Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 173)



  160. You have told us that already. What are you doing now? You mentioned a number of things that you are doing. It is not working yet. What more are you doing? I asked you in particular whether or not you would consider having a more innovative application process, which would be more expensive for you, and I understand the pressures in the other direction, but is that something that you would consider, or are there other steps that you intend to take on the difficulties I have identified?
  (Mr Hornsby) The other possibility we have been looking at in Scotland and elsewhere is to say, what can we do to help the umbrella bodies or the infrastructure bodies? One is looking at the CVS or one is looking at regional bodies, in that we would be very willing to look at capacity building grants for those bodies who could in turn help energise the smaller local groups who are having difficulty putting bids together. So that is another channel of help, which we have certainly done and we would be willing to continue doing.

  161. In terms of liaison with local authorities, and the survey in Scotland of the social inclusion partnerships that have been established, I am not clear what role you see yourselves playing in terms of linking up with these new structures?
  (Mr Hornsby) The Chair of our Scotland Committee has had a number of discussions with the Scottish Executive, and with others, to see whether, in the focus of grants we offer, we can pay attention to the interesting new model—I think it is relatively new in Scotland—of the social inclusion partnerships. We are aware of it and we have been discussing it with those concerned.

  162. One of my areas has been up and running for well over a year and there does not seem to be much urgency with your dialogue with the Scottish Executive. Certainly I have seen no sign of it. Do you not think that is a fair point to make?
  (Mr Hornsby) It depends what the programme of the social inclusion partnership is. I do not have specific knowledge of the social inclusion partnership in your area. If they have a programme, if they have a particular series of targets, there would be some quite interesting questions—for example, are there additional areas, given that the Board funds extra projects, which would be in harmony with or would support what the partnership was doing? As I say, without a specific knowledge of the programme, I could not comment.

  163. I wonder if we can have a note on that general issue, about how they believe they could, in future, mesh-in with government initiatives designed to tackle social inclusion or social exclusion in particular8. I want to turn now to a slightly different point, which is really again an issue of spending. I want to raise with you the issue of the complexity of the monitoring procedure and the extent to which that deters groups from applying and getting enmeshed in the organisation. I have personally had the response from a number of people in my area that they just find it too difficult to deal with; it is too complicated, they have not got the time, life is too short, they wait for the social work department to do these things and in the event this never actually happens. They are put off dealing with it themselves, except for the very small grants, which seem to be excellent. It is not "One for All", is it?
  (Mr Hornsby) Awards for all.

  164. The bigger grants are just too complicated. How do you respond to that?
  (Mr Hornsby) We commissioned NOP—National Opinion Polls—to do a detailed survey of all our applicants. Is the application form a hurdle? Is it too much? Are you having difficulty with the forms? What are the bottlenecks? What is the overload? Are we cost shunting and making you pay money? We received the report back from them a couple of months ago and overall I have to say that the results were extremely positive. The majority of applicants, whether large or small, found the application forms manageable.

  165. By applicants, you mean those who applied?
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes.

  166. They did not monitor those who were put off from applying because it was too complicated?
  (Mr Hornsby) What they did do, because we captured the data of application form dispatch and return, they interviewed a number of people who had been sent the forms and had not returned them and said "Did you not return them because it was too difficult or because your project was not ready or because you found other funds?" They did the same on the monitoring. The feedback we have from this is that it is undoubtedly true that there is potentially a barrier, both in the application form and in the grant management, and we are looking to see whether there are some improvements. It is a difficult question. The simpler and easier you make it, the less rigorous and effective your control framework. The more data you seek to capture and the more rigorously you enforce, the better your accountability line, and I am certain it would strengthen my position in front of this Committee next time, but the more the clients are going to say "You are imposing a remarkably intrusive and demanding regime which we find difficult". It is getting that balance right.

  167. Absolutely. I understand that. Having been involved in a number of things I have always been prepared to accept a certain degree of loss in these circumstances.
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes.

  168. Is that something you have formalised? Have you had a formal discussion on that yourselves or is it just something which has evolved? Is there a deliberate set of decisions that have been taken to strike that balance?
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes, there has been. We have revisited this. As I say, we looked at it two months ago in the light of pretty detailed information from an NOP survey and we shall be looking at it again. NOP are producing a final report, we have had the first two parts. We shall look at it again to see if we can change the balance in a way that is sensible. It is something that we are seriously concerned about. We think we have got it about right but that is not to say that you could not move it a bit one way or the other.

Mr Williams

  169. You noted the point Mr Davidson said, asking you to put in a note, I assume you will do that?
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes, of course9.

  170. Can I observe as a Welshman that the English and the Scots have drummed us out yet again today. So can I put in a final bid here and exercise my prerogative as Chairman, could you let us have a note in relation to the imbalance within Wales?
  (Mr Hornsby) Yes10.

  171. Inevitable to some extent because Cardiff is the capital and so on, but a note would be very helpful.
  (Mr Hornsby) Indeed.

  172. And any observation you have in relation to Swansea would also be welcome.
  (Mr Hornsby) You are to be congratulated, Mr Williams, as having among all your fellow Members of this Committee, secured the largest award, six million pounds has gone to Swansea, but I did not want to say that at the beginning of this hearing.

  173. That will explain in part the answer to my colleagues who passed me a note saying "Going into the Chair has made you soft". I was hoping you were not going to tell them.
  (Mr Hornsby) We will let you have a note about the overall distribution in Wales11.

  Mr Williams: That will be very helpful. May I thank you both. It has been a very informative, very open, very good natured session. I think, if I may say, because of the pattern of questions, Mr Young, you have had rather a lucky day, I think Mr Hornsby deserves good marks in his performance assessment. Thank you very much.

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