UK Politics

Sloppy, Sloppier, Slop-trough

Boy is this difficult to unravel.

To recap, on Friday I was dealing with the issue of those who feed at the communalist slop-bucket of dosh, seemingly poured into the waiting gullets of confessional communities.

This is especially easy, it seems because (a) the current administration of London sees Londoners, not as individuals, but as members of multicultural “communities”. I used this arty metaphor, which I’ll restate graphically:

ArtLondon.gif

Yes, London’s demographic is more akin to a Jackson Pollock, but through the prism of City Hall, it seems like a Piet Mondrian. And policy is made accordingly.

So, moving on… I had to go off to the protest outside the Afghan embassy, so I cut the post short before getting onto the subject of the ‘Haredi Jewish Community’, members of whom seem to have found a place at the LDA’s swill-bucket (‘gravy train’ seems too genteel for the gorging apparently going on).

Now one charity linked to the Haredi Jewish community received over half-a-million pounds from the LDA and it certainly didn’t go towards a swimming pool, so the question is, where did the money go?

The BBC tried to answer this – and this is where it gets complicated, so I’ll outline what I found out, and let’s see if anyone can unravel this.

Firstly, the BBC’s ‘Today’ programme, claimed to have performed a “forensic investigation of documents in the public domain” surrounding the charity in receipt of this half-a-million of LDA money” Noam Hatorah Community Enterprises Limited.

I’m not sure how thorough the “forensic investigation” was, because a bit of Googling left a few holes in their story (which I’d be delighted if they could explain).

The BBC’s story is premised on their being no “community centre”. They visited a site in Braydon Road, Hackney (mentioned in NHCE’s Annual Report) and couldn’t find one. But this is what I found out. NHCE’s address as listed on several websites is 90 Cazenove Road (not 18 Cazenove Road, as the BBC visited. 18 Cazenove is, however, listed as their administrative address with the Charity Commission). There is a community centre at 90 Cazenove Road.

There isn’t in Braydon Road, despite it (and the building works) being reported in NHCE’s Annual Report. But, if the BBC had consulted the Hackney Council’s ‘planning permission’ archives, they would have found details of a planning permission refusal in that road pertaining with two properties which have been joined together. Planning permission was refused in part because the council did not believe the joined properties would be for residential use. The extensions were also deemed to be too extensive and overbearing. Could this be the phantom proposed community centre? I don’t know, but considering planning permission was sought retrospectively – and denied – a lot of building work apparently had to be pulled down. Whatever the case, there does seem to be a lot of, shall we say ‘community enterprise’ on Braydon Road, being, as it is, home to the Dushinsky Trust Ltd and the Mecaz Torah Vecheses Ltd. One thing Braydon Road is evidently not, is short of – how shall we say – ‘community sector projects‘.

Interestingly enough, the property at 90 Cazenove Road is also home to a kosher catering company and a religious educational project, which also sought retrospective planning permission for a prefab classroom. This was denied. But the permission was sought under the name Burndata Ltd, which we can presume now own the property (or at least was in 2002/3). Strangely the Land Registry office has no data on this property, but it was the home of the The Jewish Deaf Association from 1948 – 1998 (and they paid a peppercorn rent to the Joint Synagogue Children’s Hostel.

So, could it be that that researchers at the BBC were sloppy. Could it be that NHCE were entirely innocent, and following the disappointment with the planners in Braydon Road development, had then moved to 90 Cazenove Road – and that the Today Programme’s reporter simply went to the wrong address?

Well, that’s a theory I considered plausable. That is until I phoned both the numbers listed for NHCE. The one at 18 Cazenove (which the BBC had visited) was no longer in service. The one at 90 Cazenove (which the BBC had not) was answered by a chap who said I’d reached his a private residence and expressed bewilderment at the sudden number of calls to a company he’d never heard of.

Google is a wonderous thing. The more digging one does, the more interesting it becomes. There are actually TWO charities registered as Noam Hatorah. One is plain old “Noam Hatorah” and the other is “Noam Hatorah Community Enterprises”. Coincidence? Hardly.

NOAM HATORAH COMMUNITY ENTERPRISE LTD
Main Charity 1072842
18 CAZENOVE ROAD
STOKE NEWINGTON
LONDON
N16 6BD

TRUSTEES:
MR BARNCH ZILBER
MRS MARGALIT FEFFER
MR BENGIO

Note: This charity has an income of £809.255 since 2001, but an expenditure of
£1,080,789. That’s a deficit of over a quarter-of-a-million Pounds. Accounts for 2006/7 have not been lodged with the Charity Commission, so we can’t see where, if anywhere, the £270,000 overspend is coming from.

But then there’s plain old…

NOAM HATORAH
Main Charity 1061650
38 BRAYDON ROAD
LONDON
N16 6QB

This is registered to a “Mr E Feffer”, presumably the husband of Mrs M Feffer, the trustee of NHCE.

With a strangely similar set of objects, additionally Noam Hatorah also “Provides buildings/facilities/open space; Provides advocacy/advice/information”. There certainly was a lot of building going on at 38 Braydon Road.

And what a coincidence! This charity’s Gross Income follows the same trend as its namesake. Massive in the beginning, dropping off dramatically, and then almost drying up. What’s more, the Feffers seem to get around. The BBC report says M Feffer was director of another charity Euranix (sp?) for just one month. The short-lived charity never filed accounts but was apparently in receipt of 270,000 smackers – from the LDA.

NHCE certainly weren’t shy about going after the big bucks, though. Here’s one they didn’t get. Their application in 2002 for £37,143 to meet salaries and running costs from Hackney Council was turned down. They were, however, deemed eligible for Manditory Rate Relief of 80%. Interestingly, this same report notes:

Services provided for the members are for the Basic Employment scheme, which is tailored to suit the needs of the individual and is generally for people who have been unemployed for over six months and are over 25 years of age. The company run various levels of training for English for Speakers of Foreign Languages and is an approved City & Guilds Centre. Advice is also given regarding Housing Benefits etc. 513 members were enrolled during 2000 all of whom are resident in Hackney.

Whether this is simply what NHCE submitted, or whether the council independently verified this information is unclear. But at least one person has “teaching English at Noam Hatorah Community Centre” in London on his CV.

So, where did all the boodle go? There does seem to be an awful lot of failed retrospective planning permission going on at the sites mentioned? Could the money all have gone on building structures which have since been pulled down again? Does the LDA, one wonders, require planning permission verification before granting money for building works? We can speculate.

Also, the NHCE charity claimed that a significant sum of its money had been sent to Israel for “poverty relief”. I find this odd – and unacceptable. Charities that rely substantially on public money meant to build community projects in London ought not to be sending that money overseas. This is a clear misuse of funds, and I am shocked the LDA (as an early donor of more than half the charity’s total turnover) didn’t monitor this. Surely the LDA remains in contact with and plays a mentoring role to the charities and enterprises it donates such huge sums of money to? Surely!

I also question why these self-selecting communities are even entitled to public money. Public money should be spent to create opportunities and provide facilities for the whole public. It is one thing for something like a help-line for victims of antisemitic attacks to get a grant, but it is quite another for a pseudo-school teaching Torah or involved in “the advancement of religion” to get a dip into the public purse. Were checks done to see if Noam Hatorah’s classes and facilities were consistent with public policy of non discrimination before they received public money? Other indicators suggest it might not have been.

So, you’ve seen the evidence. Did the BBC’s investigators make a cock-up? If not, where is almost a million pounds been spent? Perhaps everything is perfectly above board? But some could be forgiven for suspecting incompetence or even fraud, especially given the hostile and uncooperative response by a Rabbi Zilber, the sole contactable trustee, when approached by the BBC. So, is the “haredi community” as adept at fiddling the books as it is at fiddling with photographs? Or were the trustees of NHCE (or some of them) rogue elements in the community? Questions, questions, questions…

You decide.

One thing is becoming increasingly clear, under the smokescreen of “community development” anyone with a funny hat seems to be able to walk off with a million bucks.

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