Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-162)



  160. It is difficult to monitor how long the investigations take?
  (Mr Gillespie) It has proved difficult because of the information systems that the Commission has in place which we have to reprogramme and rejig to make this happen. We are doing that because we recognise that it is a problem. For investigations work it is very clear, and you will see at the beginning of every inquiry report on the web site there is a start point for the inquiry and a finish point for the inquiry. I am referring to a lot of the other cases going through the system. I review the longer standing inquiries myself to try and make sure we have got direction. There are some good reasons why some of these cases are open a long time, court proceedings being a prime example where we are not in the driving seat and we have to accept it. We do actively review the caseloads and do exactly the same process but obviously on a sample basis with a much larger volume of work going through than the normal casework stream of charities' work.

Mr Gardiner

  161. Can I just ask you, it comes out of the case that you are dealing with that I referred to, obviously there are a number of public bodies, local authorities amongst them, who are, not to put too fine a point on it, strapped for cash and they are looking at creative accounting as a way of generating money to do the sorts of things that they want to do, often very laudably. Are you aware of a substantial body of charities that have been set up by such bodies as local authorities in order to access funds in this way and are you content that all of them are operating clearly within their charitable remit rather than the shady area between what is a local authority obligation and the charity?
  (Mr Gillespie) I think there are probably three things I would like to say in response to that, the first of which is that our registration staff are very well aware of the potential difficulties involved here and they scrutinise applications where they think this may occur with particular rigour. We are not consciously aware of putting a charity onto the register where we know that it is going to be an issue to start off with. We put arrangements in place to try and make sure that the two sides are disengaged and there are clear guidelines. Secondly, we have become aware in a number of cases, the most obvious one you can read about on the web site is Stratford College and Guild Estates. The trustees of the charity were Stratford Town Council which was clearly using income from the charity to provide statutory functions. We are very hot on that issue and Stratford Town Council knew exactly our views on that and we have followed through the actions to put the charity and the town council straight. As far as guaranteeing that there is nobody else on the register that is doing that, clearly I could not give that guarantee but our monitoring process is designed to look very closely at the relationships between charities and other organisations. It is one of the things that may trigger one of our accountants to have a look at the accounts and reports. In answer to your main question am I aware of a body of charities that has been set up like that or are behaving in that way, the answer is I am not aware of a body like that, but we are very alert to the possibility.

  162. I see ******, the charity dealt with in case 2, grew very rapidly from a small beginning in the 1980s until it had a turnover of £700,000 in the late1990s. What percentage of its turnover was accounted for by administration?
  (Mr Stoker) I think that we would need to give you a note on that, Chairman. I could not give you an answer off the top of my head. [10]

  Chairman: Thank you very much. You obviously have a very difficult job and we wish you well. Thank you for answering our questions.

10   Note by witness: Based on the charity's accounts to 31 December 2000. £41,385 out of £318,266-some 13 per cent. Back

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