Now why would anyone want to copy this organisational model...?
Private Eye No. 1270, 3 sept-16 Sept 2010
Nesta eggs for a rainy day
ARTS group wondering how to cope with drastic cuts will be gazing enviously at one quango that prospers largely because nobody understands what it does.
The National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (Nesta), a "non-departmental government body" on business secretary Vince Cable's patch, was set up in 1998 with a £250m lottery endowment and now receives a further £15m a year. It invests in various groovy ventures and runs its own "innovation" programmes with catchy names such as "starter for 6", "reboot Britain", "the human factor" and "creative credits".
A striking amount of the money, however, ends up with organisations closely connected with Nesta's well-paid staff and trustees. The quango's accounts, recently published, show that last year it promised £210,000 to the University of Wales for "innovation scholarships". The university's vice-chancellor and head of its "institute of innovation" happens to be Nesta trustee Marc Clement.
Luckiest of all was Adrian Beecroft, a director and investor in a small IT company called Gnodal, which received £1m from Nesta to go with the £250,000 it gave him last year (see Eye 1243). That of all Britain's IT firms his should be chosen for Nesta's biggest grant is of course unrelated to his position on the Nesta advisory committee, and unconnected to the fact that he was chief investment officer for Sir Ronald Cohen's Apax Partners venture capital outfit while Nesta's chief executive, Jonathan Kestenbaum, was Cohen's chief of staff. Cohen's social enterprise private equity firm, Bridges Ventures, has also benefited from Nesta money.
Nesta does receive some of its cash straight from taxpayers, generally for "innovation" projects undertaken for government departments. The Department of Health paid Nesta £745,000, of which £568,000 was passed to the Young Foundation for its work on a "regional innovation fund advisory service" (What that? Ed.), shortly before Kestenbaum's niece Adiva took up a job at the foundation. Nesta insists he was not involved in her appointment.
Life's not too bad at the top of Nesta. While public sector fat cats elsewhere thought better of trousering big bonuses, Kestenbaum took £25,000 on top of his £171,000 salary and £20,000 pension contribution. The organisation's questionable efficiency is not bolstered by the revelation that it employs 16 "publications, events and communications" staff for the limited output of its other 68 staff.
Nesta's best hope of surviving the big quango cull is its connections. Since earlier this year it has been generously hosting, rent-free, staff from Philip "Red Tory" Blond's think-tank Res Publica, launched last November in the company of David Cameron. This might be a questionable political use of a government body, but Nesta needs to suck up to all the Tories it can.