Business

Dragons Den star Peter Jones’s tycoon charity paid £900k to his own companies

Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones is facing more questions over his use of taxpayers’ money at a charity he set up for young entrepreneurs.

Vince Cable’s Department for Business has launched a new inquiry into claims of financial mismanagement at the National Enterprise Academy, revealed in The Mail on Sunday last week.

But it can now be disclosed that four of Mr Jones’s companies have been paid more than £900,000 over the past three years to provide services to the charity, set up to teach business skills to teenagers.

Family ties: Peter Jones with his long-term partner Tara Capp whose father has taken over the running of the academy

Family ties: Peter Jones with his long-term partner Tara Capp whose father has taken over the running of the academy

They include his telecoms giant Phones International, which made a profit of nearly £11 million in the year to April 2010, and his television production company PJ TV.

These firms, along with his web media agency PJ Media and phone handset distributor Data Select, supplied the NEA with hardware, marketing services and IT support.

In another development, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the academy is now being run by the father of Mr Jones’s girlfriend Tara Capp.

Clive Capp, 61, has taken over as acting chief executive, although he appears to have little experience of managing a large educational institution. Companies House records show that his only current directorship is human resources director at a swimming school run by his wife Pat from their home in Maidenhead, Berkshire. The school teaches at a leisure centre in the town.

Chief executive: Miss Capp's father Clive on a walking holiday

Chief executive: Miss Capp’s father Clive on a walking holiday

Mr Capp, whose daughter Tara has three children with Mr Jones, is also registered as a former consultant to a company called the One Stop Film Shop, which was dissolved in 2009.

Mr Jones’s spokesman said Mr Capp was well qualified for the NEA post and that his family link to the tycoon enhanced his ability to do the job.

The allegations of financial mismanagement were made by former civil servant Tom Bewick, who was brought in by Mr Jones to run the academy last year. Mr Bewick quit after only a week in the £138,000-a-year job because he was concerned about the way up to £9 million of public money was being spent.

The NEA’s finance director says this figure is incorrect and that the actual amount of money involved is £6.5 million for a project to cover a seven-year business plan.

In a letter to Mr Jones – the  contents of which were revealed by The Mail on Sunday last week – Mr Bewick claimed the NEA was failing to attract the expected number of students and was in danger of running out of money.

The MoS has now learned that the NEA could lose an expected £500,000 after senior industrialists failed to reach an agreement with the Peter Jones Foundation, the tycoon’s personal charity through which funding for the NEA is channelled.

The money was to have come from a body called Enterprise UK, which was set up in 2004 by business organisations, including the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors, to encourage entrepreneurship.

Scandal: How the Mail On Sunday revealed the story last week

Scandal: How the Mail On Sunday revealed the story last week

The Labour Government pumped up to £10 million into it, but the funding was switched off by the Coalition and groups were invited to bid for the remaining assets.

Mr Jones claimed in March that his foundation had been selected to receive the money after he made a successful pitch, but trustees of Enterprise UK now say no final decision has been reached and that other charities could be invited to apply for the cash as early as next month.

In a statement after a trustees’ meeting on Friday, British Chambers of Commerce director general David Frost said: ‘It was agreed that unless the terms and conditions of the due diligence process were agreed by the Peter Jones Foundation by the end of the month, and the exercise successfully concluded . . . by mid-July, Enterprise UK will seek expressions of interest from other charitable organisations engaged in enterprise promotion.’

An NEA source, however, gave a different explanation for the delay. He said it had been caused by the trustees’ insistence that the Peter Jones Foundation should take over full legal liability for Enterprise UK and all its remaining assets, while Mr Jones wanted liability to be capped at £500,000. Mr Jones said last night: ‘We hope all outstanding issues will be resolved next week.’

Whistle blower: Mr Jones with former civil servant Tom Bewick, whose claims of financial mismanagement were revealed last week

Whistle blower: Mr Jones with former civil servant Tom Bewick, whose claims of financial mismanagement were revealed last week

Meanwhile, the Department for Business has launched a new inquiry into Mr Bewick’s allegations, after initially insisting that an investigation by the Skills Funding Agency had found no evidence to substantiate his claims.

It is understood that Mr Bewick, who was not asked to give evidence to the initial inquiry, will now be contacted by Mr Cable’s officials.

A spokesman for Mr Jones said PJ Media, PJ TV, Phones International and Data Select had provided services to the NEA on favourable terms during its start-up period.

He added: ‘The remaining companies [in his portfolio] have donated their time free of charge and without charging for supplies and/or overheads in support of the NEA.

‘Clive Capp has more than 40 years’ experience in business, specifically in the areas of technology, human resources and recruitment. His contribution to the NEA has been extremely valuable.

Business: Mr Jones, back right, on the hit show Dragons Den with the other judges on the panel

Business: Mr Jones, back right, on the hit show Dragons Den with the other judges on the panel

‘Clive’s connection to Peter [through his daughter] adds an extra level of attention when it comes to supporting Peter Jones’s mission to greatly improve access to vital business skills for young people.’

Mr Bewick claims the Peter Jones Foundation has only £270,000 left in the bank and is spending at an average rate of £230,000 a month.

But finance director Julian Cabrera said: ‘The bank balance changes monthly. It is correct that the Skills Funding Agency contract and funding has now [been] completed but the Peter Jones Foundation does not have cashflow issues.

‘It is well run and the audit of this year’s accounts will shortly confirm that the foundation is a going concern for a minimum of 12 months.’

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