The Motability Scheme, a charitable organisation which leases powerchairs, mobility scooters and WAVs, is accused of spending £26m on refurbishing its Bristol and London offices, with bosses authorising money to be used on art displays, stone vases and chrome fittings.
The claims have surfaced in a number of national newspapers and come as a Parliamentary inquiry into the scheme collates evidence from the organisation’s bosses, ministers and other witnesses to investigate how it is being run.
The office refurbishments occurred between 2011 and 2013 and involved the refitting of its 80,000 square foot Bristol campus, ‘with the relaxed, affluent style of a tech-company’, according to a Sunday Times report. The 60,000 square foot London office was also refitted with expensive items.
Motability has been placed under intense scrutiny from MPs, the public, media and the mobility industry in recent weeks after it emerged it had kept £2.4bn of money aside while paying its chief executive Mike Betts £1.7m.
The Parliamentary inquiry into the scheme follows a call by Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey for the National Audit Office to look into the Motability charity. Now HMRC and the NAO have each been asked to open investigations into the scheme’s finances.
Conservative MP Philip Davies has also suggested that the NAO should look at the office refurbishments, saying: “I suppose when you’ve got £2.4billion of reserves this type of largesse comes quite easily”.
Meanwhile, Labour MP John Mann said: “This excellent scheme has become bloated by the trappings of largesse. Disabled people and the taxpayer deserve better.
“To hear that these executives have been lavishing what is effectively taxpayers’ money on turning their offices into five-star hotels is quite shocking.”
But Motability maintained that it is “proud” that its refurbishment in 2011 means its buildings meet “the highest standards of access and other facilities for disabled people”.
As part of the evidence-gathering process of the inquiry, Conservative MP Heidi Allen pressed the group on Mike Betts’ £1.7m pay, asking: “Are you really running the company absolutely with that charitable ethos in mind?”
Motability’s chairman, Neil Johnson, said that he “absolutely understand[s]” the point Ms Allen made about pay.
“I was originally a soldier and worked with the police service and so forth as well. I do understand. I also have a daughter who is a student nurse. You can never reconcile either the professional footballer or the chief executive of a major corporation with the student nurse. However, my responsibility, and the responsibility of my board, is to put in place a management team that is capable of running this very large business.
“It would be true to say that we—when I say “we” I mean the organisation—have tried it the other way and it very nearly failed. There was a very intense period of about six or seven years when this business was turned around and then started to grow properly. The culture has been delivered where not only do we have financial stability but we have a fantastic product for our customers.”
As the exchange continued, Ms Allen responded: “An organisation like Motability is not set up to back pat its management team; it is there to deliver taxpayers’ money for people with disabilities.
Mr Johnson replied: “It is there to deliver the service that our customers give us their money in order to deliver. That is precisely what we do.”