26 June 2010

ENTRUST - A crook's charter?

Its odd how enquiries into the shenanigans of the old Somerton Town Council, and now into the self-styled 'Somerton Community Association' lead you into very, very murky waters.

As readers of this blog already know, I have been making enquiries about the Somerton Community Association and they, in common with the Keenan/Canvin administration of Somerton Town Council, don't seem to want to answer letters of enquiry - even when enquiries come from a member of the community which the 'SCA' purports to represent.

So, in the spirit of investigative journalism, I've widened the scope of my enquiries to include ENTRUST itself and the Environmental Tax section of Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue, the body who, I understand, regulates ENTRUST.

My initial enquiries of ENTRUST gleaned little information because ENTRUST threw up a wall of obstruction (where have we seen that before?) but I did learn that the Chairperson of the 'SCA' was in breach of ENTRUST's regulations and had been so since May of 2005. ENTRUST later confirmed to me that they had 'investigated' the 'SCA' and that 'action had been taken' but, so far, they refuse to provide any details.

As a result of this attitude I took the matter back to the Environmental Taxes section of HMRC and the responses that I have now received seemed rather defensive. Quite surprisingly, HMRC now inform me that ENTRUST is a 'private body' and therefore not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Not only that but HMRC suggest that ENTRUST's funds are 'private funds'.

To say that I'm confused by this disclosure is something of an understatement because, as I understand it, ENTRUST have no funds of their own. All that ENTRUST do is 'regulate' so called 'environmental bodies' (EBs) who register with ENTRUST in order that those EBs may receive LandFill Tax which would otherwise go to the Exchequer. ENTRUST only regulates the manner in which funds from LandFill Tax is redirected to EB's, supposedly to be spent on 'environmental projects'.

As a result of HMRC's attitude, I've decided to take the matter further up the chain of command at HMRC, hopefully to the individual with direct responsibility for the regulation of ENTRUST. I've asked HMRC to disclose the identity of that individual and it will be interesting to see what they have to say.

However, as part of my wider enquiries, I stumbled upon a document which is the Minutes of the 86th Board Meeting of ENTRUST held in 2009. Whilst not part of the Board of ENTRUST, HMRC attended the meeting as the regulator of ENTRUST and the Minutes of the meeting make interesting reading. A large chunk of those Minutes was taken up with noting concerns about: the regulation of EBs registering with ENTRUST; the fining of EBs which breach ENTRUST regulations and the action to be taken against regsistered EBs which do not provide appropriate documentation. This would seem to suggest that the activities of our very own delinquent 'Somerton Community Association' are just a small part of a much bigger picture where ENTRUST are having a hard time making sure that EBs behave properly.

And maybe this is why HMRC have become defensive. In the difficult financial situation that the Government and the country finds itself, it is possibly an embarrassment to find that people are signing up with ENTRUST then running off with the dosh. So, if you want to get your hands on some public money, invent a bogus organisation (with a name like, for example, the Somerton Community Group), register with ENTRUST, tick the boxes, contact a few Landfill operators and then wait for the cheques to fall through the letterbox. Easy-peasy.

Till next time, I'm the 'Mount Hey Environmental Improvement Group'.