LIBERAL Democrats have been accused of taking control of a trust set up by confectioner Joseph Rowntree and treating it as a “honey pot” to dish out half its £1.5 million donations to their own causes.

And Alastair McIntosh – a writer, broadcaster, academic and leading member of the Scottish Quaker community – said the debacle over the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) awarding £50,000 to lying Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael for his Frenchgate legal costs had “tarnished” the other major Rowntree trusts.

JRRT is a limited company and was one of three trusts – there are now four – set up in 1904 by Rowntree, a chocolate manufacturer, Quaker and Liberal.

McIntosh told The National: “It was quite clear to me that Joseph Rowntree intended this to be held as a Quaker trust which would be operating on a Quaker basis of spiritual discernment as to how the money should be used.

“What has happened in the intervening period is that other trustees have been brought in from the Liberal Party and have diluted the Quaker quotient to a point where now only one trustee is a Quaker.

“What we have seen is a shift in control of this trust from Quaker hands to Lib Dem party political hands who are treating it as a honey pot to dish themselves out half the money.

“The other half goes to incredibly good causes, but basically the Lib Dems have captured this trust and they are using it to fund their own stuff, including the Carmichael dynamic with that outrageous justification they gave for the grant – namely that they didn’t think it was acceptable that the people of Scotland should have the representation that the people of Scotland had voted for as part of the UK settlement.”

He added: “So I think a Quaker trust, still operating with the persona of a Quaker trust – what the Rowntree name represents – and the fact they say they rest on their Quaker heritage is actually serving to channel off half of this considerable body of funding into Lib Dem causes.”

Those Lib Dem causes included “Liberal Voices” Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish party who has received £45,000 over the past two years, and his boss Tim Farron, who has benefitted by £36,000.

McIntosh said Rowntree had not wanted to tie the hands of the trustees when he set up the JRRT with a

35-year lifespan, but it now appeared the Quakers had been taken advantage of. “I’ve had an email from central Quaker sources saying that for them to condemn it as un-Quakerly would be beyond their remit given that the trust is no longer actually a Quaker trust, ” he said. “In a way it’s our own damned fault that we let it go. Our decency has been taken advantage of and the question now is whether the Liberal Democrats will do the decent thing and honour the spirit of the resources that they are in control of.”

McIntosh said his view was that the board should have a majority of Quakers on it.

“It may still want to give money to the Liberal Democrats, it may still want to give money to Alistair Carmichael, but if that is not being done within a framework of Quakerism in my opinion it would be an abuse of Rowntree’s intentions,” he said.

“I think a lot of Quakers would be quite shocked when they find out that only one of the six trustees is shown on their website as being a Quaker.

“This is very serious. This is a case of a political party capturing a religious trust. And I don’t like that as a Quaker. That violates our principle of truth and integrity in public affairs because the trustees are not committed to that. And I say that with a very heavy heart because what they are doing with the other half of the money, the causes they’re supporting are exemplars.”

He added: “It is in danger of damaging the other three major Rowntree trusts.

“I say major because the JRRT also controls a charitable trust that it set up called by the old name of the Joseph Rowntree Social Services Trust. Although the money was tranched over so that work of a political nature should be done, at some stage they have decided to shift some of those funds back to charitable causes which is why they actually control two trusts.

“They are all, certainly in Scotland, tarnished by this association which is so contrary to Quaker principles of truth and integrity in public affairs.”

McIntosh said he had raised it informally among Quakers at a Glasgow meeting to seek second opinions, and the clerk of the meeting, Neil McKechnie, would convey his concerns through Quaker channels.

A spokesperson for JRRT said: “The Liberal Democrat party has no ‘control’ over the Trust. The six founding directors of the Trust were all members of the Liberal Party. In this tradition, there has tended to be a number of Liberal and later Liberal Democrat members serving on the JRRT board. While the Trust has made grants to the party, its primary activity is funding other organisations fighting for civil liberties, human rights and justice.

“JRRT has made clear throughout that none of the other Joseph Rowntree organisations have had any role in making this or any of our other grants. Our boards, priorities and governance are all totally separate.”

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