Persimmon’s ex-chief yet to set up promised ‘bonus’ charity
Jeff Fairburn, the former chief executive of the housebuilder Persimmon, has failed to set up a charity almost two years after pledging to do so in an attempt to assuage public and political anger at his “obscene” £85m bonus.
Fairburn has not registered a charity with the Charity Commission or made any inquiries about how to set one up, 22 months after he said he would donate a “substantial proportion” of his bonus to a charitable trust. He is also not named as a trustee of any charity in England or Wales. It is not known whether he has donated to any separate existing charity.
The revelation that Fairburn appears not to have set up a foundation to donate any of his bonus comes days after an independent review found that Persimmon had built homes so shoddily that it left its customers exposed to an “intolerable risk” in the event of fire.
The review, commissioned by the Permission board, said the company had failed its customers due to “a manifestation of poor culture”. The report by Stephanie Barwise QC, who also represents victims of the Grenfell fire disaster, said the bonuses paid to executive directors in 2018-19, including Fairburn, were “were widely perceived as excessive”. The current management was urged to “reconsider Persimmon’s purpose and ambition”.
The Guardian was unable to contact Fairburn for comment. Citigate Dewe Rogerson, the PR company that helped Fairburn, 53, to defend his bonus, which was inflated by the taxpayer-funded, help-to-buy scheme, said it was unable to provide his contact detail or put questions to him.
The Mail on Sunday went to Fairburn’s luxury home in Durham to ask him directly. He replied: “It’s not really convenient [to talk] at the moment …Can you let me have a think about it?”
He made the pledge to set up a “private charitable trust” to support good causes in a “meaningful way” in February 2018 in order to deflect anger at the award, which had been reduced from £110m.
A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: “We have no record of a registered charity bearing Jeff Fairburn’s name. Nor does it appear Mr Fairburn is a current trustee of an active charity. We can’t categorically state that no charity has been registered that involves Mr Fairburn in some capacity. It would also not be possible for us to confirm whether or not any funds have been donated via another charity.”
Luke Hildyard, who campaigns against excessive executive remuneration at the High Pay Centre, said: “This ongoing saga shows why the charitable giving of the super-rich doesn’t justify gross concentration of wealth. Despite a few high-profile exceptions, rich people are generally quite miserly. Evidence suggests they give a smaller proportion of their income to charity than middle and low earners.
“Given the controversial nature of the original payment, some clarity on if and when the promised foundation will be established would be appropriate. But more importantly, we need to put corporate governance measures in place that stop these excessive pay awards and address the fact that the UK is one of the most unequal economies in the developed world.”
When he made the pledge to set up a charitable trust Fairburn said: “I am making my plans public and recognise that I should have done so sooner. I am setting up a private charitable trust which I plan to use to benefit wider society over a sustained period of time by supporting, in a very meaningful way, my chosen charities.
“I would like to make it clear that I did not seek these levels of award nor do I consider it right to keep them entirely for myself. Once it became apparent that our outperformance would lead to a very significant award for me, I made plans to use a substantial proportion of the total to support the charities that are particularly important to me and my family.”
The bonus payments result from a scheme linked to the housebuilder’s share price, which soared thanks to the help-to-buy programme. About half of Persimmon’s homes are bought with its assistance.
Fairburn was asked to leave Persimmon in November 2018 after he walked out of a TV interview having refused to answer questions about the bonus. Fairburn told the BBC journalist it was “really unfortunate that you’ve done that [asked about the bonus]”, before walking out of shot.
Vince Cable, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, had said the scale of the bonus was “obscene” and built on a government subsidy. “It is reminiscent of the worst excesses of corporate greed that helped to create the financial crisis, when short-termism was heavily incentivised and long-term planning ignored,” he said.