Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Broken Rainbow

It looks like 2016 has its Kid's Company moment. LGBT domestic abuse charity Broken Rainbow went into administration on June 3rd. Running a helpline which was the only one of its kind in the country, the small charity worked using a handful of staff and volunteers. Nonetheless it punched well above its weight, earning endorsements from major figures like Sir Ian McKellen, and received hundreds of thousands of pounds in grants from public funds.

But, as BuzzFeed News reveals, Broken Rainbow was frequently down to coppers in the bank account, and often dropped into the red. The charity owed thousands in back taxes, struggling to cover basic expenses like salaries.

Despite this, CEO Jo Harvey Barringer lived the life of a high-flying executive, travelling first-class to Edinburgh from the charity's London offices, and claiming the fares back on expenses. This on top of a salary that, although part-paid by another charitable foundation, still totalled thousands of pounds a month. Many charges seemed to have little to do with the running costs of Broken Rainbow: everything from razors to birthday cards was claimed back. And grants from major beneficiaries like Comic Relief were spent within days–sometimes within 24 hours of landing in the charity's account.

Accusations fly from ex-employees of Broken Rainbow of a culture of bullying and intimidation, which at one point led to Harvey Berringer's suspension. But, according to them, the blame lies as squarely with the trustees of the charity as the divisive head. A damning indictment from one employee:

"the trustees didn’t really understand what they were doing”.

An inability to control spending led to an almost laughable situation where Broken Rainbow were operating out of serviced offices at costs running up to £2,500 per month and merrily throwing cash on catered lunches and meals out while being unable to pay tax bills. Donations that were supposed to be spent on the core aim–keeping the helpline afloat–were diverted into train fares and expensive gifts. When, as one employee claims, a pot of pennies from school kids was used to help pay for yet another trip to Edinburgh, the writing was on the wall for Broken Rainbow. The charity was running on fumes. Soon, it stalled completely.

The comparisons with Kid's Company are undeniably persuasive. A strong and charismatic CEO, a weak board, no sense of financial oversight. And of course, government money thrown into the pot with no questions asked on how it was being spent. This is a terrible example of good cash thrown after bad. In an environment where charities are trusted less and less, the last thing the sector needs is another organisation crashing in the same way, and leaving the people that need it so desperately in the lurch, as Kid's Company. Broken Rainbow's helpline is being folded into another LGBT organisation, but serious questions need to be asked about how one of the UK's most unique charities managed to fall apart so needlessly.


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