As WALTER CRONXITE reports, the entrepreneurial Tory MP for Croydon South’s “Next Big Thing” has turned out to be anything but, and has certainly not set a good example for teenagers keen to get into business
A company set up in 2014 by Chris Philp, the millionaire Conservative MP for Croydon South, is being wound-up after having failed to find other organisations to pay for its scheme of staging Dragons’ Den-like competitions for teenaged school pupils.
Philp was first elected to parliament in May 2015 and now is a member of the Treasury Select Committee. He has often emphasised his business expertise and his pre-politics career as an entrepreneur, although some companies he has formed and run have, after he has left the business, subsequently collapsed, owing tens of thousands of pounds.
That’s not the case for the Community Interest Company Philp formed with three other directors in 2014, although what they immodestly called the Next Big Thing has turned out to be Anything But The Next Big Thing.
Moves to have the company records struck off began last month, after the business reported a loss of £125 in its latest annual report.
Philp’s own website still boasts of his role in the Next Big Thing. “In 2009, I founded Next Big Thing (see http://www.nextbigthinguk.com) which operates under the auspices of the Progress Foundation, a registered charity,” it states.
“NBT gets youngsters from inner city backgrounds interested in setting up businesses, building their confidence and showing them that by hard work and creativity, they can succeed no matter how hard their start in life has been. Often their only alternatives are unemployment, poverty or crime. NBT aims to show that there is another way.”
Or not, if Next Big Thing is anything to go by.
According to their own records at Companies House, Next Big Thing “is a unique enterprise education and business development competition for 16-18-year-olds from disadvantaged communities. It educates and inspires young people to unlock their potential through business and entrepreneurship; many participants are inspired to access higher education.”
Philp made no claim to original thought, admitting that the company had based its schtick on a television format: “Teams work with experienced business mentors over eight weeks (two hours per week) and present their business ideas at a Dragons’ Den-style final. The winning team receives £1,000 and a structured programme of support to start its business.”
The rub, though, came from the company’s funding model, which “depends on schools signing up to the programme and contributing to programme costs”.
The Harris Federation, the highly profitable education business set up by a Tory-donating carpet salesman and which runs several schools in Croydon, appears to have paid for a “successful programme” from the Next Big Thing in 2014-2015. The company’s website reports that teams from Harris academies from Crystal Palace, South Norwood and Upper Norwood were among the competition’s “finalists” in 2014.
In 2014-2015, the Next Big Thing received £10,290 in “contributions from schools”, an amount which dropped to less than £4,000 in the subsequent accounting period.
The Next Big Thing’s accounts also show that meanwhile, the company spent nearly £22,000 on running its programme in 2014-2015, and £6,572 in 2015-2016 – far more than the company was bringing in as fees from schools. Which is hardly a paragon of good business practice for all those young entrepreneurs Philp was trying to “inspire”.
“The rest of our funding has to come from corporate partners and from grants,” the company’s report states, which also reveals that two of Philp’s co-directors, Nadine Majaro and Roger Pilgrim, had between them, from associated charity the Progress Foundation and other companies that they are involved with, stumped up more than £43,000 to the Next Big Thing over the previous two years.
Persuading others not so closely involved in the Next Big Thing to cough up funding, though, appears to have been more difficult.
In September 2015, Nils Bucknell, the company’s sole employee, resigned. That saved the company most of Bucknell’s £28,000 salary, but meant that there was no one left to run the operation.
By last March, 10 months after Philp had been elected to parliament, and the Croydon South MP was signing off on a company report which showed a £125 deficit on the year’s trading.
“We have reached a crucial point at which we have to decide, as responsible directors, what resources we can afford for next year and have concluded that we need to suspend operations for the time being,” Philp’s chairman’s report states. “We will continue to look for new ways of offering our programme in a more sustainable way.”
An admission of corporate failure is buried on the home page of the Next Big Thing’s website.
“Over the past few years we have worked to extend our reach into more schools in the London area. We have, however, found funding difficult to raise. Our model depends on schools signing up to the programme and contributing to programme costs. We know that our programme is well-received by participants and teachers alike and that it is effective in boosting important things like self-confidence. We also know, however, that there are other enterprise programmes which are less rich but also much cheaper for schools. This means that some schools who might otherwise like our programme say they cannot afford it. Many other schools simply prefer to offer much lighter touch programmes.
“The rest of our funding has to come from corporate partners and from grants. We have managed to raise sufficient funding to operate at a low level, but this has not been sufficient to enable us to grow and become sustainable.
“We have therefore concluded that the business is no longer viable and we are dissolving the company.”
None of the directors, including Philp, appear to have taken any money out of the Next Big Thing, though its business model – of passing round a begging bowl among corporate donors, while being too expensive for schools to afford to subscribe to the scheme – appears to have obvious flaws, even for a CIC with a charitable outlook.
One other interesting snippet of information from Philp’s latest failed business venture is the correspondence address provided for him as the company chairman. When the Next Big Thing was formed and documents lodged at Companies House in January 2014, Philp described his occupation as “company director” and gave his address as 39 Lisburne Road, London, NW3 2NS, which turns out to be a six-bedroomed house not far from Hampstead Heath.
Of course, Philp has said that since being elected as MP for Croydon South, he has bought a house in his constituency – which if he and his young family have actually moved there, would make him unique among Croydon’s three MPs of actually living in the area he is supposed to represent.
Yet according to the online real estate resource Zoopla, 39 Lisburne Road last changed hands in 2009. Then, it sold for £950,000. This might suggest that if this was Philp’s “correspondence address” in 2014, he and his family have been very fortunate in not having to sell the property since he became an MP to afford their move to Croydon.
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