Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)

WEDNESDAY 10 MAY 2000

MR ROBIN YOUNG AND MR TIMOTHY HORNSBY

  140. And hopefully it works in the autumn.
  (Mr Hornsby) I hope so.

  141. Do you think you may discover there are cases where situations have arisen where you may have a right of recall you were not aware of?
  (Mr Hornsby) The computer will not discover the cases, it will trigger the visits. I would regard it unlikely, given our client base. The type of groups that we fund are not on the whole ones who are asset strippers or who seek to gain commercial advantage from the capital assets that have been funded. What is more normal is it goes to another charity. It is possible, and that is the whole point of having post grant completion monitoring, that in some unusual cases they may, but our experience so far has been that the voluntary sector is extremely anxious to hang on to and to use for the benefit of its beneficiaries the capital assets we have granted as opposed to wanting to sell them off.

  142. It might be helpful if we could have a note on the nature of the programme that will be available to you with your new computer programme.
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes, indeed[7].

Mr Davidson

  143. I wonder if I can start by asking whether or not either of you have been in the position yourselves of applying for grants?
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes, but not to myself.

  144. No, no I did assume that actually. I just want to clarify whether or not you have now, or have had in the past, the minds of poachers, in which case it will make things a bit easier if you understand the points.
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes.

  145. Looking at page 11, figure 3, where we have the themes of grant programmes which have changed over time, I want to clarify how successful you believe the changing of themes has been and how do you measure success?
  (Mr Hornsby) The intention was to try and cover the wide variety of voluntary sector activity.

  146. I understand that. How successful has it been?
  (Mr Hornsby) Because that was the intention, you can measure success in part by the volume of applications each theme round generates and in part by the quality of the one in three or one in five applications you can fund. By that success yardstick the Board's choice of going for a series of themes has proved very effective. Each theme has generated effective applications and we have had really good schemes to fund.

  147. Looking at it from an area base though, the needs of an area will not necessarily change as your themes change, will they?
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes.

  148. I think all of us here are probably old enough to remember the Kinks and you remember their song Dedicated follower of fashion?
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes.

  149. The point is always to believe what is necessary at the time and it is easy to believe, I have always believed it in fact, when it is fashionable. To what extent do you think the applications you are getting in are basically the same applications just tailored to meet the new criteria?
  (Mr Hornsby) The two main grant programmes we are running at the moment, because we have moved from the series of themes, community involvement and poverty and disadvantage, frankly cover a pretty wide area. There is inevitably going to be a degree of tailoring. The voluntary sector are pretty good at this actually. If a funder offers particular conditions, you can try and squeeze your scheme into that. We have tried to avoid that, I think it has a distorting effect and I think it has the unfairness for local areas you suggest. The broad themes of our two existing main programmes should be sufficiently comprehensive.

  150. Some of the other ones they have been much narrower?
  (Mr Hornsby) That is true.

  151. It would not apply for previous ones.
  (Mr Hornsby) That argument is less true of our previous grant rounds, you are right.

  152. I am just wondering, going on to the section I think on page 19, figure 5, where we have assessments of whether or not the objectives have been fully provided and so on and so forth—
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes.

  153. To what extent is that because the people involved did not really intend to meet the objective they set in the first place, they had other objectives in mind and withdrew their application after reading your criteria? Therefore, the assessments we are making here and where the needs are, say, "partly provided" are actually not a problem in terms of the area, they might be a problem in terms of the criteria you have artificially established. Do you have any thoughts on that?
  (Mr Hornsby) It is an interesting angle. The evidence we have is that because of the figure I quoted, in these three grants rounds we were funding one in five of the applications. We had a very rich mix. We had many more schemes that were fundable than we actually did fund. To that extent, therefore, we have skimmed off what the assessors considered were the better schemes. I do not think that the reason for under-performance was someone had artificially skewed their scheme to meet our particular criteria; the reasons for under-performance were, interestingly, quite varied, but I have not seen much evidence on any of the post mortems we have done internally, that when we said, "Why was this scheme pretty much a flop?", the case officer said, "It is because their heart or mind was not in it."

  154. "Pretty much of a flop" is a bit extreme, I was thinking more in terms of the "mostly provided" or "partly provided" categories, that would result in a loss of effectiveness as you would see it, but not necessarily in terms of the people that got the money and what they actually wanted. The hoops that you set them were wrong, do you accept that?
  (Mr Hornsby) I think that is possible. It is difficult to know exactly how you would calibrate or check that. Would you say to a group, when you were doing the end-of-grant assessment, "Did you really believe in this, did you have to alter it a bit?" It becomes a bit suggestive.

  155. That is what third-party investigators or monitors are for, is it not?
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes. Our experience, frankly, is that given the degree of over-bidding, we did have the luxury, as a grant maker, to try and select schemes that seem to us strong and well fitting.

  156. Giving you had the luxury over disadvantaged area based single organisations and advantaged bigger organisations which would have a range of things from which they could select to slot in, whatever criteria you had, they would find something, so you would not necessarily be addressing the needs of a particular area, even though big organisations were quite possibly doing well at that?
  (Mr Hornsby) It is true that large sophisticated organisations have a greater capacity to fine-tune the applications. We logged, pretty rigorously, the income of the bodies we granted and 40 per cent of our grants go to voluntary sector bodies with an income of less than £20,000.

  157. That is 40 per cent by volume of application, not by volume of money though?
  (Mr Hornsby) It is 40 per cent by volume of application and 23 per cent by resources. We have checked on the portfolios and on the recommendations to the Committee through time to say, "Are we getting the balance right? Are we letting too much go to the larger and more sophisticated bodies?" Again I understand what you are saying, but on the whole our experience has been that small, locally based groups, have proved remarkably innovative and imaginative at getting decent schemes to us that we can fund. As I have said, the figures I have quoted show that we do get the balance right.

  158. You mentioned, I think in response to a couple of my colleagues, an awareness of particular areas, in which case you will be aware of grants in my area. I took the opportunity of checking beforehand, I have got a constituency that has the highest unemployment in Scotland and it is well down the list, 500 odd out of 600 constituencies, in terms of getting grants, and well above average in terms of spending the money on lottery tickets. Clearly something is not working there. Can I come back to the question of minimisation of costs by yourselves? It seems to me that spending more money yourselves to either encourage applicants or to have an innovative process of applications would actually help areas such as mine more, rather than those big organisations that have the staff, the time and the money to be able to put in absolutely perfect applications. Many big organisations could put applications in Latin or priced in groats if that is what you asked for, whereas my area could not. Is this an issue that you are conscious of, and how do you propose to address it?
  (Mr Hornsby) Very much so. As I have indicated, we have moved from being a largely reactive grant maker to being more proactive. As Mr Young has said, the 1998 Act gives us further tools for that. We have done much more recently in terms of helper sessions and in terms of trying to rebalance. At the end of the day it is really a question of judgment, and that is a matter for my board when they look at the overall budget, and how they balance the developmental work, the targeting work, the support work, which costs money and which is less money for grants. I think on the whole we have probably got the balance about right. In the case of Glasgow we have accepted that it is much more costly.

  159. I understand that within Glasgow there are clear discrepancies, it is the better-off part of Glasgow that benefits from this approach and the poorer areas have remained with very little. Were it not for the local authority's involvement, my own area would have nothing at all. Clearly your system has not worked to date. What steps are you taking to address that now? (Mr Hornsby) We look at the match between the local deprivation indicators, in ration terms as you quoted, and the way the grants go. If, in any county or region, there is a major mismatch, we then see what we can do to bring it into balance.


7   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 122 (PAC 1999-2000/185). Back


 
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