The 2019 ROYAL BRITISH LEGION Poppy Appeal?

My dear wife has for many years cordinated the annual RBL Poppy Day Appeal for our part of Suffolk and 2019 was no exception. My part in all this was less frenetic attending our local towns Remembrance Services, or the Whitehall Cenotaph service and march past. However now into my 80's and with a cancer which requires regular visits to a loo for a pee, I found that increasingly difficult [and once embarrassing] so I have attended my last London salute to the fallen, regrettably.

Back to the towns ceremonies, we follow the London model in that we have a full ceremony the night before in our local concert newish wonderful  hall of great size and facilities, and then attend our Cenotaph service in the centre of our splendid Georgian town of Bury St Edmunds on the following Sunday morning. We are very fortunate because we are surrounded by RAF and USAF air stations flying all the latest military aircraft including the land version of the F35, as well as an RAF Regiment training establishment with a super military band added to and  complementing USAF bands. Those bands play at the our concert hall as well as at the Cenotaph service with lots of marching airmen plus members of the infantry, the Suffolk regiment. Thus our  two services are highly professional, colourful and well drilled with their small arms. To gild the lily, our town has adopted the Nuclear Trident Submarine [SSBN = Ship Submersible Balistic Nuclear]] HM S/M Vengeance which for me in particular is a splendid muster and event.  When not at sea protecting our nation, crew members from the Vengeance are often seen in town in uniform.  One could easily believe that we were indeed a military/garrison town. Our concert hall is used by all kinds/types of people including media stars, comedians like Pam Ayres, tribute band groups from the 60's onwards, full orchestra's from London plus other areas of the UK [Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra] for example, London west end plays etc etc, so a very active and well supported environment. Our Saturday night concert hall band is the RAF Band from RAF Honington led by a professional master of ceremonies, with lots of standards given over for a drum-head ceremony. It is apt, fully relevant and touching to say the least.

However, this year will be different as regards the Poppy Sales and after sale procedures. This will be the last year of plastic poppies and from 2020 they will be made from biodegradable material. Progress of course and to be welcomed in support of climate change changes, but that renders 2019 a difficult year because the normal procedure was to return to RBL HQ all unsold poppies ready for issue in the following year. There has always been am unsold excess. This year they do not want any unsold poppies returned [they are for the blue bin as  plastic waste]  and just to make sure that waste is reduced, they have limited the numbers of  various poppy symbols issued for sale to people like my wife, meaning poppy sellers are returning less than full collecting boxes because they have had less poppies to sell.

In addition to that, some senior officers have written to the Times newspaper to complain that the RBL are sitting on a mountain  of cash collected year on year, hoarding the money and not spending enough on the very reason and need of the annual collections.  They are using the money as a bank account with little being taken out to fulfill the needs of ex service people.   The Times for their part wrote a leader on this issue which is not what the RBL is all about. It can be read below

Before I start with the Times let me tell you that many newspapers [broadsheet and tabloid] had a similar story to tell, as well as media channels like MSN, SKY etc.

LEADING ARTICLE

October 29 2019, 12:01am, The Times

The Times view on military charities that hoard vast reserves: Irrational Rationing

They are letting down veterans who rely on their support and risk undermining the support of donors

Military charities are good at raising money but the evidence suggests that they are not so good at spending it. An analysis by The Times has found that some are sitting on hoards of cash. The Royal British Legion, which since last Thursday has been out selling poppies for its annual appeal, holds reserves of £70 million. This is far from unusual. The ten largest military charities in combination hold £275 million in reserves. There are no rules on the amount of money a charity can put by, but building up stores of money on this scale is troubling when so many veterans are struggling and need help.

Emergency reserves are, of course, necessary for large organisations with many employees. Those military charities which raise the bulk of their money around Armistice Day in the autumn need to make it last the rest of the year. There has been an uptick in donations following the recent anniversaries of both world wars, and at the same time a decline in the number of their veterans due to old age. Many of the largest charities, too, are dealing with a large influx of funds from banks involved in the Libor-rigging scandal, which since 2012 have raised £970 million, mostly for military causes. It is unclear whether these funds will continue, which makes spending harder to plan.

Nonetheless the amount held by many of these charities, which in the case of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund is enough to fund them for a year and a half, seems excessive. These charities should be putting their money to better use. They are party to a formal government “covenant” to those who serve or have served in the armed forces whose signatories are committed to take care of the injured and bereaved. Their work includes rehabilitating those who have suffered physical or mental injury in battle, helping veterans to find housing, and looking after their dependents. It also involves helping them with drug or alcohol problems. While there is no data on the number of homeless veterans, anecdotal reports from charities suggests that it is rising. Caring for dependents is particularly underfunded.

Charities run on goodwill, and donors who discover that their money is simply lying idle may start to question their support. These charities should examine the approaches that have led them to this situation. Part of the issue is a culture of risk aversion general to the charity sector. This has led some to be too cautious with their money and too reluctant to dip into their reserves. Military charities should be more transparent about their plans for the money they put by. At present they are only obliged to lightly sketch these out in their annual report to trustees. They should issue more detailed public statements explaining how they will use it.

Charities should also work together to make sure they are spreading their resources evenly. There is a lack of co-ordination between military charities, meaning an overlap of funding in some areas and a lack of money in others. Yesterday MPs including Conservatives Johnny Mercer and Tobias Ellwood called for a government role in stamping out duplication and gaps in provision.

The military charity sector as a whole deserves better scrutiny. Parliament, which oversees the charities, has diagnosed various problems but has been less effective in proposing solutions. In 2017 a government report by the Charity Commission pointed to insufficient financial controls in many of these bodies. Not much seems to have changed since. It may be that the patriotic cause and public status of these charities mean that few are willing to properly challenge them.

Yet change is possible. In 1994 the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was accused of hoarding too much money. It came up with sensible plan for spending its reserves, and gradually recovered its reputation. Military charities should do likewise.

FOLLOWED BY THIS LETTER OF CRITICISM FROM TWO EMINENT SERVICE CHIEFS

Sir, Your article “Military charities told to work together to avoid duplication” (Oct 29) corrects a slightly false impression given the day before that all the charities’ assets represent disposable cash. Some represent sheltered and disabled accommodation which of course generate regular running expenses. Your report might also have pointed out that cash reserves may well be invested to obtain disbursable income; simply spending cash reserves is a poor insurance against future uncertainty.

Nevertheless there are certainly too many service charities, some of them founded in good faith for purposes that no longer exist, some duplicating others. They need to be rationalised. This is harder than it seems. Closing some involves arousing sensibilities of founders who may have set up charities as a result of personal loss. This does not mean that they should not be rationalised, as most senior service people recognise; some such rationalisation has already occurred. But it has to be done with sympathetic care and not with a sledgehammer.
Vice Admiral (ret’d) Sir Jeremy Blackham
; Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon

For my part facing off with my wife, sometime ago when I first read about this malpractice I decided upon buying a one-off poppy, good for each and every year.  I therefore bought a submariners enameled poppy brooch.  Since that time I see that many associations are selling such poppy contraptions, although I note that some manufacturers are giving profits to the RBL for their poppy funds, so the RBL are not losing out altogether.  I don't know whether or not the makers of the submarine brooch did so, but as things stand, it doesn't really matter because the RBL is well flushed and extremely rich into the bargain. Eventually, my wife [remember a long standing fund raiser for the RBL]  became of the opinion that it was wrong for the RBL to act as a closed finance house, and should either become a generous seen benefactor to the armed services, or to willing forego at least one year of poppy income.  In that RBL barren year, the ceremony would continue as normal but any money raised should as a one off gesture,  be given to the struggling charities looking after the homeless rough sleepers found in every town ad city, some other destitute groups which are less fashionable than armed service charities.

Godfrey Dykes RN 1953-1984, who witnessed service in Britain's "small" wars during that period, and a man who has led a very lucky life and is not, nor ever should be, reliant upon service charities. AMEN.