Please someone who invests money for you this error screen to 69. Comic Relief was yesterday accused of misleading donors by investing millions of pounds raised during televised appeals in tobacco, alcohol and the arms industry.
100million donated by the public and refuses to say how the money is being invested. 17million a year, largely because its wage bill has nearly doubled in four years. The damning revelations will be made tonight in a Panorama investigation which was initially shelved for two months because executives at the Corporation were anxious about offending the Comic Relief bosses. The programme, called All in a Good Cause, will be shown at 10.
35pm, two hours later than Panorama normally airs. 800,000 payoffs to two former bosses. Comic Relief has raised nearly a billion pounds to tackle poverty and social injustice in the UK and abroad since it was launched in 1985 in response to the famine in Ethiopia. 100million after an eight-hour show on BBC1 and BBC2 fronted by presenters including Lenny Henry, Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross.
To fund the spiralling wage packets, Comic Relief invests millions of pounds of donations in the stock market while deciding how to distribute it to other charities and worthy projects. 300,000 to the charity Target Tuberculosis, which warns that smoking may be responsible for more than one in five TB cases worldwide. British American Tobacco, the largest beneficiary of Comic Relief’s tobacco investments. Confronted by Panorama, Mr Bannatyne said he did not agree with the investments and he believed the charity should invest ethically. If we can find out a way to not do it indirectly, then we’ll do it. 630,000 invested in shares in BAE Systems, one of the world’s leading weapons manufacturers. Since 2009, Comic Relief has changed the way it publishes its accounts online so it is impossible for the public to tell what funds it currently invests in.
Panorama also examined the investment policies of the 20 other best-known charities in the UK and overwhelmingly found that they have policies of avoiding investing in companies that contradict their aims. Investor Helen Wildsmith manages an ethical fund which looks after the cash of thousands of charities, which has out-performed Comic Relief’s portfolio for the past three years. Because the range of issues we support is so broad, ethical screening would significantly limit our ability to invest as well as seriously increase financial risk. We do not invest directly in any individual company. We believe this approach has delivered the greatest benefits to the most vulnerable people. From the moment Comic Relief was launched in a Sudanese refugee camp on Christmas Day 28 years ago, the country’s highest-profile telethon has harnessed the power of celebrity to promote itself as a virtuous force for good in a gloomy world. Over the years, Red Nose Day has become a British institution.
Prime ministers, pop stars and television presenters perform jolly japes on screen, while from schools to offices people are encouraged to dress up for fund-raising stunts. 900million from the generous British public. No other charity gets such privileged exposure. But then stars such as Jennifer Saunders, Graham Norton and David Beckham repeatedly parrot the core pledge that every penny goes straight to those who need it. BBC Panorama programme which airs tonight, we discover this is not quite the whole truth.
Comic Relief is growing fat on the profits, which are used in part to pay high salaries and boost staff numbers. This is bad enough, although unsurprising in the bloated aid sector. But the relationship between the BBC and Comic Relief raises a far more fundamental issue: why does the state broadcaster devote vast slabs of valuable schedules to promote the aid industry’s fiercely contested world view? There is one message underlying those weeks of excitable Comic Relief build-up, the special editions of hit shows, the political endorsements, the feel-good films of Western stars saving Africa. Africans appealing to send radiators to snowy Norway. Angus Deaton, a Scots-born economist at Princeton University in America. 3trillion in aid has been blown over the past half-century without any evidence of overall beneficial effect.
One of the tragedies of aid, he says, is that dedicated do-gooders end up causing more harm to people already in distress. This is because big aid flows achieve the opposite of their aims by corroding local politics and corrupting democracy. It is profoundly anti-democratic to pour free money into the pockets of poorly run regimes. In short, it means they have no need to win the good faith of citizens by delivering decent public services based on taxation. I have long made similar arguments, informed by what I have seen reporting from places such as Ghana, Haiti, Kenya, Somalia and Pakistan. I have been shocked by the activities of some charities, witnessing arrogant contempt for local people and astonishingly wasteful practices.
Behind all the posturing from pop stars and politicians lie rather different realities that might surprise well-meaning Britons giving up time and money for good causes. Kenyan shopping mall three months ago. The militant Islamists also plundered the aid itself, taking two-thirds of food supplied to one town so it could feed its own fighters. So why is the BBC taking sides in such an important and complex debate? Instead of the impartiality directed by its royal charter, it pumps out propaganda for the pro-aid lobby through support for Comic Relief. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given how the two organisations have become entwined.