Select Committee on Welsh Affairs First Report


The Children's Society's reasons for withdrawing from Wales

(a)  The Society's reasons for deciding to withdraw from Wales are unpersuasive in the extreme. The principal argument, that the decision was taken in order for the Society to retain its status as a body which is able to influence government policy, is scarcely credible in the context of the outrage with which the decision has been greeted in Parliament, in the National Assembly for Wales and within the Church in Wales. The second argument, that the Society's operations would "implode" if it tried to continue its work in Wales, is also highly dubious. Lady Toulson suggested that this argument was put to the Trustees by the Society's management and that the Trustees relied heavily on it when making their decision. However, not one of our witnesses was able to elaborate on it or to offer any evidence in support of it. The best the Chief Executive could manage was that it was "the judgement of the Director for Children and Young People". The Society's arguments about the cost of providing services in Wales might well have a grounding in fact. Wales is, in the words of the Most Revd Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Wales, "a variously and seriously disadvantaged country", but that is all the more reason for the Society to continue its work there. Witnesses told us that the Society does not expect each region of England to break even in terms of voluntary income and expenditure, yet the Society talks of Wales being "subsidised" by England. Finally, it is unacceptable for the Society to use the cost of Welsh language provision as an excuse for pulling out of Wales and this was brought to the Trustees' attention at the meeting on 19 October 2001. It is inconsistent with the Society's own statement in its Welsh Language Scheme, that the cost of Welsh language provision is a cost for the Society as a whole rather than a cost for Wales alone. It also has worrying implications for the Society's work with other children whose first language is not English (paragraph 16).


(b)  It is regrettable that the Society did not consult with, or seek assistance from, the National Assembly (or, for that matter, any other body which might have been able to offer assistance) before making its decision to withdraw entirely from Wales. It is particularly disappointing that the Society's managers in London should have recommended to the Trustees that the Society withdraw from Wales without once consulting their own Welsh managers. This is especially significant in view of the management's apparent ignorance of the funding arrangements for their operations in Wales with which Welsh staff had been closely involved (paragraph 22).

Accuracy of the information supplied to Trustees

(c)  It is difficult to understand the Chief Executive's position in relation to the inaccurate information that was presented to the Trustees. It is not at all clear why information about the length of contracts and the duration of funding arrangements should be regarded by the Trustees as being of little significance in considering their decision. The Chief Executive's assertion that this was the case is at odds with that of the Revd Mr Glover, one of the Trustees. Whatever the impact of mistakes in the management's presentation of the case on the Trustees' decision, we are concerned that the Charity's management were unable to present the Board with accurate, relevant and complete information and that the Trustees have been inadvertently misled on matters of fact with which the Charity's managers might have been expected to be more familiar. We believe there is a strong case for the Society to review its systems for making information available to Trustees in order to ensure that in future major decisions are taken on the basis of accurate information (paragraph 23).

Timing of the decision and alternative plans

(d)  It seems that there were two separate and mutually exclusive sets of plans being made by the Society in July 2001: a plan to continue and strengthen its Welsh operation, through the Welsh Advisory Committee, and a plan to close it down entirely. An alternative explanation is that the decision to close the operations in Wales was taken rather hastily, in the three-month period between the Advisory Committee being established and the Trustees' meeting on 19 October. Neither possibility inspires a great deal of confidence that the decision was carefully considered by the Society's officials before it was presented to the Trustees for approval. It is regrettable, as the Minister pointed out, that the newly-established Welsh Advisory Committee was excluded from such a grave decision being taken with respect to the Charity's operations in Wales (paragraph 25).

Responsibility for the decision

(e)  It is proper for the Trustees, rather than the Society's professional management, to take major policy and strategic decisions such as the one in question. It is right that in doing so they should take account of advice from management. That does not mean that the management bear no responsibility at all for the decisions, especially in a case where, according to the two Trustees who gave evidence to us, they have given the Board a strong steer towards a particular course of action. We are concerned that a situation has arisen in which, for various reasons, neither the Chair of the Board of Trustees nor the Chief Executive of the Society feels able to acknowledge responsibility for, or mount a robust defence of, such a controversial decision (paragraph 28).

(f)  It is important that the Charity's Trustees are able to fulfil their duties fully from the outset, carefully scrutinising proposals which emanate from the Society's management and making informed decisions about the Society's future. To this end, we believe that the Society should consider providing a comprehensive programme of training and induction for new Trustees (paragraph 29).

The Assembly's response

(g)  We commend the Assembly for its swift response to the situation and we are pleased that negotiations over the future of the Children's Society's services in Wales are making progress. We call on the Government to monitor further developments closely with a view to offering any assistance which it might reasonably give (paragraph 32).

A code of practice for voluntary organisations

(h)  It is important that charities and other organisations providing services in partnership with government at all levels understand the new political geography of the UK, post-devolution (paragraph 33).

(i)  Following the Children's Society's decision, we believe that a code of practice which voluntary bodies operating in more than one country of the UK could choose to adopt would be a welcome development. A public commitment from voluntary bodies to consult properly before withdrawing from, or significantly reducing services in, Wales (or any other constituent part of the UK) would help to remove some of the uncertainty surrounding the work of the voluntary sector in Wales which has arisen in the aftermath of the Children's Society's decision. We urge the Government to support such a code of practice and to consider whether its adoption should be a condition of bodies receiving funding from the UK Government (paragraph 34).

The Children's Society's subsequent advertising

(j)  Despite the publicity which has surrounded the decision to withdraw from Wales, it is reasonable to assume that many people will continue to believe that the Society, which has worked in Wales for 113 years, will continue to be active in that country. People in Wales who wish to support a children's charity must not be given the false impression that, by donating to the Children's Society, they will be supporting continuing work with children locally in Wales. The Children's Society must therefore take pains to ensure that neither the content nor the placement of any of its advertising, or of any other publicity or public statements issued by or on behalf of the Society, gives the false impression that it will continue to work in Wales (paragraph 36).

The Charity Commission

(k)  We will send a copy of this Report to the Charity Commission so that they may consider what action, if any, it would be appropriate for them to take in view of our findings (paragraph 38).

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Prepared 15 February 2002