Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  120. That often has not happened in some cases where there was a slight worry about whether the grant was being properly used. Have you taken anyone to court, have you tried to enforce through the courts a need for these assessments?
  (Mr Hornsby) The situation, clearly analysed in the report, is that there have been unfortunate and in some cases long delays, but we have got there in the end. We have now significantly stiffened our procedures. If after four weeks the end-of-grant report, which is the crucial one, does not arrive, grant officers are instructed to make three telephone calls and discover what has happened. If at the end of the three telephone calls they have still not replied, they will be sent a letter. If after that we still do not get it, they will be sent a letter by lawyers saying that they are in breach of terms and conditions and unless we are sent it we will sue for the return of the grant on the ground that there has been non-fulfilment.

  121. Have any lawyers' letters gone out?
  (Mr Hornsby) We have not got into that situation yet.

  122. Even though some of them have been well over a year?
  (Mr Hornsby) Indeed. It is precisely because of that that we are tightening the system.

  123. You could presumably have sent lawyers' letters for some of those, if you chose to?
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes.

  124. It would not have stopped you in previous times, given that they were 13 months late or more; you could have, but you decided not to?
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes.

  125. When the premises turn out to be smaller than expected and you have offered a grant and, therefore, it is expected that fewer clients will be able to use the premises, do you in those circumstances reduce the grant?
  (Mr Hornsby) It depends what the grant was for. If in the model you suggest we had tied the grant to a particular number or level of beneficiaries and in the event, for one reason or another, that was not happening, we would certainly think of adjusting the grant. If, say, the grant is to re-roof a community hall and it is not specifically tied to the volume of usage of the hall—

  126. I am talking about buying a premises which turns out for some reason to be a small one.
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes.

  127. The original premises they cannot get, they are gazumped, as you mentioned earlier.
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes.

  128. They go for a different premises, it is smaller, it can only take perhaps 50 clients as opposed to the 75 it was going to take. Would you then reduce the grant? Have you reduced grants in that sort of case?
  (Mr Hornsby) We have recovered grants to the tune of just under half a million.

  129. I am not talking about recovering grants because that would only happen presumably once you paid them out. What I am talking about is a case in which you offer a grant on the basis that a particular building will be purchased. It then is not purchased, something else is purchased instead which is smaller, would you then reduce the grant? "I am sorry, you obviously cannot go ahead with your original plans so we are not going to give you so much grant"?
  (Mr Hornsby) I do take the point and I do not want to sound as if I am evading it. It depends a bit on the case. It may be with smaller premises you could still serve the same number of clients by adjusting times and so on.

  130. Let me put the question another way. Have you ever reduced such a grant?
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes. We have reduced grants in cases where we consider we are not getting the full coverage that—

  131. You are not getting or will not get? I am not talking about a case in which after which you have discovered something.
  (Mr Hornsby) No. If it becomes clear that the scheme is significantly scaled down, and this happens, we will then adjust the grant proportionately. Unless, as I say, one does not want to be unreasonable as a funder, if people come back and say they can work round or they ask for a grant variation order, we will look at the application.

  132. You would decide.
  (Mr Hornsby) We would do.

  133. In paragraphs 2.17 and 2.18 we are told about the ones where the grant offered has been under spent for some reason. At paragraph 2.17 it implies that quite a lot of money has been recovered.
  (Mr Hornsby) 2.17?

  134. Yes, 2.17. It implies quite a lot of money has been recovered in some cases where the grant was under spent.
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes.

  135. From the looks of things none of those cases occurred in the NAO's sample.
  (Mr Hornsby) That is true.

  136. Those five, the money was all allowed to be spent by the organisation concerned?
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes.

  137. It was just pure chance that money seems to cover quite a lot of cases but none of that turned out there?
  (Mr Hornsby) Indeed. As you say, slightly over three quarters of a million pounds has been clawed back as an under spend. It so happened in the particular cases when the NAO drilled down—this is always a disadvantage of a sample in a sense—in the cases they chose the under spend was relatively modest. The groups produced positive proposals for putting that under spend to an effective part of the scheme and we agreed.

  138. Can I ask just one final question then on that. The end of paragraph 2.18 says that you were satisfied that the money would add value. Now, if you spend money on almost anything you are going to add some value. My question is was that tested against how you could have used that money in other cases where perhaps you might have got a different value, perhaps an enhanced value?
  (Mr Hornsby) I think the honest answer to that is no because the only way you can do that would be to look at the amount of under spend we were shifting and say "What would that buy us elsewhere for other grants?" I think the frank answer is that I just do not think it is practical to do that. What we want to be assured is that under spend goes to the project and that it is not dead money, otherwise we would claw it back, it really enhances. It is real added value and we are getting as a result really good value for money from that project. I do take the point of your question, I do not see how you could compare that with hypothetically what it might buy us elsewhere.

Mr Williams

  139. Before I go to Mr Davidson, following on the points about the exchange of property values and property having been sold, do you think that when you get your computerised register, late in the autumn hopefully—
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes?

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 16 February 2001