Outgoing Booktrust chief executive Viv Bird has defended Amazon’s sponsorship of the Booktrust Best Book Awards, even though it resulted in author Allan Ahlberg turning down a lifetime achievement award.
In July, Ahlberg said he felt compelled to take the stand on ethical grounds, following widespread reports of Amazon’s tax avoidance in the UK. However, Bird said she had “no regrets” about partnering with the online retailer: “Amazon had done nothing wrong legally; we would not partner with anybody who wasn’t operating legally. Its sponsorship enabled us to achieve our mission of reaching more children and that was justified.”
Bird said that in her seven years at Booktrust (she joined the charity in 2007, and will leave in March 2015) she “had to fight” for funding, adding that her biggest challenge was when the Department for Education called to say it was taking away Booktrust’s £13m grant in 2010.
“I put the phone down and I was absolutely stunned,” said Bird. “We’d really been working to cut costs and reduce our budget that year.” Bird managed to claw back some of the funding (this year Booktrust’s budget is £6m), but the charity still had to make cuts and create more targeted programmes. “We’re still reaching 2.3 million children every year through our book gifting programmes. That’s a massive achievement,” she said. “We’ve shifted the focus.
We’ve developed targeted programmes such as the Bookstart Corner initiative [which works with children’s centres to give book packs to families most in need].”
Bird said she was “very sad” to be leaving her current role, but wants to have a better work–life balance. “I want to have the chance to try new things that I’ve put on the back burner for a number of years, both personally but also around reading and literacy. I feel I can contribute differently [and] give myself some time to do things like travel, play tennis, maybe even write. You can’t do that when you’re working flat out.”