WHEN Joseph Rowntree set up his trusts in 1904 he could hardly have imaged what would be happening to one of them in Scotland more than a century later – engulfed in a very public outcry over a £50,000 grant to help lying Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael with his legal costs in a case that his actions brought about.

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) was established as a limited company to allow it to operate outside the restrictions normally placed on charities.

Rowntree, a confectioner, Quaker and liberal, saw it as a means of advancing his view of society, but we are sure he never intended it to become a “honey pot” for the Lib Dems.

That is how respected writer, broadcaster, academic and Quaker Alastair McIntosh views what has happened to JRRT, which now has only one Quaker on its board – four other members are Lib Dems and one appears to be unaligned.

McIntosh says it’s clear to him that Rowntree intended the JRRT to remain a Quaker trust operating under a Quaker tenet of spiritual discernment when it came to disbursing money.

McIntosh appears more hurt than bitter when he says the Lib Dems have taken advantage of the Quakers and reflects on Rowntree’s original intention that the trust, with a Quaker-led board, would have a 35-year lifespan.

“Here is a man who is presuming that the trustees would operate according to, as we say in Quakerism, ‘the movement of the spirit’ (how they felt God was moving them to use these resources) and over time that’s become diluted, and it was decided that instead of winding up after 35 years to just carry on and become a 50 per cent honey pot for the Liberal Democrats."

“It’s like they’ve taken our money.”

We have said previously that the Rowntree trusts do some excellent work, a point emphasised today by six academics who do not want the great contribution the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) makes to Scottish education to be endangered by any confusion between the two bodies.

Social media is abuzz with claims that all the Rowntree trusts have been “tainted” merely by association with the JRRT, which is the body giving Carmichael the money.

We have asked the JRRT to tell us their side of the story, but all they do is refer us to an statement that is as inaccurate as the memo Carmichael leaked in the first place.

Because it is a limited company the JRRT is not governed by the usual rules covering the activity of charities. It is, though, apparently making attempts to recruit more Quakers to its board.

As McIntosh tells us, it is perhaps time that Quakers made their voices heard and tried to regain control of a group that is taking its own agenda a little too devoutly, before it tarnishes the many years of first-class work the other Rowntree trusts have demonstrated.

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