|Image: NHS Foundation via CC 2.0/Wikimedia Commons|
A report by MPs into collapsed charity Kid's Company doesn't pull any punches, pointing blame at trustees, government ministers, regulators and even auditors for their part in the failure of a tentpole of David Cameron's Big Society.
The Commons Public Administration Committee opened fire in particular at the trustees of Kid's Company, with a special focus on the head of the board, ex-BBC executive Alan Yentob. They were found to have no experience in youth services, and were therefore unwilling to rein in the profligate spending of charity head Camila Batmanghelidjh. Her claims that the rocketing budgets were essential for clinical reasons were waved through unchallenged. Without experience, the board relied on a mix of "false optimism" and "wishful thinking", leading to a culture at the charity of "negligent financial management".
That culture, with a chosen group known as "Camila's kids" being treated to luxury items and spa days, saw the charity run up against the financial buffers over and over again. Kid's Company was awarded £4.2 million in July 2015. Six weeks later, Batmanghelidjh was back at Westminster asking for more cash. An extra £3million was granted despite an investigation into financial mismanagement at Kid's Company already being underway.
It's already clear that Batmanghelidjh had friends in high places. The report asks serious questions of Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin–not least, what he was doing signing off on huge charity grants in the first place, something that was very much outside his remit. It was his signature that allowed that last £3million to go to Kid's Company, days before it shuttered for good. We should note that the Cabinet Office is the government department most under the direct control of the Prime Minister, and that Batmanghelidjh was described as the 'poster girl' of his Big Society initiative.
This lack of oversight is a common theme in the report. Kid's Company facilities were rarely inspected, despite concerns from the Charity Commission regarding a facility in Bristol, and reports of an unregulated school in South London run under the Kid's Company banner. New powers awarded to the Commission may go some way to preventing further collapses on this scale, but for thousands of vulnerable kids who have been chucked back onto the street with no coping mechanisms in place, the damage is already done.
So what are we to make of the whole mess? No-one, it seems, gets away clean from the CPAC report. From the Cabinet Office to regulators to auditors, no-one was able to say no to Camila Batmanghelidjh. The simple conclusion to make is that Kid's Company represented a keystone of The Big Society, a meeting of private entrepreneurship and public money–a keystone that could not be allowed to fail, whatever the cost. That cost, at least £15million of taxpayer's cash, can hardly be described as money well spent.
Kid's Company see things differently, and have furiously denounced the CPAC report as dangerously one-sided. They point out that the charity has been cleared of all potential abuse charges by the Metropolitan Police–charges that triggered its final catastrophic collapse. They also accuse the Committee of ignoring or sidelining the evidence Kid's Company produced to support its case. Meanwhile, the full Charity Commission investigation is ongoing. That'll make for an interesting read.
What of the charismatic Ms. Batmanghelidjh? Recent reports associate her with the Oasis Charitable Trust in South London, after she helped run their Christmas party. Regardless of the toxic blowback from the Kid's Company failure, there's no denying that the lady knows how to fundraise...