Grant irregularity at Arts Council England
“Illegal” grant to trustee reveals slack procedures, and novelist Diran Adebayo refuses to repay the £10,165 given to him
By Martin Bailey. News, Issue 216, September 2010
Published online: 02 September 2010
london. The Arts Council has given an “illegal” grant to one of its trustees. Novelist Diran Adebayo received £10,165 to help him write his third book. A Charity Commission inquiry found that proper procedures had not been followed by either side, and the grant was unauthorised. Although Arts Council England (ACE), Britain’s fourth largest charity, asked Adebayo to repay the money, he has not done so.
Adebayo’s refusal to accept the decision of the council board raises the question of whether he can continue as a trustee. He may be considering resignation. If not, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt might have to sack him. Unless the grant is repaid, the council may also institute legal proceedings.
There is a further problem, since our inquiries reveal that the council has failed to keep a proper register of interests of its trustees.
On 16 July the Charity Commission issued a report on the council, about a trustee who had received a grant. Neither the commission nor the council would name him, but we identified him as Diran Adebayo. He has published two novels, Some Kind of Black and My Once Upon a Time. Adebayo was appointed a council trustee in October 2004, with his term extended in 2008 to run until 19 October this year.
On 13 May 2008 Adebayo was awarded a £10,165 “Grant for the Arts”, towards the writing of his third novel The Ballad of Dizzy and Miss P (which is likely to be published next year). “Grants for the Arts” are funded with National Lottery proceeds and administered by the council.
Charities operating under a Royal Charter need authorisation from the Charity Commission to give grants to their own trustees. Permission was not sought, since the matter was not raised by Adebayo or the council.
Adebayo failed to mention his trustee position in his grant application, although he did record it in the accompanying CV.
Adebayo told us that he “acted in good faith”, as the Charity Commission accepted. He may have been unaware of the detailed regulations and believed that ACE staff handling his application were aware that he was a trustee. The matter only came to the attention of senior council executives in October 2009, when the Charity Commission was informed.
The council submitted a detailed report on 12 December 2009, which admitted that there were “insufficient checks” in its system. The Charity Comm-ission’s subsequent investigation concluded that the Adebayo payment was “unauthorised”.
The £10,165 grant was discussed at the council’s trustee meeting on 12 January. Adebayo attended but, as was proper, left the room when his case was discussed. The Charity Comm-ission has given a summary of what was decided: “The [ACE] National Council resolved that the trustee concerned should be asked to repay the grant in full. The National Council agreed that the individual had applied for the grant in good faith, and recognised that the charity’s staff had given misleading advice.”
The Charity Commission’s report cited the ACE decision that the trustee “should be asked to repay the grant”, but this was not done. Adebayo has refused to repay the £10,165, arguing that he acted in good faith and was open with council officials.
One official council document describes the grant as “an illegal trustee benefit”. It is therefore likely that Adebayo will either resign or face expulsion from the council, with the threat of legal action hanging over repayment.
Since the commission’s report in July, further issues have arisen over Adebayo’s “declaration of interests”, which all trustees are required to complete annually. The council appears to have failed in its duty to maintain a proper and publicly-accessible register.
The Charity Commission reported that in his 2008/09 declaration of interests, “the individual in question had not disclosed that the grant had been received”, as it should have been.
Our inquiries show that Adebayo did declare on 31 March 2009 an interest when he stated that he was a “former applicant” (February 2008) for a “Grant for the Arts”. Although he should have said “recipient”, he was hardly hiding the matter.
Even after the commission’s published report in July 2010, Adebayo’s interests entry on the ACE website did not properly record his declaration of 31 March 2009. This was not his fault, but that of the council.
Until early August, the public register gave one interest for Adebayo, that his cousin Mojisola Adebayo is a playwright. After our inquiries the register was updated last month, recording five other interests.
Our calculations show that Mojisola Adebayo has received five council grants totalling £70,413. Adebayo’s brother Dotun Adebayo is editorial director of book publisher X Press, which has received three council grants totalling £57,990. These grants were made entirely properly, and Adebayo declared his interests.
The council, which is funded by the government and the National Lottery, disburses nearly £600m a year, mostly as grants. Last month an ACE spokeswoman told us that it has recently introduced “policies and procedures” to deal with the problems that have arisen with the Adebayo affair.
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