Friday, 7 December 2007

From the 2007 SPCK Annual Report: SPCK gave SSG £3.3 million of assets

The SPCK Trustees report and accounts for the year ending 30th April 2007 (pdf document) is now online on the About SPCK page of the SPCK website. It might have been there for a while, but if so I hadn't taken the time to go through it with a fine toothpick.

Here are some extracts that relate to the transfer of the bookshops from SPCK to the St Stephen the Great Trust.

Under 'Notable events of 2006-07, page 6:

On 31 October 2006, all our Bookshops and their staff were transferred to St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. The Society will retain six freeholds for a period of seven years, when (subject to agreed conditions) they will also be transferred. A further freehold, that of the Bristol shop, was offered for sale and has since been sold, with the shop moving into premises ten doors along the street.

Page 7:

SPCK Bookshops
Last year we noted that the trustees and senior management were considering ways in which SPCK's bookselling mission could be carried forward bearing in mind our financial resources. We noted that "some hard decisions are inevitable". In the event, it was decided by a unanimous vote at the trustees' meeting that the bookshops should be transferred to St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. This charity undertook not only to take on all the staff and to try to keep all the shops open, but also to ensure that the stockholding carried a breadth of materials from a variety of Christian denominations, including those of differing views on contentious current debates.
This transfer seemed significantly better than any achievable alternative, leaving the staff in place and the Society with the opportunity to re-group and begin to move towards a more sustainable financial future

Under Note 7, page 20:

On 30 October 2006, SPCK entered into an agreement with St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT), a registered charity no: 1109008, for the creation of a new Christian Resources Group including the SPCK Bookshops in operation at that date. Under the terms of the agreement and in furtherance of its charitable purposes, SPCK transferred its Bookshops activities to SSGCT on 31 October 2006 including the transfer of certain freehold and leasehold properties, fixtures and fittings and stock. SPCK also agreed to grant leases to SSGCT, at peppercorn rents, on certain other freehold properties for a period of seven years, after which time they will be transferred to SSGCT if the SPCK Bookshops Group remains in operation on an agreed basis. From the date of completion, SSGCT became responsible for the trading activities of all bookshops continuing to trade under the 'SPCK Bookshops' name, which is being used by SSGCT under an annually renewable licence.

The net book value of assets transferred by SPCK to SSGCT on 31 October 2006 is as follows:


Freehold Properties 1,665
Stock 1,619
Fixtures and Fittings 97
Net book value of assets transferred on 31 October 2006 3,381
Impairment of freehold properties (see Note 9.) 2,512
Total reduction in net book value relating to the transfer of Bookshops 5,893

If I understand things correctly SPCK transferred a total of £5.893m of assets to SSG, £3.361m from October 2006, and £2.512m in 7 years time if certain (unknown to me) conditions are met. The fact that the SPCK name has not been relicenced might imply that the conditions haven't been met, but that is just speculation. (I've only put the £3.3m in the headline to this post owing to this uncertainty.)

The valuation of the freeholds seems very low to me, given that the Bristol shop was, according to note 20, worth £1.25m alone. From Note 20, page 25:

On 15 May 2007 the Society exchanged contracts for the sale of its freehold premises in Park Street, Bristol. The sale was completed on 13 June 2007 and the net proceeds of sale amounted to £1,250,000

But then I'm no property price expert.

I still don't understand why, as desperate as they were, the board chose to give the shops to SSG, a group who have expressed the following views over the last week:

"The second major project of the trust is a lovely old Victorian church in the city of Bradford. Known as Saint Mary Magdalene, the abandoned building would most likely have become an Islamic centre, as it's only two blocks from what is already the second largest mosque in Europe serving Bradford's population of nearly sixteen percent Muslim. Now, thanks to the diligent work of the Saint Stephen the Great trust the church will be repaired and consecrated into the Orthodox Christian community.

I'm Mark Brewer, Chairman of the Saint Stephen the Great charitable trust. Who was Saint Stephen the great? He was a man who lived in the fifteenth century who fought some forty seven battles against the Muslim Turks who were invading Eastern Europe at that time. During his lifetime, after every battle he commemorated a church, built a new church to the glory of God throughout eastern Romania. He restored churches that had been destroyed by the Ottoman Turks. He is therefore a very fitting patron saint for this trust. We want to aspire to do the very same thing that Saint Stephen did, we want to rescue restore and re-energise the churches of this great country to the glory of God and to the salvation of the people."

It is true that I was very pleased when I heard the news about the transfer on 21st October 2006. But it was only one day later when we looked at the views expressed on the SSG website that we realised that all was not going to be plain sailing.

In the absence of any statement to the contrary one can only assume that the SPCK board members saw these views on the SSG website and still thought that these were the best people to be given the SPCK bookshops.

If giving the shops away was the final remaining option, were no efforts made to give the shops away to their managers or some other group with a local interest?

Again, in the absence of any statement to the contrary one can only assume that the Church of England is happy that the nearest thing to an Anglican chain of bookshops has taken the direction it has taken.

It seems to me that an invaluable asset has been squandered, and no-one really cares that much.

Update: Links to the different Saint Stephen the Great charities on the Charity Commission website are here. The accounts from November04 - March06 are here (pdf document).

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