Thursday, 4 February 2016

Kids Company scandal

Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the committee, presented the Public Administration and Public Affairs Committee report on the failure of Kids Company to the Commons this morning and answered questions on it. Mr Jenkin trod a delicate line between asserting his belief in maintaining the integrity of our system of government and direct criticism of ministers in the cabinet office. He did, though, imply disapproval of prime minister David Cameron's use of the disgraced charity for publicity. He also questioned the power and unaccountability of the Cabinet Office.

It was good to hear a Conservative standing up for the traditions of the British civil service as established by Northcote and Trevelyan under the direction of Liberal prime minister WE Gladstone in the nineteenth century. The report had confirmed that after the Department for Education had refused to continue funding the charity, the Cabinet Office had forced the diversion of funds from that Department's support for youth services in England to its own coffers and thence to Kids Company. Both auditors and other senior civil servants strongly advised against this. Ministers Matthew Hancock and Oliver Letwin had to sign a letter acknowledging this in authorising the payment.

This was the most egregious example yet of government decision based on pressure from headline-hogging pressure groups and anticipation on how ministers could be presented in the media, rather than on hard evidence and advice from knowledgeable and impartial civil servants. As a result, millions of pounds of our money have been wasted.

There was praise for the all-too-few journalists and an editor who were not swept up in the Yentob and Batmanghelidjh spin machine. There was criticism of those who were aware of the charity's shortcomings but neither went public nor had a quiet word with trustees or charity commission about them. The trustees themselves are not blameless, but the committee found them to be ill-equipped to judge on how well the charity was meeting its aims. The committee called for stricter standards on the appointment of trustees.

Will it happen again? Mr Jenkin was pessimistic but trusted that there would be improvements. I wonder how seriously the government will seek these. Both Conservative and Labour politicians have interests in maintaining the system as is.

Footnote: it has just been reported that charity Age UK received commission from the utility company concerned for steering old people into schemes like this. Not only did they not disclose this to the people concerned, but also failed to warn them back in 2014 that prices can go down as well as up - which they duly did, leaving their pensioners worse off.

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