Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children UK, has apologised to those who were upset by the charity’s sister organisation in the US deciding to give a global legacy award to Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, Forsyth – a former special adviser to Blair – said the award, which was given to Blair by Save the Children US in November, had damaged the reputation of the charity.
He said the prize was intended to celebrate Blair’s work in Africa rather than his "wider legacy".
Forsyth said: "I know that many of our supporters and volunteers were very upset – several of our staff, too – and I’m very sorry for that. But this was an award given by our sister organisation in the United States.
"It’s a very different political context there, and they’ve had hardly any complaints. And, yes, it was a global legacy award. It was called that. But actually it was an award very, very specifically for Tony Blair’s efforts on Africa at two G8 summits in Birmingham and Gleneagles, not his wider legacy."
A petition on the website of the campaigning group 38 Degrees that called for the award to be rescinded – citing Blair’s involvement in the Iraq war and "damning allegations relating to his role as Middle East envoy and business dealings with autocratic rulers and others in the region" – has attracted almost 125,000 signatures.
More than 500 Save staff members worldwide signed an internal petition criticising the decision.
Forsyth said: "If it had been for his wider legacy, I think it would have been wrong. But it was for something quite specific that helped Africa and children. And I’m sorry it’s upset so many people."
He agreed that the incident had been "in part" damaging to the charity. "I think people do accept that we occasionally make mistakes, but we’re an organisation that’s very focused on saving children’s lives in the toughest parts of the world – that’s what we’re about, that’s why I lead this organisation and that’s what I believe in," Forsyth said.
A spokeswoman for Save UK declined to add anything further to Forsyth’s comments or to say whether he had apologised directly to charity staff.