Fresh inquiry will examine public funding of defunct charity with links to PM

The Network, which was launched by the Prime Minister in 2010, was given at least £2.5m of National Lottery funding and public-sector grants

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The Government’s spending watchdog has opened a fresh investigation into a charity with links to David Cameron that was wound up after allegations that it had misused public funds.

The National Audit office said it would examine whether “systemic problems” had affected the way grants were given to the Big Society Network by the Cabinet Office and the Big Lottery Fund.

The Network, which was launched by the Prime Minister in 2010, was given at least £2.5m of National Lottery funding and public-sector grants despite having no record of charitable activity.

Its charitable arm, the Society Network Foundation, has now been wound up, having used much of the money on projects that came nowhere near achieving their promised objectives.

The new NAO investigation follows an initial report on grants given to the charity, published in July, and further revelations, also published in July, in The Independent and Civil Society News.

Its new report is due to be published by the end of the year and is expected to trigger an inquiry into the charity’s activities by the powerful Public Accounts Committee.

That inquiry is likely to look at links between the charity and senior figures in Downing Street and the Conservative Party, and to find out whether pressure was brought to bear to ensure the network received public funding.

One of the trustees of the charity was close to David Cameron’s former advisor Steve Hilton and another was a significant Conservative donor.

Lisa Nandy, shadow minister for civil society, welcomed the NAO’s decision to open another investigation. “We are still in the dark about how millions of pounds of public money were squandered by an organisation with no track record but strong links to the Conservative Party,” she said.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The Cabinet Office is aware of the investigation and is co-operating fully with it.”

The trustees of the Society Network Foundation said they were “surprised” by the NAO follow up study as, they said, a recent report had found no evidence that ministers or officials had instructed the charity should be given Government funding.

“We are now seeking clarification to establish the criteria that NAO chose to undertake a review of certain SNF/BSN publicly-funded projects and not others,” they added.

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