Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (200-210)




  200. You are happy to pursue big weddings that might be internationally interesting?
  (Ms Alexander) I would always be happy to consider any opportunities like that. I would need to look at them in terms of their benefits and in terms of any dis-benefits. One of the big dis-benefits in this case was the need to restrict access to Kenwood for a day. We would try not to do that, except in exceptionally interesting circumstances. By definition that would mean exceptionally, not generally.

  Mr Davies: Thank you very much.

Mr Leigh

  201. The costs of the wedding reception were identified before it took place. It took place on 9th July, the bill was sent in August 1999, it took until January 2000 to receive payment, 6 months, is that normal procedure?
  (Ms Alexander) No, it is not, we normally get payment faster than that.

  202. Why did it take so long in this case? Were steps made to chase this matter up?
  (Ms Alexander) It was chased in all of the usual ways with reminders from our finance division.

  203. What was the nature of the conversation between you and Sir Jocelyn about the donation, did you discuss how much it should be or what it should be, your telephone conversation with him?
  (Ms Alexander) I cannot remember whether he rang me or I rang him, but it was in relation to my letter to Lady Anson. The discussion was about the fact that I thought it quite likely that the hearing would produce publicity which might link to Kenwood and that, therefore, I had taken the opportunity to tell Lady Anson about this. He asked me for some details of our current charges at Kenwood, which I gave him. When he rang me the following week it was to tell me that he had spoken with the former King of Greece and a donation would be forthcoming.

  204. By him?
  (Ms Alexander) Since the King was abroad he would be sending me a cheque to cover it.

  205. He had spoken to the King?
  (Ms Alexander) So he told me.

  206. Because the King was abroad he could not send a cheque himself?
  (Ms Alexander) I did not go into it in great detail. I was pleased that we were going receive a donation.

  207. You seriously ask us to believe that this would have happened if Sir Jocelyn had not been a friend of the former King?
  (Ms Alexander) The wedding reception?

  208. No, this extraordinary arrangement.
  (Ms Alexander) I suspect that it might well have gone ahead on the basis of charges plus benefits. Sir Jocelyn suggested a donation as well and we were very pleased to consider that the former King of Greece might like to make a donation to Kenwood in addition. I think it would have been justified in covering costs and all of the benefits we felt we were going to get from it. Personally, I would not have thought it justified just on the basis of a potential donation on top of charges. It would be the prestige of the occasion that was of value to English Heritage. That was why we went ahead with it.

  209. The truth is that Sir Jocelyn just treated this as his own private property, did he not?
  (Ms Alexander) No, that is not the case. We took this to our Commission to make sure we had formal approval for it. It was not the former Chairman who made the decision.


  210. Thank you. To be quite blunt, Ms Alexander, in terms of the use of public assets this strikes me as somewhat between cosy and slap-dash. That is not really the reason you are with us today. You have been called back to give supplementary evidence on the very narrow aspect of the Heritage corporate entertainment policy. Quite frankly, your original evidence was imprecise, incomplete and, as a result, misleading to the Committee. The demands of time on the Committee are such that we do not want to have a meeting like this after every time we see an accounting officer. We cannot afford the luxury of calling back accounting officers to correct evidence that should have been given properly in the first place. I trust the lessons of this exercise will be made known to all accounting officers, we do not want to have to do it again. Thank you for your attendance here today. Next business please.
  (Ms Alexander) Thank you.




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