Little at large

Harrods charity donation led to very katty behaviour

* Goodwill towards charities is fragile, we're often told. In fact, all it takes to destroy it is a limited-edition replica of a cult computer-generated meerkat.

Last October, Harrods announced it was selling an exclusive cuddly toy version of Alexandr Orlov Meerkat - who, in case you don't know, is the Russian aristocrat star of the comparethemarket.com TV advert.

Just before Christmas, however, Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed decided that, because of the huge demand generated, all meerkats were to be donated to charities for sick children, which could then auction them on eBay.

Who could possibly object? Well, lots of people who had put their names down for meerkats could, and did, loudly, on the MoneySavingExpert. com site. One vowed to create the Meerkat Action Group: a voluntary organisation to take money away from charities - oh, the irony. There were also threats of legal action, based on the 1915 Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co v Selfridge & Co case (which involved cuddly pandas donated to the WRVS). Nevertheless, the meerkats raised £88,000 on eBay.

* The Government's decision to scrap the £750,000 Campaigning Research Fund and divert the money into the £16.7m Hardship Fund was a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. But has anyone inquired whether Paul actually got paid? The latest newsletter from the Office of the Third Sector reminds charities that the Hardship Fund, for organisations "who are delivering front-line services to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our society", has been extended. But it's still worth £16.7m. Shouldn't that be £17.45m, or does it take a while for the bank transfer to work?

* That might be a quest for opposition charities man Nick Hurd, perhaps, but he is more preoccupied with the Tory Cabinet Office team's mission to discover the truth about the secret Downing Street Gift Shop, a mysterious novelty item retail venture open only to No 10 staff. Hurd grilled Angela Smith last week about how many oven gloves and teddy bears the shop had sold, a subject of vital importance to the public as we approach the general election. In fact, Tory blogger Dizzy revealed last September that the shop had sold 86 teddy bears and 52 oven gloves in the past 12 months.

Strangely, Smith was tight-lipped about the shop, revealing only that it offered a range of unsubsidised gifts for staff to purchase "on a not-for-profit basis". But shouldn't not-for-profit organisations practise transparency?

Mathew Little is a freelance writer, mathew.little@haymarket.com

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