Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001
60. You did not consult anybody in your organisation
who worked in Wales?
(Mr Sparks) No.
61. That perhaps explains why some of the information
you have was incorrect because you did not have enough contact
with Wales to know exactly what was going on.
(Mr Sparks) I do not think it does explain that because
that information was available a long time before that decision
was being considered. Some of the discussions we had the previous
year about cost savings with people in Wales was for example on
the basis that the advocacy projects ran to March 2002. That was
the information I was given. There was no reason for believing
that that was incorrect at the time.
62. What was the correct information that you
should have had about the advocacy projects, because you seemed
to base your decision on the understanding that they were going
to end in 2002 or a contributory part of your decision.
(Mr Sparks) No. It was neither. I do not think that
we argued the case on the basis that they would close. It was
a piece of information. Even the information I have now I would
not want to put on the record as guaranteed to be accurate. We
have an accountant who has gone in and is examining the information
that we have. He has given me the information he has to date which,
as I understand it, is what he believes to be correct. If you
ask him, "Are you guaranteeing this is correct?" he
would say, "No, because I need to do more investigation."
63. I cannot understand how you made these decisions
without having all this information at your finger tips. Perhaps
you could tell us what is the situation with the advocacy projects
(Mr Sparks) The information I have is that the project
in Caerphilly has an agreement to March 2003; the one for Swansea,
Neath and Port Talbot to 2003; the North Wales Advocacy Project
64. That is all the information you have?
(Mr Sparks) The others apparently are 2002.
65. When you came to meet with the Welsh group
of Labour MPs you told us that they were all finishing in March
(Mr Sparks) That is what I believed to be the case.
66. And that employees had had to be put on
to six month contracts. You gave that as one of the reasons for
explaining that the work was ending in any case so this is part
of the decision about why you were able to withdraw.
(Mr Sparks) That puts together things that did not
go together. First of all, people were not in six month contracts.
We would have to give them six months' notice of impending redundancy.
Secondly, that I understood to be the fact at the time. The reason
for making the decision hung around our need to reduce our voluntary
income spending overall for the Society by £6.4 million,
of which this was one part. The facts, as I understood them, about
the contract were what I understood them to be but they were not
the deciding factor. The factor hung around the need to reduce
our voluntary income spending.
67. That was put forward as a contributory factor.
The other issue that has caused a great deal of distress among
the professional people working in Wales was your article, Mr
Sparks, in Community Care where you gave an impression
about things that were not true. For example, you said, "The
advocacy services which are now a statutory requirement . . .".
I am sure people have made this point to you: that advocacy services
are not a statutory requirement in Wales and it indicated to us
that you were not very much in touch with what was happening in
(Mr Sparks) That is not correct. The discussions I
was having with people were that they were of a different status
than they were in England in view of the outcomes of the North
Wales Inquiry and that they were more or less a statutory requirement,
but it was incorrect of me to state that they were a statutory
requirement in Community Care.
68. That did cause a lot of distress amongst
professionals when they saw you, in your own words, writing in
a respected social work journal saying that these projects were
a statutory requirement when they are quite specifically not.
You also said in the same Community Care article that your
applications for grants were not approved by the Welsh Assembly,
which again we all found very mystifying. What comment do you
have on that?
(Mr Sparks) Part of that comment is to do with writing
a brief article and trying to put in a piece of information very
briefly. The situation is this, as I understand it, having talked
to one of the staff today: we made ten local bids for objective
one funding and one consolidated bid nationally. We made three
bids for our project Sylfaen which was in Bangor, three from the
St David's team in Caernarfon, three from the Valleys Project
in Pontypridd and one from Merthyr Tydfil. The ten local bids
were approved by the Wales European Funding Office but turned
down by the Local Partnership Boards in most cases because the
Partnership Boards said they were over-subscribed. In one case
they did not give any reason. The national bid was turned down
by the Wales Council for Voluntary Action because it was seen
to be too diverse. The phrase was "not having additionality."
In that particular comment, it is my understanding that these
bodies who have delegated powers to deal with these applications
were being overseen by something like a programme commissioning
body which I understood had delegated powers from the Assembly.
This was a time when the Assembly was being set up and all the
paperwork was not straightforward. We made applications which
were for objective one funding which were turned down. I am sorry
if one sentence which was not the key point of the article misrepresented
the position but there were those applications; they did go through
processes which had been set up in Wales to deal with objective
one funding and they were all turned down.
69. This shows a complete misunderstanding of
the processes as they work in Wales because when I and many other
people read that you had been turned down for grants by the Welsh
Assembly we all assumed that you had been to the health and social
services section of the Assembly and had asked for child care
grants, extra grants through the Children Youth Partnerships and
had been asking for grants for help from that organisation. What
you were talking about was the objective one funding, which is
considered completely separately, where not accepting some of
those grants was as a result of local partnerships deciding that
they were not appropriate or that WEFO (Wales European Funding
Office), which is a separate organisation set up by the Assembly,
had decided that grants were not appropriate. The lack of knowledge
about what was happening in Wales is staggering. We do find it
extremely distressing that this decision seems to have been made
without a close knowledge of the way Wales works and what has
happened since devolution.
(Mr Sparks) The issue about the trustees' decision
was not related to the objective one funding. That article was
just pointing out there are issues about the funding of voluntary
organisations and our experience through these various bodies
has not been successful in that. A number of people have said
to me, "Why did you not apply for objective one funding?"
70. You said you did not get any grants from
the National Assembly. Why did you not ask for help from the Welsh
Assembly? Why did you not go to the Minister for Health and Social
Services to ask for help? Why did you not go to the chair of the
Social Services Committee to ask for help? Did you go and ask
anybody for help to try to keep the show going in Wales?
(Mr Sparks) No, because the issue again was not to
do with the funding that might be provided by statutory authorities
but the funding that the Society had available to itself. In recent
correspondence from Christine Walby, she wrote to me about possible
sources of funding to extend the work through to 2003. She made
the comment that the demands of the National Assembly exceed the
resources available. It does not seem to me that even she is saying
at this particular time it would be easy to fill that gap. We
were looking for a way of filling the gap of the voluntary income
that we were already putting in and I do not see that applying
for a grant is going to fill that particular gap.
71. I said who did you consult and ask for assistance,
which is not necessarily giving a grant. This decision has a huge
effect in Wales and on the way that health and social services
and part of the Assembly function. Surely it would have seemed
common practice to say that you are in trouble in Wales and ask
for help. That help does not mean necessarily financial assistance
but just to consult with your partner agencies, with the local
authorities. One of the most shocking things about this whole
thing is the total lack of consultation. I believe it is possible
to put the case to your staff as well and to young people, to
say, "We are in difficulties. We are trying to find a solution".
To just announce this without any consultation with such a devastating
blow to Wales and with devastating implications is pretty unacceptable.
I cannot understand the logic of why you did not consult with
anybody. I do not know if the trustees have any views, whether
you would have thought it normal to consult with organisations
that you were working in partnership with and who were giving
money to you to run the projects, because as I understand it the
advocacy projects are run by you but you receive a considerable
amount of funding from other organisations who put the money in
and you work in partnership and you deliver the services. Would
it not be normal practice to consult with those organisations?
(Revd Mr Glover) Clearly, the decision to pull out
of Wales was taken very quickly. At the end of July, I was appointed
by the then chairman as the first chairman of the Welsh Advisory
Committee of the Children's Society and by September the decision
had been taken to pull out of Wales. I was told two weeks before
the meeting of the trustees that there was a proposal to pull
out of Wales. I asked if I could tell the Archbishop and the other
bishops in Wales and I was able to do that but the timescale was
very short and it was very difficult to consult anybody.
72. As I understand it, earlier in the year
you did have a report prepared about the implications of devolution.
Did you change your name to Children's Society Cymru?
(Mr Sparks) Yes.
73. You set up this committee. 30 people were
approached. To move from doing that to closing down all the work
in Wales in such a short timescale certainly explains why there
was no consultation and it makes you wonder if it was a really
properly considered decision in view of that. Do any of you have
(Mr Sparks) I think it is for the trustees who were
there to say whether it was a properly considered decision. We
provided the information and the background to it and the options
that were available. The trustees believed that they were in a
position to make the decision, which they did.
(Lady Toulson) My remit was to implement the decision.
My remit was not to consult. My remit was to go and see the Archbishop
and to tell him what the position was and to consult about how
it was to be implemented, not whether it was to be implemented.
(Revd Mr Glover) My recollection of how the decision
came about was that there was an urgent need to save money. No
one would deny that. Seemingly, the Children's Society is realigning
itself in the voluntary sector to become a social justice organisation.
The advocacy in Wales did not seem to fit into that kind of pattern
and I suppose is not seen as being politically glamourous enough
because the idea is that the Society is able to influence government
by the work it does. I certainly had the impression that the trustees
felt that the fact that the majority of the projects were coming
to an end in March 2002 was an important factor because that would
mean that we would not have to break contracts. The cost of working
in Wales was stated to be a reason for pulling out of the principality.
74. You are confirming that misinformation that
was given to the meeting did help contribute to the decision?
(Revd Mr Glover) I did not realise at the time that
it was wrong.
Julie Morgan: For a reputable children's charity
to put wrong information forward when such important decisions
are being made is inexcusable.
75. On the same issue, what Julie Morgan has
shown is that consultation is not just a matter of etiquette and
being polite to the people you are partnering; it is a vital management
tool. You get the correct information which clearly, as has been
exposed, did not happen; you also involve the imagination and
the ideas of your workforce, your volunteers, other institutions
and other agencies. Your failure to harness that potential, if
nothing else, surely is mismanagement?
(Mr Sparks) I do not think it bears any resemblance
to what is happening. For example, we have considerably more projects
closing in England. We are not talking to the authorities concerned
until we decide what our programme approach will be. In Wales,
what went to the trustees was a range of options and we needed
to know what decisions the trustees were going to reach. We can
make a recommendation but that was not final until the trustees
decided what they wanted to do. It has never been our practice
to have a consultation on the basis of what might happen but to
go to our trustees and say, "These are the options before
us" and for them to discuss them first.
76. That would be fair enough but one of the
options perhaps that could have been put to the trustees is, "We
have these various avenues we can go down. Let us consult or workforce,
the partner agencies that are affected and government and, in
this case, the National Assembly." I am not advocating that
you just adopt consultation in your dealings with Wales. I am
sure it would help your management in your dealings with projects
in England as well.
(Revd Mr Glover) I did ask at the trustees' meeting
for a stay of execution for 12 months to enable that kind of consultation
to take place but clearly I was a lone voice and I lost that.
77. I would like to ask those of you who are
here today: do you understand devolution? If all the members of
your board were here, I would ask them the same question. It is
clear to me that perhaps Reverend Glover is the only person here,
sitting on that side, who understands what devolution is all about.
Mr Sparks, in what I assume was the hurriedly put together document
that you faxed through to my office this morning, the headline
is, "The Children's Society's decision to withdraw from Wales"
and you say, "The decision to withdraw from Wales was taken
because it is the only option available." When you met us
two weeks ago, you talked about options. You have talked about
options this afternoon and in writing this morning you say "the
only option available." Point six of your hurriedly put together
briefing says, "In total we need to make savings of £6.4
million. Of this 5.1 million will come from England and 1.3 million
from Wales." Have you looked at the population figures for
Wales and the population figures of England? How do they relate?
Can I have an answer to those three questions, please? Do you
understand devolution? Could you answer that first?
(Mr Sparks) I presume it is a rhetorical question.
78. It is a question I would like an answer
(Mr Sparks) I would not claim to understand devolution
as fully as someone who lives in Wales. We have had a working
party looking at the impact of devolution.
79. You have confirmed what I already thought.
(Mr Sparks) I presumed it was a rhetorical question.
That is why I was not going to answer it.