Charity may well begin at home, but Ministers who bravely encourage others to throw stones at the gilded atriums of charitable enterprise should first take care that they do not themselves live in a house with a massive conservatory hidden round the back.
George Osborne has identified ‘charities’ as a barrier to fair competition in the marketplace, and has urged companies to defend the economy against their “anti-business views.”
The chancellor called on business leaders to raise their heads “above the parapet” and fight back against charities and others who he said were making arguments against the free market and standing in the way of economic prosperity.
Speaking at the Institute of Directors in London, just yards from the British Council HQ at Spring Gardens, Osborne told the annual convention: “You have to get out there and put the business argument, because there are plenty of pressure groups, plenty of trade unions and plenty of charities and the like, that will put the counter view”.
“It is, I know, a difficult decision sometimes to put your head above the parapet, but that is the only way we are going to win this argument for an enterprising, business, low-tax economy that delivers prosperity for the people and generations to come.
“There is a big argument in our country … about our future, about whether we are a country that is for business, for enterprise, for the free market.”
If George Osborne wants an example of a ‘charity’ standing in the way of fair play and economic prosperity, he doesn’t need to look very far… the Foreign Office, his neighbours in Whitehall, have a real corker.
Is there a ‘charity’ anywhere in the world that is guiltier of anti-business practices than the British Council, the anachronistic government quango / ‘charity’ that pockets a £180 million annual grant from the UK taxpayer, earns from its education businesses a further £750 million without paying a penny in tax, enjoys free use of government facilities and personnel around the world, and is free to exploit its government status, links, and brand for a tidy almost billion pound income at the expense of genuine British companies who lack such privileges?
Levant Education has consistently put its ‘head above the parapet’, and looks forward to the support of Mr Osborne and his pro-business colleagues in the cabinet. We are a prime example of an entrepreneurial company that has seen its seen its business eroded thanks to a taxpayer funded ‘charity’ acting as gatekeeper and supportive government body to begin with, only to then go after that same business without mercy.
As long as the government continues to oblige the British Council to be largely self-financing, encouraging it to compete unfairly against UK education providers and education service companies (education marketing firms, publishers, testing companies, language training providers, etc) how can anyone take Mr Osborne seriously when he talks about winning the argument against anti-business, anti- competitive charities? The treasury and the FCO should lead by example before encouraging others to raise their heads above the parapet.
The good news is that there is currently a further review being undertaken of the British Council by the Foreign Office, after the FCO Triennial Review Report published earlier this year identified unfair competition, remit mission creep, and lack of accountability issues. These issues have resulted in a total lack of trust in UKTI or British Embassy/Consulate services in the eyes of education sector businesses, who have engaged with the FCO in good faith, only to lose any gains to the entrepreneurial, but not-so-charitable-after-all, British Council.
There is now, therefore, an excellent opportunity for Mr. Osborne and the present government to put its own house in order when it comes to the free market and anti-competitive ‘charities’.