Third Sector At Large: Shining a torch on public schools and monastic buildings

The complicated tax implications of selling Olympic torches, Dame Suzi Leather's reading habits and the reignited feuds surrounding the private schools and public benfit Upper Tribunal judgement, are on our minds this week

Financial flare: planning to donate your Olympic torch? HMRC covers the tax angles you hadn't even thought of
Financial flare: planning to donate your Olympic torch? HMRC covers the tax angles you hadn't even thought of

- Things have been mercifully quiet on private schools and public benefit since the Upper Tribunal produced its massive judgment last October, but it's kicking off again. Enter Alan Milburn, the Blairite former MP now advising the government on social mobility, who recently had a go about private schools "giving something back". This drew a response from Barnaby Lenon, the former headmaster of Harrow, who now chairs the Independent Schools Council, about "six years of being messed about by the Charity Commission" - and that in turn prompted former Tory MP Matthew Parris to dub Lenon "carelessly arrogant" and call in his Times column for the "so-called posh boys" in the coalition to surprise us all and "put the heat on independent schools". When will it ever end?

- Dame Suzi Leather has not revealed much about herself in six years at the commission - and who can blame her, given those ritual maulings in the right-wing press? But she confirmed she's a bookworm by telling the Almshouses Association last week that she had a copy of Houses of Noble Poverty, a history of almshouses by Brian Howson. "I've had the pleasure of perusing it in the comfort of my office, which has some of the Spartan characteristics but none of the beauty of the early monastic buildings he describes," she said. Closing the door and putting your feet up with a tome is certainly one way of sheltering from the recent mayhem of cuts and restructuring at the regulator.

- Would you pay nearly $3.5m to take seven friends with you to dine with an 81-year-old man at a New York steakhouse? Somebody in the US did just that at an auction last week, and the proceeds will go to Glide, a charity that feeds the poor and runs a church in San Francisco. But then the octogenarian in question is the sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett, who would probably tell you over the ice cream how to recoup your outlay overnight.

- The 8,000 or so Olympic torches are clearly creating a bit of an industry. The HM Revenue & Customs website now has a whole page about the tax issues if you buy and then sell your torch, including a discussion on Gift Aid if you give it to charity. Complex, but fascinating.

- A new government programme to raise awareness of philanthropy? Didn't we just have one, albeit of the unintended variety, with all the hoo-ha over the abortive cap on tax relief on charitable donations? It sparked enough philanthropy-speak to last a lifetime, but the Cabinet Office announced last week that it was giving out £304,000 to a new initiative. On closer inspection, it's quite a smart project for young people, but these things are all in the timing, aren't they?

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