'The tyranny and lies peddled by the sector dumbfounded me,' says Gina Miller

The philanthropist's motivation for conducting research into the voluntary sector was a desire to see change in charities' behaviour, reports Susannah Birkwood

Gina Miller
Gina Miller

When Gina Miller's charity the True and Fair Foundation decided to produce a critical report into the efficiency of the charity sector last year, she knew it would ruffle a few feathers.

She had previously angered parts of the investment management industry with a campaign run with her husband Alan, a hedge fund manager, against the industry's high fees.

But the vitriol she felt was directed towards her after the charity research was featured on the front page of the Daily Telegraph last December still came as a surprise.

"The emotional tyranny and blatant lies being peddled by sector associations, charities and alleged experts dumbfounded me," she says. "The response of the charity sector was 10 times worse than that of the investment management sector."

This backlash intensified when TFF, the philanthropy arm of SCM Private, the investment management business she runs with her husband, released the second part of its research in March. This, too, was generously covered in the Daily Telegraph.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations said the report was "embarrassingly poor" and Miller received emails from many of the charities she had named in the report accusing her of getting her facts wrong, which she denies. It was suggested that she had orchestrated a campaign to incite the media to report negatively on charities over the past year.

Miller says much of the sector's response to TFF's research, which is undertaken by SCM Private's research team and written up by her, has been "emotional, irrational, illogical and half-baked.

"Their responses have made me even more suspicious as to why debating serious issues is seemingly beyond their grasp."

Not everyone who has contacted Miller has been negative. She received an email from Lloyds Register Foundation, which said that, while the charity disagreed with her research, she would be welcome to attend its AGM. Others, she says, have shared "harrowing" stories about their experiences working in charities and disagreeing with their approach."The report has created a litmus paper for those in charities who have been bullied or unable to talk about their experiences," she says.

Miller maintains that her motivation for doing the research was a desire to see change in charities' behaviour. "When I see something wrong, even if it's on the other side of the street, I have always been the sort of person that crosses the street," she says. "Even when I was a little girl I would intervene in bullying even if I got beaten up - it's my nature."

She says she spent seven years trying to influence the sector to change its ways by less high-profile means than seeking coverage in the right-wing press: attending roundtables, writing articles and holding meetings with charity trustees. "There was a total unwillingness to listen," she says. She reached the point, she says, where she felt the only way she would be able to bring change would be to have the debate in public.

Many have criticised the negative tone of her reports as well as their accuracy. But Miller says the focus needs to be on what is wrong in the sector because only then can it be fixed. "There's no point me doing a glossy report about how wonderful the sector is," she says. "The public knows charities do wonderful work."

Miller has no plans to produce another report any time soon. A difficult investment environment has meant she must turn her attentions to SCM Private over the next few months, she says. She is also heavily involved in the 'in' campaign for the forthcoming EU referendum.

Does she regret having fallen out of with the sector?

"Absolutely," she says. "I am regretful. It's such a shame because the sector has so many challenges that really need to be explored and resolved so we can move to somewhere different."

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