Misguided actions of Alzheimer’s Society | Letters

Alan Fowler says there has been ‘a trend towards the autocratic dominance of top management’ at the charity since a 2010 reorganisation, while David Lewis says NDAs cannot prevent staff disclosing information in the public interest. Plus, Gillian Dalley responds to Simon Jenkins’ piece on the drawbacks of philanthropy

The alleged payments by the Alzheimer’s Society to staff who agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements (Alzheimer’s charity ‘gave £750,000 in NDA payoffs’, 22 February) seem to be of a piece with a trend towards the autocratic dominance of top management that has been evident since the brutal disbandment of the society’s 236 local branches in 2010. This involved the replacement of a society that operated mainly through a devolved branch structure run by around 25,000 local volunteers with one run by a centralised management-driven system – regardless of the views of the thousands of volunteers who were devoting their time and energy to the provision of practical care and support in their local communities.

More recently, the constitutional role whereby volunteers could become members of the society and have a say in policy and the appointment of trustees has also been abolished. The impression is that any form of threat – actual or potential – to the authority of the senior management has been eliminated, and this appears to have included refuting the views of staff.

All this has had a major effect on the nature of the society’s activities, which in the branch era were focused on the provision of direct practical support to people with dementia and their hard-pressed carers. The 2019 spend of around £8.6m on direct care – listed in the society’s annual accounts as consisting of support groups, day care, befriending and home care – amounted to only 7.5% of its annual expenditure.

Whether many donors realise that such a small proportion of their gifts are going towards these greatly needed services, as distinct from the expenditure (about £4m) on the salaries of the growing number of senior managers and the cost of fundraising (almost £32m) is an open question.

It seems probable, too, that the NDAs are related, at least in some cases, to senior managers’ adverse and possibly bullying reaction to frontline staff’s concerns about the direction of the society’s activities.
Dr Alan Fowler
Former chair of the disbanded Winchester branch of the Alzheimer’s Society

• The Alzheimer’s Society’s reliance on NDAs is misguided and illustrates how employers should not deal with concerns about alleged wrongdoing. It is misguided because NDAs cannot legally prevent staff disclosing information about breaches of contract that have a public interest, and serious bullying or harassment could constitute such a breach. In relation to the society’s assertion that it has a whistleblowing policy, who would invoke it when there is a culture of fear in the organisation? External reporting seems to be appropriate in these circumstances, but the Charity Commission’s failure to respond to a complaint in a timely fashion can only be a further disincentive for staff to speak up.
Prof David Lewis
Head, Whistleblowing Research Unit, Middlesex University

• It was instructive to read Simon Jenkins’ excellent piece on the drawbacks of societal reliance on philanthropy (Billionaires are not the ones to save the world, Journal, 22 February) – namely that (1) rich people do not necessarily share their riches and, if they do, they largely do so to feed their own self-interest, and (2) charities through which much philanthropic spending is organised are often wasteful and inefficient.

For readers to then come across reports on other pages of alleged managerial and financial failures in one of our major charities, the Alzheimer’s Society, made his remarks all the more telling. Charities may have much to be praised for, but they are too often vehicles for unscrutinised poor practice.

As Jenkins goes on to say, the search for fairness and the common good is best achieved through a system of just taxation, established and continued on the basis of democratic consent, and, I would argue, regulated scrutiny.
Gillian Dalley

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