Official warning over staff payments at charity supported by Duchess of Sussex

A young leaders’ organisation whose past summits have featured high-profile figures including the Duchess of Sussex and Bob Geldof, has been given an official warning by the charities regulator.

The Charity Commission said it had looked into One Young World after concerns in the media in 2022 about senior staff salaries and bonuses and potential conflicts of interest.

The organisation holds annual summits featuring international leaders and celebrities. The Queen of Jordan and footballer Rio Ferdinand appeared at last year’s event in Belfast.

One Young World founder Kate Robertson
One Young World founder Kate Robertson is the charity’s chief executive but resigned as trustee in 2023 (Mark Marlow/PA)

Meghan, who had been involved in the charity before marrying into the royal family, gave the keynote address at the Manchester event in 2022.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by any of the celebrity speakers.

The regulator said its assessment found that the salary paid to an employee connected to one of the trustees was unauthorised under the requirements of the charity’s governing document.

It is understood this refers to the salary paid to managing director Ella Robertson McKay, who is the daughter of the charity’s chief executive, Kate Robertson.

Ms Robertson was also a trustee of the charity until she resigned from that role in July 2023, on advice from the commission, which usually recommends someone does not hold the role of both chief executive and trustee.

Bob Geldof has been a regular speaker at One Young World summits (One Young World/PA)
Bob Geldof has been a regular speaker at One Young World summits (One Young World/PA)

The commission said it also concluded that bonus payments made to Ms Robertson were unauthorised, as it had only given permission for her salary in the role.

But the regulator said it accepted that the trustees “made these bonus payments in good faith at the time, and the trustees in turn now agree that they should have sought specific authority on this point”.

In the 12 months to December 2022 Ms Robertson received  £225,088 in her role as chief executive, while her daughter Ms Robertson McKay received £115,008, according to the charity’s accounts for that year.

The commission said there had been governance failings and breaches of trust by the charity’s trustees, including poor minute-taking, a lack of evidence that conflicts of interest had been effectively managed, and the unauthorised payments.

The regulator said its action plan for the charity includes requiring it to ensure conflicts of interests are appropriately managed and that additional trustees who do not have conflict of interest are recruited.

The commission’s Tracy Howarth said: “Our engagement with One Young World uncovered governance errors that every charity should take care to avoid when managing a charity, especially in relation to executive pay and conflicts of interest.

“We welcome efforts the trustees have made so far in addressing past failings and making improvements to the charity’s administration and governance.

“The official warning sets out the further improvements we now expect the trustees to make. We will continue to monitor their progress.”

The commission said failure by the charity to take sufficient steps to address the issues raised could lead to further regulatory action.

A spokesperson for the charity said: “One Young World is naturally disappointed at The Charity Commission’s findings over two limited administrative errors. However, the charity also sees this as an opportunity.

“The commission’s decision was a consequence of two particular, historic mistakes in legal processes, originally dating from 2015, which were, unfortunately, the result of the trustees’ placing reliance on their former professional advisers, which they did entirely in good faith.

“Even so, the board of trustees do, of course, regret these issues in process ever arose. However, there is no suggestion whatsoever that any senior executives nor trustees did anything wilfully wrong or untoward in either case – and the commission recognised senior executives and trustees acted in good faith.

“Nevertheless, as a result of the findings and with the Charity Commission’s stimulus, One Young World’s senior executives and board of trustees has evolved several of its administrative and governance processes to make sure these technical errors do not happen in the future. It has also, notably, appointed new legal advisers.”