BOARD members of a charity set up by the parents of a soldier killed in Afghanistan have been rapped by a watchdog for “failing in their duty of care” towards staff and vulnerable veterans.
The Mark Wright Project was founded by Bob and Jem Wright following the death of their paratrooper son in 2006 to provide “a welcoming and homely” drop-in centre for use by ex-service personnel and their families.
However, the Dalkeith-based charity was almost torn apart by infighting and accusations of bullying last year – prompting the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) to step in to investigate the claims.
A major inquiry was launched after 30 veterans and staff signed a letter of no confidence in the Wrights – resulting in them being banned from the centre.
Yet the charity watchdog has revealed that such was the “lack of skills” among board members they failed to recognise the signatories were in fact not even members of the charitable company.
It was also claimed one director, Bob Wright, appeared to have “disproportionate control” over the running of the organisation.
Yesterday’s report outlined how the atmosphere at the centre soured when the Wrights began having arguments in front of the veterans and staff, and Bob Wright took exception when people spoke about this.
The OSCR said in its report: “The directors failed to address concerns about the lack of professionalism in his engagement with some clients. We consider that the board collectively failed in their duties as charity trustees in these respects, causing a group of clients to lose confidence in the centre and to seek alternative support.”
In relation to Bob Wright the OSCR ruled: “Mr Wright’s actions fell short of the standards we would expect from a charity trustee. Boundaries between his personal interest and the interests of the charity and its beneficiaries were crossed when he confronted clients he believed had been discussing his personal life.”
However, the watchdog did acknowledge the recent work undertaken by the board in a bid to strengthen the charity while also recommending they “critically examine” the role of Bob Wright to ensure his contribution is used to the best interests of the charity.
More robust recruitment policies, a more detailed training plan and clearer communications were also recommended in the hope of ushering in a new regime at the centre.
A spokesman for the Mark Wright Project said: “The current directors acknowledge the report’s findings as largely accurate and recognise our need to learn from the experiences of the last 18 months.
“Many of the report’s recommendations have already been actioned with the remainder due to take effect in the coming quarter, with ongoing monitoring of standards throughout the charities activities being a key component of strategy.”
So far this year, the centre has helped 18 veterans find work while helping a number of others find solutions to their housing problems.
Bob Wright was unavailable for comment.
‘Ensure it’s right from the start’
Alan Eccles, a charity law specialist with Maclay Murray & Spens, highlights what the report means for other charities:
“OSCR’s report has highlighted the increasing importance of ‘professionalising’ the third sector, which historically has relied on volunteers with, in some cases, limited insight into the governance obligations of such organisations. It will leave charities in little doubt that good governance and success go hand-in-hand.
“The learning points set out in the report will offer guidance to new charities and provide a framework for how this should be maintained in the future. It further reinforces the responsibilities and duties of charity trustees and the need for clarity over authority.
“With the report, OSCR has taken the opportunity to emphasise the need to get things right from the start and, in particular, the need for a charity’s constitution to be fit for purpose. In this case, OSCR noted the importance of ensuring that lines of authority and accountability are clear within the charity’s constitution, that the rights and powers of trustees, members and other supporters are understood, that the charity’s purposes are realistic at the outset, adhered to and if they need to change that OSCR consent is sought.
“This latest report will help charities in Scotland further enhance their governance.”