CASSH 2018: feeling the squeeze

It's that time of year again, where "charities" are forced to release their annual accounts, and semi-numerate baboons such as your humble correspondent paw through the numbers to try to uncover a story. Today's tale is about "Consensus" Action on Salt, Sugar and Health (CASSH).

I have perused the CASSH 2018 accounts and noted in passing that no-one actually checks them. They're still referring to Blood Pressure (UK) as charity number 1059844 (page 2) - this is actually Wetherby Sports Association, they actually meant 1058944. I'm not surprised that the Charity Commission doesn't apply this level of rigorous scrutiny, but it's an interesting data point.

Anyhoo, the CASSH accounts are 50 pages long, and at least 30 pages is tedious self-promo on their salt- and sugar-related activities. News flash, people - nobody cares. The Charity Commission is skipping right to the end to check out the numbers, as did I.

And oh, what numbers. Props to CASSH for cutting their coat according to their cloth, they've basically halved spending on their main "awareness" activities year-on-year; £141K vs £251K. Nevertheless, their reserves dropped from £564K to £483K - down 15% in one year. Their accounts note:

A delay in payment of a large expected donation this Financial Year, plus the return to work of two employees who had been on maternity leave (with reduced pay), accounts for a deficit in income and a surplus expenditure, prompting action by Trustees. The Trustees reviewed the financial position and agreed to release funds from the reserves to cover all core salary costs until such time as the funding gap was filled, expected March 2019.
Hmm. And so we'll see a corresponding rebound in next year's accounts? Colour me sceptical.

Even with a sudden donation increase from £4K to £56K, and the aforementioned throttling of expenditure, the charity is still spending way more than it receives. Unless they can latch on to the teat of a government entity, they're going to run out of money in a few years. It turns out, shockingly, that most people don't really care about sugar and salt consumption, at least not to the point of spending their own money to reduce that consumption in others. Revealed preferences, darlings!

Good luck for 2019, CASSH. Looks like you'll need it.


Marcela Trust 2018: not much charity, property speculation not working out

Dear reader, if you are still perusing my analyses of the accounts of the Marcela Trust (spending Octav Botnar's squirreled-away cash on trustee salaries and property speculation for a good number of years) then I can only admire your fortitude as I offer up this analytical tidbit based on their 2018 accounts.

Background for the casual observer: the Marcela Trust is sitting on about £80 million of money from OMC Investments Limited, founded in 1971, which seems to be from the former Nissan UK. Although a registered charity, they seem to be a bit tight with their charitable spending. In 2017, they spent £12K on charitable donations and £300K on trustee remuneration. Obviously this was a one-off, and we can expect 2018 charitable spending to resume at appropriate levels.

You know what's coming, don't you?

The Marcela Trust spent even less on charitable activities in 2018 compared to 2017: £11.5K instead of £12.2K. In practice, that's the same £7.5K grant plus a bit less auditor fees. Their spending on trustees was still around £300K, with a steady £225K going Mrs Dawn Pamela Rose (presumed family motto: "payment by results is for suckers!").

Again, this level of payment might be justified if the trustees' shrewd investment strategies in commercial property were paying off. Sadly, their fixed assets (mostly commercial property) took a hit of nearly £8M in the past year - that's nearly 10% of their total funds wiped out in one year. And this in a 10 year property bull market. Great job, guys. What happens when the next recession hits?

I repeat my observation from last year: this does not look like a charity. If I were the Charity Commission, I'd be asking some very pointed questions about the past few years' spending.


Taking advice from Greta Thunberg

Suppose we were looking to build a bridge, say across Avon Gorge, to give us substantially more traffic capacity than the existing Clifton Suspension Bridge has. (The Dear Reader may insert their favourite joke about needing much more capacity for traffic leaving Bristol than for entering it).

It wouldn't be surprising that a lot of people would have strong opinions on what kind of bridge we should build. Imagine, however, that a 16 year old high school student was championing a bridge structure that comprised a sequence of road segments chained together and suspended from helium balloons. Imagine that such a proposal was lauded by at least 30% of the people involved as bold, innovative, and a wonderful example of youthful thinking, despite the fact that a first year engineering student could shoot the proposal as full as holes as a particularly perforated Swiss cheese.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is where we find ourselves with young Greta Thunberg.

Young Greta is clearly sincere , and cares deeply about the environment. Unfortunately, "sincerity" is as useful a factor in planning a 21st century industrial strategy as it is in building a bridge. If a bridge builder tells me that she "sincerely" believes it will support the expected peak weight of traffic in peak adverse conditions, and be durable for a lifetime of 50+ years, I will smile and nod; if anyone I care about will be traversing the bridge, I will then ask pointed questions about stress calculations, FEMs analysis, safety engineering analysis, and all the inconvenient hard science that lets us calculate at least a ballpark probability of the bridge suddenly failing and casting a few hundred people into the abyss. Nearly anyone can be sincere. To be correct requires actual maths, materials knowledge, ability to program R / Matlab / other mathematical tool of choice and produce a verifiable assertion, given generally accepted axioms, that the bridge will meet specs.

Somehow, I don't see this level of mathematical / physical / engineering rigour coming from young Ms Thunberg. Or her singer/actor parents, for that matter.

The correct response to Greta Thunberg and her parasitic (in every sense of the word) hangers-on is as follows:

  • Give us a practical - by which we mean can-be-implemented-with-existing-technologies - 20 year plan for reducing carbon emissions world-wide by X%.
  • Cover the top 10 current CO2 polluters; either assume they continue on current trend, or argue why they will change.
  • You cannot assume any existing technology improves by more than 4% per year for cost/efficiency.
  • Include the expected economic impact on the top 10 world economies.
Greta would (quite rightly) say: "I'm 16 years old, how could you possibly expect me to answer this?"

Greta käraste, if you can't be expected to answer the hard questions, why should we listen to your easy answers?