Wrestling with the growing Rennard scandal, I can’t imagine Nick Clegg was too pleased with the timing of his front page on yesterday’s Sunday Times magazine…
ResPublica’s Phillip Blond – Red Tory philosopher king and the think tank world’s most notable wearer of the Emperor’s new clothes – has had a difficult twelve months. Much of it, admittedly, due to this blog’s interest in the real value, or lack thereof, in his ideas.
First I revealed that ResPublica was facing money problems, leading to the ditching of the majority of their staff. Then the Sunday Times followed up my post with revelations that staff had been locked out of the office due to non-payment of rent, and Blond had loaned himself £38,000 from company funds. The media interest continued, with the Mail reporting bizarre behaviour like the purchase – with ResPublica money – of “a garish Regency-style chair decorated with pictures of women in bikinis and high heels sitting astride motorbikes”.
Then this Spring I exclusively published leaked documents in which a ResPublica donor – NESTA, which is taxpayer-funded – tore apart the “research” which Blond’s outfit had produced for them, including such damning comments such as “too vague to be useful”, “lacking originality”, and “none of the reports are of a sufficient quality to be published”.
It’s understandable, given that Westminster has started to see through his act, that Blond decided to branch out abroad, presumably in the hope that people who’d never heard of him would be more supportive.
Last week the Red Tory messiah headed off to Australia, to attend a “leadership retreat” on a tropical island with Australian politicians, and then meeting Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition.
Fortunately, it seems the Aussies lived up to their notorious disdain for people who spout pretentious nonsense – no sooner had Blond’s grand tour begun, but prominent figures right across the political divide started calling him out.
Links through to this blog’s revelations about the Red Tory’s behaviour in practice abounded, with Tweeters including the President of one of Australia’s largest Trade Unions, one of Australia’s most influential political consultants and one of the nation’s flagship broadcasters. Overnight, thousands of Australians came to read the truth about Phillip Blond, and Australia leapt up the rankings to become CrashBangWallace’s main source of traffic.
In the age of the internet, it’s far harder to keep pulling off the same stunt over and over again – as Phillip is experiencing, things do tend to follow you around.
Hopefully, for their sake, Australia has seen through Red Toryism before it infects their politics with meaningless, paternalist gobbledegook. Or, as Blond himself might put it, “Let us seek manifold aspirations that the Antipodean demos has become immunised prior to the pestilential tainting c-change of its domestic dialectic with antediluvian flim-flammery.”
Following my story on Tuesday reporting the possibility of Phillip Blond’s ResPublica think tank letting “a sizeable majority of staff” go, the Sunday Times has apparently done some digging. In their article (behind the paywall here) they have dug up confirmation of my story as well as several other interesting things.
First, apparently ResPublica submitted a set of unaudited accounts to Companies House “last week, more than a month overdue”.
Those accounts cover the period 28 July 2009 – 31 October 2010, so it’s worth noting that they give us an insight into ResPublica’s first 15 months rather than the current state of play. The accounts also reveal several other interesting things about “ResPublica Policy Limited”, to give the company its official name, particularly the fact Phillip Blond is the company’s sole director and shareholder.
The second finding in the Sunday Times is that my report that an outright majority of staff would be leaving was accurate – and in fact that the majority of them have already left. Of the 16 staff listed on their website, according to the Sunday Times “redundancies and voluntary departures mean that only about six now remain”. Presumably the person whose job it is to update the website when people leave has, erm, left. ResPublica have put out a statement saying this dive in the number of employees is due not to any financial concerns but instead is part of a “restructuring” period.
Third, apparently ResPublica staff were actually locked out of their office by the landlord for non-payment of rent for a period which the Sunday Times’ source calls two weeks. ResPublica claim the period was only “several days” and that the failure to pay rent was due to a “technical bank account glitch” which for some reason could only be set right when Phillip Blond himself returned from (yet another) trip abroad. This is truly remarkable – and appears to be either a sign of an outfit with money troubles or one that is practically dysfunctional.
Most strikingly the accounts themselves reveal – and ResPublica acknowledge – that Phillip Blond has even taken out a loan from the company of £38,609, on top of a salary of £55,000 paid in dividends and other money towards reimbursing cash that he’d invested in setting up the company. That £38,609 loan was still outstanding as of 31st October 2010, though seeing as he’s the only director and shareholder of the company doing the lending and the recipient of the loan I’m guessing he’s not too scared that he’ll chase himself for it too hard.
So what do the numbers in the accounts show overall? The Sunday Times points to the Assets vs Creditors section of the document, which shows Assets of £244,092 and Creditors’ amounts of £257,450. In total ResPublica had net liabilities (debts exceeding assets) of £13,358. That doesn’t look like financial stability.
ResPublica’s response quoted in the Sunday Times is that the company made a “healthy profit” of about £4,000. Again, I’d argue even that isn’t very “healthy” at all for an outfit the size of ResPublica. Worse, as far as I can see that figure is actually the Profit/Loss Account of £3,197, so the reality is actually 25% less than the claimed £4,000. Furthermore, even that £3,197 only registers in the accounts as a positive figure because it takes into account tangible assets like computers and office equipment, which in this case are valued at £21,082.
The wider debate is about whether ResPublica is in “financial turmoil” (as the Sunday Times and I have reported) or not. In my view, a company doing a restructuring which involves losing or getting rid of 10 of their 16 staff, gets its staff locked out of the office for non-payment of rent and has a positive financial balance of at best just over £3,000 (including the value of the office desks) certainly gives the impression of such turmoil.
All in all, not a great picture at ResPublica Towers. I wonder if the remaining staff have considered taking it over themselves in a Red Tory mutualisation project to see if they could run it better than the current management?
NB If you’re interested, ResPublica’s full rebuttal statement – in which they quite cheekily accuse the Sunday Times of “an inability to read accounts” is on ConservativeHome here.