A right-wing think tank upgraded its offices, hired new staff and spent hundreds on Facebook adverts last year – all despite having barely a thousand pounds in its bank account, Nation.Cymru can reveal.
The Centre for Welsh Studies, which counts three Welsh Conservative MPs among its advisors, has consistently ducked scrutiny about how its activities are funded.
And a new set of accounts published by the Centre has raised further questions about who is paying for an organisation that describes itself as “Wales’ newest and fastest-growing think tank.”
The Centre’s financial statement for the year ending January 31, 2020 reveals its assets amounted to just £1,164.
That was less than the amount the Centre owed to creditors (£1,208) in the same year and also significantly less than the £9,697 in assets that the Centre held in 2019.
Despite seeming to lose income, the Centre was able to make fresh financial commitments and increase its activities in 2020.
Companies House records show that, in March last year, the Centre registered a change of address from a farm in Brecon to furnished and serviced Cardiff Bay offices near the Senedd, where prices start at £120 per person, per month.
An office for just one person at the lowest price would cost more than the Centre’s assets. But according to the Centre’s website, its director Matthew Mackinnon is supported by a chief operations officer and two senior research associates.
In addition, the Centre advertised in September for two interns to work 16 hours a week for the national minimum wage of between £6.45 and £8.72 depending on age.
Paying one intern at the lowest rate, it would take just 11 weeks to exhaust the Centre’s declared assets.
On top of that, Facebook data shows the Centre has published adverts worth at least £400 since last January.
Matthew Mackinnon responded to a request for comment: “These accounts are from 2019-2020, prior to us becoming a full-time operation.”
Plaid Cymru’s shadow economy minister, Helen Mary Jones, said our findings “yet again raise issues around the funding of this organisation.”
“There is a culture of secrecy about the money they receive from outside groups and special interests,” she told Nation.Cymru.
“It is time they were clear about who funds their work, and the agenda behind them.”
The accounts of other Welsh think tanks give an indication of the funds needed to pursue such activities. The smallest, Gorwel, had assets of £18,024, while the Bevan Foundation had £179,495 and the Institute of Welsh Affairs had £202,514.
The Centre has said only that it is “funded by our members and patrons”, which are charged £25 and £100 respectively in exchange for a newsletter, invitations to events and a welcome pack.
But the Centre’s chief executive told Wales Online in November that “we have received several thousand pounds” from the Atlas Network, a US organisation that funds right-wing think tanks around the world.
That admission came after an investigation by climate campaign group DeSmog UK revealed that Mackinnon was behind over £3,000 worth of climate-sceptic Facebook adverts.
Despite the questions over its finances, the Centre recently published a report criticising several Welsh charities over their sources of funding.