Firms run by a trustee at the Victoria & Albert Museum hosted a further five private events at the venue without the permissions needed under charity rules, it has emerged.
The V&A confirmed that three companies linked to Ben Elliot, a trustee who is also chair of the Conservative Party, arranged the events between 2017 and 2019.
The events were booked either in Elliot’s name or by one of his firms, and attended by members of those businesses and their networks.
It takes the total number of events at the museum organised by Elliot's companies to at least seven.
Charity Commission rules say that trustees must keep their board duties separate from their business interests and that board members “cannot receive any benefit from their charity, including in return for any service they provide to it, unless they have legal authority to do so”.
They also say trustees “must not receive any benefit from the charity unless it is properly authorised and clearly in the charity’s interests”.
The events were not publicly advertised and the board did not authorise Elliot or his firms to organise them, a V&A spokesperson said.
The charity stressed that the companies paid the museum for hosting events there, in line with the charity’s other corporate arrangements.
Third Sector previously reported on two of the seven events, when it revealed that Elliot had arranged private breakfasts at V&A exhibitions for paying members of his “luxury concierge” business Quintessentially.
At the time, Barbara Keeley, the shadow minister for civil society, said there was a risk that the V&A would be “brought into disrepute” by Elliot’s apparent conflict of interest.
A further five events were identified through a freedom of information request made by Times reporter George Greenwood, who shared the information on Twitter.
Interestingly Tory chair and V&A trustee Ben Elliot, or his associated companies Quintessentially, Hawthorn or Hod Hill, booked early morning admissions to various V&A exhibitions for small groups of guests #FOI disclosures show. pic.twitter.com/3cSQuWaEGy— George Greenwood (@GeorgeGreenwood) July 21, 2022
Each event “offered early morning admission to a V&A exhibition for a small number of guests”, the V&A said, invited by one of three companies where Elliot was a director at the time: Quintessentially, the public affairs firms Hawthorn Advisors and Hod Hill.
The reply to a Freedom of Information request shows two of the five events were in 2017, organised around V&A exhibitions about Pink Floyd and the history of opera, and two were in 2018, around exhibitions on ocean liners and video game design.
The fifth was in 2019, arranged around an exhibition on the “pleasure and politics of food”.
Asked about the private breakfasts, the V&A said it “works with a number of corporate bodies and private individuals to hold paid-for events within the museum”.
It said: “In all instances of working with corporate organisations, including the events you mention below, the third parties pay fees which are clearly documented within our accounts.”
Asked whether the board had discussed or authorised the events, as required under charity rules, the V&A said it had not.
As an exempt charity, the V&A is subject to Charity Commission rules but directly regulated by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The DCMS declined to comment.
Third Sector approached Ben Elliot via Quintessentially and exchanged emails with his office, but he also declined to comment.
The V&A’s board came under scrutiny in June over separate concerns when the charity hosted a Conservative Party fundraiser.
Third Sector reported at the time that trustees did not discuss in advance the decision to hold the fundraiser, despite Elliot’s dual role as a trustee and Conservative Party chairman.
Charity regulations require charity boards to talk about and manage any potential conflicts of interest, but the V&A admitted this had not taken place ahead of the fundraiser.