A revisit to UKIP's infamous Ashford Call Centre! It is interesting to note that Farage has never come clean about what happened to all the money raised during the time the centre was operating. Indeed, he has resisted EVERY attempt to conduct an independent investigation into this matter. We wonder why?
THE ASHFORD CALL CENTRE by Derek Hunnikin
At the suggestion of John Moran, and with the enthusiastic support of Nigel Farage, the Ashford Call Centre was set up in 2004, to both raise money for the Party and recruit new members.
In August 2005, as the Chichester Branch Membership Secretary, I became so alarmed at the number of members who were refusing to rejoin UKIP on their annual renewal date, and many resigning before the due date, I sent a letter to the Party Leader, Roger Knapman, which included the following:
As Membership Secretary for Chichester for over eight years, I have never witnessed such a large number of members failing to renew their membership. Since May, this year, Chichester has lost 20% of its members! Why? In short I believe largely due to the activities of the Ashford Call Centre.
A typical example is the lady I spoke to recently who told me she would not rejoin because she is fed-up with being constantly telephoned by UKIP asking for money – five times in the past twelve months! Bernard Smith, our Branch Chairmen, tells me he has had dozens of calls from members complaining about unsolicited telephone calls from UKIP asking for money. He spoke to Nigel Farage and John Moran about this matter last June and his concern was brushed aside. I ask myself, what is the point of supporting a political party that so blatantly alienates its members?
As a result of the above letter, Bernard Smith and I met with some members of the NEC in London on 17th October 2005. We were assured that steps would be taken to ensure members would not be harassed by the Ashford Call Centre in future.
In January 2006, I had reason to write to John Moran again on the subject of the damage the Ashford Call Centre was doing to UKIP. There had been no discernible improvement in the operation of the call centre. Factors which came to light include the following:
• Farage said that the call centre, in UKIP terms, is an absolute lifeline. It took us nine years to get 9,500 members, and we doubled the size of the party because of the call centre.
• In January 2006, I wrote again to inform Head Office that we were still getting complaints about the call centre - one lady having gone to the expense of having her telephone number changed. Another member reported she had had three calls in as many weeks. In response to the first she agreed to make a donation, the second call was to say Ashford had not received her cheque, and the third call was downright rude.
• At a Chichester Branch Christmas Lunch not one person present had a good word to say about the call centre.
• Although detailed accounts for the Ashford Call Centre have never been produced, it is generally accepted that only somewhere between 11% and 15% of the money raised by the call centre went to Party funds, the rest was lost in expenses. This means that, of the £400,000 Farage said was raised, only £60,000 was available for promoting the party.
• At the time it was widely reported that at an NEC meeting Farage voted against providing audited accounts of Ashford’s affairs.
• The then Party Treasurer resigned rather than answer questions on ‘Ashford’ and his replacement refused to carry out a retrospective audit.
• It was reported in The Sunday Telegraph, dated 12th February 2007, that outrage over the Ashford Call Centre has been blamed for the resignation of six senior UKIP officials over the previous 18 months. In the same article, Farage is reported to have confessed that a London based UKIP call centre had lost between £5,000 and £6,000 every month and this was the reason he was keen for a ‘professionally run call centre’ to be set up under John Moran in Ashford.
• The call centre operatives are not members of UKIP, and could even be unsympathetic towards it and they are, therefore, motivated solely by financial incentives through soliciting money from members. Indeed, one operator is reported to have said, "I don’t give a damn about members, I’m here for the bonus!”
To put this matter into context a paragraph, taken from an e-mail to me from a Horsham branch member, is worth recording here:
I was called about six weeks ago one evening just as I had settled down to my meal after a tiring day by someone “from Ashford” calling himself David. Apart from my usual irritation at the casual modern culture of first-name-terms-only from strangers, my main concern with this begging practice is that it tends to annoy and alienate members by its crude interruption of one’s domestic peace and quiet. I don’t mind so much a local person calling me, but I hate being pestered by any ‘national call centre’, especially if they simply want money! This particular pitch has long ago been queered by business big and small. Furthermore, to then expect me to give out personal bank card details, as he did, is exceedingly poor, not only from a courtesy viewpoint but also from a security one. I had no proof, of course, of who he said he was and there are now literally dozens of such telephone (‘cardholder not present’) scams on the go these days, according to our neighbourhood watch advisers. Whilst I appreciate its need for vital funds to fight campaigns against vastly better-funded opponents, UKIP does need to be very careful in not aping the abrasive contemporary habits of commerce in its dealings with its allies! In the end I sent back a few quid on a postal form once I’d checked that the approach was genuine.
Needless to say the Ashford Call Centre was duly closed. Incredibly, a few months after the Ashford Call Centre had been closed down, Nigel Farage called for it to be reopened! Not surprisingly, the NEC rejected this request.
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