Today, BBC Devon carried the story “Strip ‘violent wine’ monks of charity status, say secularists“; this states: “monks who make Buckfast tonic wine linked to violent crime in Scotland should be stripped of charitable status…The National Secular Society says the beverage made at Buckfast Abbey in Devon is harmful. Buckfast Abbey Trust does not pay tax on the income because it is a charity, which the society claims is an;abuse of the charitable system'”.
William Hogarth’s print Gin Lane (1751), depicted the evils associated with drinking gin, and was produced in support of what became the Spirit Duties Act 1735 (a.k.a. the Gin Act of 1736); The gin cellar in the print, Gin Royal, advertises its wares with the slogan: “Drunk for a penny; Dead drunk for twopence; “Clean straw for nothing“.
This was reflected in a recent Guardian article on Buckfast, “Life in the Buckfast Triangle: Drunk by noon, handcuffed by midnight“. [The “Buckfast Triangle” is said to be between Airdrie, Coatbridge and Bellshill]. The Scottish Government states:
“The alcohol problem in Scotland is so significant that ground breaking measures are required. Given the link between consumption and harm and evidence that affordability is one of the drivers of increased consumption, addressing price is an important element of any long-term strategy”.
The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 was passed in June 2012 but the legislation has not yet been implemented due to a legal challenge led by a trade body, the Scotch Whisky Association, here.
The NSS complaint relates to the charitable status of the Buckfast Abbey Trust (Held icw The Religious Community Of Benedictine Monks Established At St Marys Abbey Buckfast, Devon, infra.
Latest Charity Commission data are for the financial year ending 31 October 2015 show: a total income of £8.8M, of which £7.30M is from trading to raise funds; a total spending of £8.5M, of which £3.08M relates to trading to raise funds. Media references to a profit of £8.8M in the past year are clearly wide of the mark.
Other relevant information is summarized as:
Aims & activities: Its primary activity is to maintain and support the Benedictine Community of monks at Buckfast Abbey.
What the charity does: Religious activities
Who the charity helps: Other defined groups; The general public/mankind
How the charity works: Provides human resources; Provides buildings/facilities/open space; Provides services; Other charitable activities.
This charity has one or more trading subsidiaries and is recognised by HMRC for gift aid. Its charitable objects are: “To promote or maintain any charitable purpose connected with the Roman Catholic religion”. More detailed information is included in the Trust Annual Report 2015. The Trustees Report explains:
“Buckfast Tonic Wine is produced by the monks through Dart Abbey Enterprises Limited. The Wine is sourced, bottled and distributed by J Chandler & Co (Buckfast) Ltd and the Buckfast Abbey Trust receives a royalty for each litre sold. This has proved to be a valuable source of revenue for the charity and enabled it to build up its reserves and allow the trustees to advance its charitable objectives.”
In a letter to the Commission, the NSS suggests that the charity’s activities “fall short of the requirement to act in the Public’s Benefit”. Stephen Evans, NSS campaigns director, commented: “Charitable status and the accompanying tax benefits should only be granted to organisations that deliver a demonstrable public benefit. In the case of Buckfast Abbey, the social harm caused appears to outweigh any public good. Where this happens, or where the good is simply not good enough, public confidence in supporting charities risks being undermined”.
The NSS has also raised concerns about the charity and associated companies being run for “considerable private benefit running to millions of pounds a year”. In its letter to the Commission, the NSS said: “Excessive director pay, commercial loans to companies run by religious colleagues and charity staff allowed to profit privately from property investments all point to an abuse of the charity system.”
The Charity Commission is the arbiter of “the requirement to act in the Public’s Benefit”, and will consider the NSS’s assertions. The Commission states that in the public interest “it usually: releases a public statement whenever it opens a statutory inquiry into a charity; publishes a report of the inquiry. Published statements and reports are shown on the charity’s entry on the public register of charities”. We await developments with interest.