Editorial: Age Concern trustees have to find a way forward from the Heyday affair

Without an objective inquiry, it will never be easy to pin down the mistakes made by Age Concern over Heyday, the organisation it launched last year to recruit people approaching retirement and help them prepare for later life.

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

The charity will give answers to specific questions, but declines to give a full and frank narrative, often on the grounds that it has a confidentiality agreement with Tony Page, who was involved in the first Heyday business plan and left with an £815,000 payment last year. An internal review, seen by Third Sector, lacks detail and rigour, and trying to understand what really went wrong is like piecing together a jigsaw.

However, a major piece has been added by the leak to this magazine of two documents written by Tony Page just before he left his job as managing director of Acent, the charity's main trading arm. One of them argued, among other things, that the marketing of Heyday membership should be retained within Acent, rather than being taken over by Age Concern England, because Acent had the job of actually selling the memberships and the responsibility for making sure they went well. In the other, Page complained that his success in building up Acent over the previous seven years was being put at risk by increasing day-to-day involvement and interference by ACE staff: he did not believe the charity's finance committee and trustees were in favour of this development, and called for them to discuss it. Age Concern's response is that all policies were approved by the trustees.

The essence, however, is that a good old-fashioned power struggle was going on. In the nature of such struggles, the more powerful faction won, the loser walked away with a considerable sum of money, and everyone had to cope with the fallout. The sixty-four thousand dollar question is this: if Page had had his way, would Heyday have been any more successful?

Age Concern suggests that the early plan, based on free membership with an option to pay for Heyday's magazine, was already going wrong when it intervened. What is clear, however, is that the plan implemented after his departure, based on paid-for membership only, failed in almost every way, and the affair has reflected badly on an otherwise reputable and effective charity. People have lost their jobs, there is a serious revolt within the Age Concern federation and even the Charity Commission has become involved in the question of whether Heyday's objects are charitable.

This, then, is the situation that confronts the 39 ACE trustees as they meet today. Their options are limited, in the sense that they approved the major decisions about Heyday, including the increased involvement of ACE that Page opposed and the investment of the charity's reserves in a venture that holds little prospect of a return. But there are developments that offer a way forward and might allow the damage to be repaired. Age Concern's cumbersome structure of governance, which may have played a part in what happened over Heyday, is currently being reviewed; and the continuing merger negotiations with Help the Aged could bring a reformed organisation into being. The combination of the two processes offers an opportunity to draw the line under past misfortunes and to start again with a clean sheet.

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