The Charity Commission continue their investigation of the National Rifle Association for various breaches. On 7th February they published an update on their website stating ‘the charity acted outside its charitable objects by promoting civilian recreational shooting competitions and other activities’.
“The NRA remains subject to close scrutiny by the regulator due to the seriousness of this issue”.Charity Commission report 7th February 2020
Does the NRA take members for fools with their spun response to the Charity Commission?
Further to the Charity Commission report the National Rifle Association released their Press Release on their website on 7th February 2020 which, like all NRA communication was mostly ‘spin’. Below we will look at comments from the Charity Commission and respective extracts from the NRA Press Release.
4 Areas of focus for the Charity Commission investigation into the National Rifle Association
1. THE NRA IS NOT ALLOWED TO PROMOTE CIVILIAN SHOOTING
On this point the NRA were in agreement that “The Trustees recognise that the promotion of recreational shooting is not consistent with promoting the Efficiency of the Armed Forces. The NRA website, social media presence and
publications did not demonstrate the separation of competitive and recreational shooting with sufficient clarity”. To get round this the NRA are ensuring that the ‘commercial activity’ of recreational shooting be carried out by the National Shooting Centre (NSC). Does this mean that the existing high pricing to members will increase and that ammunition costs will go up?
2. POOR SEPARATION BETWEEN THE CHARITY AND NATIONAL SHOOTING CENTRE
Charity Commission comment: “The Commission is critical of how the charity was managing its relationship with its wholly owned trading subsidiary, the National Shooting Centre (NSC). A charity can generate funds through a trading subsidiary, however this must be managed carefully so that the charity remains focused on furthering its charitable objectives. The Commission examined this arrangement and found that it was not clear to members of the charity or the public how the two organisations were separate and independent, due to the overlapping activities. It was unclear how conflicts of interest and loyalty were managed as the charity’s CEO was the NSC’s only director and decision-maker”.
NRA comment: “The improved documentation and procedures that the Trustees have put in place as a result of the action plan issued by the Commission will be of significant benefit to the charity. These include greater clarity around the separation of the NRA and its commercial subsidiary, National Shooting Centre Limited”.
Save Bisley comment: For 6 years Andrew Mercer was sole director of the NSC which was a huge conflict of interest, particularly given his apparent bonus linked to camp turnover. To comply with the Charity Commission the National Rifle Association published the job vacancy online for an ‘Independent Director’ for the NSC on 31st October 2019 (https://nra.org.uk/the-nsc-seeks-independent-directors/). The post specifically stated “(“Independent” excludes NRA employees / current Trustees / recently retired Trustees)”. The deadline for applications was 22nd November 2019. As such it seems strange that the NRA would go to the trouble on 23rd October 2019, prior to the job opening even being made public, of making two co-opted trustees (Alice Gran & Nicholas Brasier) Directors of the NSC on Companies House. Mercer remains a director, so the NRA have only managed, with a classic lack of transparency, to surround him with more co-opted individuals. Nothing has changed for the better.
3. LEASING ISSUES LED TO DAMAGING DISPUTES
Charity Commission comment: “The charity has been criticised for requiring non-charities to pay market rate for tenancies. It is appropriate for charities to do this, and indeed charity law requires trustees to get the best return on commercial tenancies with non-charities. Public trust and confidence in the charity was put at risk as a result of property disputes. The Commission was concerned about the trustees’ lack of control over the management of the leases. In particular, processes around decision-making records, and management of lease renewals, were found to be inadequate“.
NRA comment: “The NRA welcomes the Commission’s confirmation that the Trustees of the NRA were correct in seeking the best return on commercial tenancies with non-charities, thus resolving this important issue” …”The improved documentation and procedures that the Trustees have put in place as a result of the action plan issued by the Commission will be of significant benefit to the charity. These include greater clarity around the separation of the NRA and its commercial subsidiary, National Shooting Centre Limited, new governance structures, a new Disciplinary Code and new procedures for the granting and renewing of leases”.
Save Bisley comment: The issue with leases was that ‘Public trust and confidence in the charity was put at risk‘ given the ‘trustees’ lack of control‘. NRA management were going back on commitments made by previous management and with regard to rental amounts Mercer was just plucking figures out of the air. Take the case of the Artists Rifles, why did CEO Andrew ignore NRA property advisors Strutt & Parker who calculated market rent for the Clubhouse at £3,350? Instead Mercer announced rent should be £18,000 p.a, then reduced this to £14,700 when he faced resistance. Mercer never provided any evidence to support these figures. The Artists offered £5,000, despite not needing to given the prior commitment from the NRA, but Mercer refused. The whole episode caused a wave of negative national press over many years for the NRA and after spending over £300k on legal fees, the arbitrators set rent at £4,000! So due to Mercer’s aggressive actions the NRA waste funds and lose out on rent.
Have the NRA learned from the disasters of the Artists? What about the current litigation with Bisley Shooting Ground, and several other Clubhouses?
4. POOR HANDLING OF COMPLAINTS
Charity Commission comment: “The regulator also identified and advised on weaknesses in the trustees’ handling of complaints, which included members’ concerns about transparency and accountability. The Commission reminded the trustees of the importance of members’ meetings and working collaboratively to avoid any mistrust. Members should feel able to hold trustees to account for the management of their charity, so the trustees must be open and transparent as far as is possible. The implementation of a new Disciplinary Code should provide reassurance that matters can be raised respectfully without fear of reprisal“.
NRA comment: “Trustees have put in place as a result of the action plan issued by the Commission will be of significant benefit to the charity. These include greater clarity around the separation of the NRA and its commercial subsidiary, National Shooting Centre Limited, new governance structures, a new Disciplinary Code“.
Save Bisley comment: The NRA has long got away with remaining opaque and unaccountable. The governing individuals have been previously questioned by the Charity Commission for their lack of ability to run the Charity. With the majority of trustees being co-opted by the Chairman, this further underlines the lack of transparency. There is evidence all over this site and the internet proving huge mistrust and appalling bullying of dissidents. Take for example ex Chairman Robin Pizer (full details here) who was one of the many victims of the kangaroo court that is the NRA Disciplinary Committee. Dr Pizer commented to the editor of The Times regarding a piece written on the outrageous treatment of the Artists Rifles (we all know that Pizer was right given the outcome of the NRA vs Artists). Mercer acted as prosecution and recessed with the jury before a decision was made. On 12th October 2018 Mercer announced that Dr Pizer would not only be expelled from the NRA, but also banned from entering Bisley Camp. Dr Pizer appealed the decision on 22 October 2018 and the NRA have still (2020) been ‘unable’ to find a date for the Appeal Hearing.