Regulator criticises public policy research charity over pro-Brexit report funding

The Politics and Economics Research Trust did not have formal grant agreements in place, the commission concludes

A public policy research and education charity has been repaid a £50,000 grant that helped to fund a pro-Brexit report and has been criticised by the Charity Commission for its failure to oversee the research it was financing.

According to a case report released by the commission today, the commission contacted the Politics and Economics Research Trust after concerns were raised about the charity’s financial support for the pro-Brexit group Business for Britain and the campaigning organisation the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

After contacting the charity, the commission found that it did not have formal grant agreements in place and did not have processes to monitor the research programmes it had funded.

The charity had provided funding for a Business for Britain report called Change or Go – How Britain Would Gain Influence and Prosper Outside an Unreformed EU, but decided the report did not conform to what was agreed during the grant application process after the Charity Commission engaged with the charity.

The charity told the commission that the report represented a "position statement" rather than a nuanced position on the UK’s relationship with the EU, the case report says.

The money was later returned to the charity, and a note in Pert’s accounts for the year to 31 December 2015 says that £50,000 of a total £100,000 granted to Business for Britain was returned in 2016 after both parties agreed that "the project in question had materially altered in the course of its execution".

The case report says that it was only after the commission asked to review the research reports funded by the charity that the trustees reviewed the Business for Britain report and requested the funding’s return. This was several months after the report was published.

According to the case report, the trustees have now agreed to introduce an amended grant application form, a grant agreement template and an operational policy document, and has appointed an administrator to assess grant applications.

This is not the first time Pert has received regulatory advice and guidance from the Charity Commission. In 2011, another case report found that it gave grants totalling £505,000 to the Taxpayers’ Alliance between 2007 and 2009 – accounting for more than 90 per cent of the grants it gave out in its first two years as a charity. 

The 2011 report found no evidence to suggest the charity was used by the Taxpayers’ Alliance as a vehicle to channel funds, enhanced with Gift Aid, to its own account.

Pert did not respond to a request for comment.

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