1.11 More about PIRC/Social Audit: Where we come from - How we are funded Who is involved How to make contact.
PIRC was conceived in 1971, an offshoot of the Public Citizen network of organisations founded in the US by Ralph Nader. Our first Chairman was Michael Young, founding father of numerous public interest organisations, among them Consumers Association. PIRC was set up as a Registered Charity (No 1112242) in 1972, together with Social Audit Ltd - a non-profit body which acts independently as PIRCs publishing arm.
The name Social Audit derived by analogy: "if there are financial audits, why should there not also be social audits regular reports on the way any company is performing its duty not just to shareholders, but to workers, consumers, indeed everyone affected by what that body does?" In the early days, we set out to both develop and apply methodologies for assessing corporate performance focusing much attention also on the still serious (but perhaps now waning) problem of excessive secrecy in government and other areas of public life.
Much of this early work was reported in our quarterly journal, Social Audit, but publication ceased in 1976. Since then, we have produced a mix of both in-house and other reports. (See: Publications). At the same time, we began to specialise (looking at issues rather than individual organisations) and to operate not only in our own name but increasingly through campaigning organisations and networks such as Health Action International, the Campaign for Freedom on Information and Public Concern at Work.
However, our basic concerns remain unchanged. Our aim is to ask timely questions about the organisations whose decisions and actions shape public life. What, in social terms, do these organisations give to and take from the community, and how do they explain and justify what they do? The papers and reports we publish seek to explain why these questions seem worth asking and what the answers to them seem to be.
Social Audits concern applies to all organisations and to any government, whatever its politics. The issues may differ, but the conclusions always tend to be the same: there is not enough accountability in the major centres of power. There is too much secrecy in the organisations that direct and manage our lives.
These organisations go to great lengths to persuade us that they mean well and do good but all too often they also suppress evidence of the harm they do. Unless and until there is proper accountability, these organisations will tend to operate by their stands which may be completely unacceptable by yours.
Funding Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) was set up with grants from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable and Social Services Trusts and the Charitable Trust has funded us pretty much continuously ever since. One way and another, JRCT has supported every one of our major ventures over the years, helping us through thick and thin. The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust website identifies many other pioneering organisations supported over the years. You can also register via this site any views you have on The Antidepressant Web - but please bear in mind that this report expresses our views alone, not those of the Trustees.
PIRC has also been core-funded for many years by the 1970 Trust and grants for individual projects in the past have been given by other organisations including Consumers Association, Social Science Research Council, Allen Lane Foundation, Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, Nuffield Foundation, Ford Foundation, MIND, Trocaire and War on Want.
Social Audits work has been funded mainly by sale of publications, also through consultancy work in legally aided drug injury litigation. We have undertaken generic research for solicitors acting for plaintiffs in a number of major cases, including those involving Opren/Oraflex (benoxaprofen); Factor VIII and other blood products contaminated by HIV; and dependence-related problems with benzodiazepine tranquillisers.
All surplus earned by Social Audit accrues to PIRC. The annual budget of the two organisations combined is about £30,000 a year.
Personnel The PIRC board of directors includes Christopher Zealley (Chair), former Chief Executive of the Dartington Trust and Chairman of the Board of Management of Consumers Association; Maurice Frankel, ex-Social Audit, and Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information since 1984; Lord Phillips of Sudbury OBE, writer and broadcaster, and a practising solicitor specialising in corporate, charity and public interest law; Anthony Sampson (1975-2004), writer and broadcaster on corporate policy and culture, development issues and international affairs; and Oliver Thorold, a practising barrister and specialist in pharmaceutical medicine and mental health issues.
Christopher Zealley, Maurice Frankel, Andrew Phillips are also directors of Social Audit Ltd - as are Charles Medawar (executive) and Elaine Rassaby, a clinical psychologist, now a Mental Health Act Commissioner and a consultant on legal issues in mental health and pharmaceutical medicine.
Charles Medawar has a professional background in consumer protection. He worked with Consumers' Association (1966-1971) and was later elected to its Council. After a stint with Ralph Nader, in Washington DC, he returned to the UK to help set up PIRC/Social Audit, and has worked there ever since - specialising in medicines policy and drug safety issues and on matters of corporate, governmental and professional accountability relating thereto. He regularly lectures and writes on such issues. See: Publications.
Medawar has held a number of appointments with the World Health Organisation, notably as a member of the Conference of Experts on the Rational Use of Drugs (Nairobi, 1985) and as Rapporteur of the Working Group of Experts on National Drug Policy (Geneva, 1988). He is now a member of the WHO Expert Advisory Panel on Drug Policies and Management. Other appointments include membership of the Expert Advisory Panel on Consumer Interests and Health Education of the US Pharmacopeial Convention; member of the Editorial Board of Drug & Therapeutics Bulletin (1990-1995); Committee of Reference of the Friends Provident Stewardship Trusts; Trustee, Allen Lane Foundation; Hon. Fellow, Centre for Environmental Accounting, University of Dundee; and Council member of SustainAbility Ltd.
Where to find us Our office is in north-west London, not far from Chalk Farm underground station but, as our postal address indicates, visitors are welcome only by appointment. We can otherwise be reached by telephone, fax or e-mail:
Social Audit Ltd/PIRC Ltd
P.O. Box 111
London NW1 8XG
Telephone/Fax: +44 (0)171 586 7771
The Registered Office (NOT the postal address) of both