Nesta a Business or Charity

The National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts NESTA was a public body designed to promote creativity, talent and innovation across a wide spectrum of areas and interests. In 1998 it received an endowment from the national lottery and has benefited from various government support.  An investigation and report in 2010 concluded ‘that, while NESTA provided a valuable role, it did not need to be a public body and that its activities were better suited to the voluntary sector’. This led to NESTA becoming an independent charity in 2012 when it changed its name to Nesta with gifted assets of £343m.

In summary the main object and purpose of the charity is  to advance education, and in particular the study of innovation by the promotion of research and the publication of the useful results. By working to improve the conditions in which great ideas can flourish – addressing the policy and structural conditions that can either energise or stifle creativity.

Key Items from 2016 Report & Accounts

  • Assets and funds carried forward from March 2016 were £384m with less than 7% held in ‘mixed motive early stage companies.
  • A significant proportion of investments are in overseas quoted companies and showed a loss in the year. ‘In 2016 global equities generated a loss of £10.2 million, compared to a gain in 2015 of £25.1m.’
  • Income from investments and endowment fund was £1,956,000 but investment management costs of £1,257,000 wiped most of this out.
  • Staff levels have increased by 75% in four years to 167 full time equivalents with 27 of those earning over £60,000 pa.
  • The Nesta trust which holds the endowment fund has a Protector appointed by Government to oversee the administration of the Trust – with a principal trustee being Nesta. Additionally Nesta has 9 committees and 10 trustees running a complex operation.
  • Grants of £2,126,000 were made to 120 organisations during 2015/16 including charities and public bodies  compared to £12,288,000 in the prior year.

Concerns and Issues

Nesta is well recognised in the business fraternity and shares some wider business ethics and aspirations to good effect. It is less known as a charity.

The endowment has been protected in scale if not in real terms but is it time to set a date for the ultimate use and expiry of the trust fund.

In the same way that NESTA did not need to continue as a public body should all or part of Nesta become a commercial and financial business.

The reduction in the value of grant awards seems logical and could go further to avoid none productive costs being incurred both by Nesta and the recipients.

Is the existence within Nesta too comfortable and in danger of drifting from the core purpose and intent. How do this and similar charities retain focus.

Costs of holding investment reserves, growth of staff levels and control of outsourced charitable work need to be kept under review.

The 2017 reports and accounts are awaited with interest. Detail of the numerous schemes, ventures and investments may then be worth further comment

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