Health trust “more than minimally” contributed to the death of a young psychiatric patient who hanged herself minutes after being left alone by nurses, a coroner rules.

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
Strange goings-on at Christ Church, Oxford, where the dean has been suspended after trying to reform the college’s arcane internal management and pay.

ALLIED BOMBING
German investment firm Aurelius has made huge payouts to shareholders and board members since taking over the care homes it is now giving up on.

POETIC INJUSTICE
Writer who was booked to appear at an Oxford Armistice Day event is detained at Gatwick – and denied access to medication.

PFI GHOST STORY
School faces closure because no academy trust will take it over – but there are 19 years left to go on the PFI deal for its new buildings.

CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE
Probation privatisers have made further staff cuts despite growing criticism of their pisspoor performance.

To read all these stories in full, please buy issue 1484 of Private Eye - you can subscribe here and have the magazine delivered to your home every fortnight.

Next issue on sale: 11th December 2018
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