Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
MONDAY 13 NOVEMBER 2000
80. So the first five months was because you
were surprised and you were offering the papers. It took five
months before you even went to the department?
(Dr Perry) No. As I have said previously, the actual
time to the giving of the permission was four months and the other
two months was actually making physical arrangements. From the
time that the NAO
81. Three months arguing about it and then a
month later to the department and two months making physical arrangements?
(Dr Perry) Something like that.
82. Could I ask the C&AG, would you normally
expect to take two months to make arrangements to go and visit
(Sir John Bourn) No.
83. Thank you. In future if a request of this
sort came through again, how quickly would you expect to give
permission? Would you, in particular, expect to have to go to
the department again on each occasion?
(Dr Perry) A lot depends on the circumstances. There
is a presumption that in pursuit of sector-wide studies and efficiency
studies and value for money studies that we clearly recognise
the NAO's rights in this and that would happen by return of post.
In other areas it depends on the circumstances. There is one particular
case at the moment where we are working with the NAO where I think
the permission took less than a week.
84. If there was a fraud investigation, would
you expect to be able to give permission in a week?
(Dr Perry) I could not say in advance how long it
would take, or indeed what the Corporation's attitude would be,
because it depends on the circumstances of the case. What I cannot
do is fetter the discretion of the Corporation because it is the
Government's view that there should not be an automatic right,
therefore I could not say in advance there would be an automatic
85. Are you saying that the fact there is no
automatic right means that you would always have to go back to
the department to discuss it and that month would always occur?
(Dr Perry) No, I do not think I would need to say
that but I do have to say that the Corporation would have to consider
the issues raised in the absence of this automatic right.
86. You said in answer to something else Mr
Griffiths was asking you that you would not expect to be able
to send out lists of people you thought were incompetent, or who
had been shown to be incompetent, unless there was a criminal
case against them. Is there not a case to be made for saying that
there are a lot of people who can be proved to be incompetent
without necessarily being criminally incompetent and that you
have some sort of duty to your housing associations to make sure
that a list is available of those who have proved themselves incompetent?
(Dr Perry) I might need to consider that. I would
say that we could be on very dangerous ground because people's
reputations who were damaged might seek to challenge that.
87. Presumably you could give people the facts
of the case that, as appears to have happened in this case, one
particular valuer went on and on and on valuing houses at a price
which was above what anyone else would have valued them at. At
least you could give that information to people, you do not necessarily
have to call them incompetent, you just say that this has happened
and other people might like to pay attention to it.
(Dr Perry) The problem with valuation is that it is
probably one of the worst examples for us to choose because valuation
is a notoriously inexact science. I think the report itself does
make the point that whilst clearly there was something going on
which was reprehensible, in practice it is very difficult to pin
down what should be the true valuation of a property at any moment
in time, although certainly you can spot a pattern if somebody
is consistently trying to buck the market. On the question of
circulating lists of names, I know in my previous job as a Local
Authority Chief Executive that even with suspected child offenders
you had to be very careful what you said about who and to which
88. Can I turn to Mr Clark for a few questions.
When appointed, Mr Clark, you were apparently not informed about
the previous allegations about Hartshorn, is that correct?
(Mr Clark) That is correct, yes.
89. Yet you were informed later on in that year,
a month or two after you took up the appointment, by an officer
of the Corporation that there was some query hanging over this
(Mr Clark) That is correct.
90. And on that occasion you talked to your
Operations Director, the person who has since gone but went before
this all came about?
(Mr Clark) Yes.
91. This person gave you his or her view that
Hartshorn was quite okay?
(Mr Clark) Yes. The allegations were very general
about his dishonesty which made it very difficult to investigate
myself. I raised the general issue with the Operations Director
and he assured me that he believed John Hartshorn was honest but
agreed that he would keep a closer eye on him.
92. That was the only person you consulted about
(Mr Clark) Yes.
93. You did not ask the man's direct boss, the
(Mr Clark) No, I did not. The person I spoke to was
the person who reported directly to me.
94. What references had Hartshorn been given
when he came to Focus?
(Mr Clark) John Hartshorn came to Focus as one of
the founding associations. He was already working for Hestia Housing
Association before Focus was formed. I think he had been there
for something like ten years.
95. Presumably you would have had a personnel
record on him which would have held his references?
(Mr Clark) Yes. My recollection is that he came with
a reference but I would have to go back and check that and provide
a written answer.
96. Did you check his references at the time?
(Mr Clark) In June 1994?
97. When you were warned that he might be dishonest?
(Mr Clark) No, I did not.
98. Given that he had apparently left his previous
housing association under a cloud, might this not have shown up
(Mr Clark) It might have done but, as I said, the
briefing which I received from the officer of the Corporation
was quite vague and at that time I did not think anything beyond
talking to his superior was the right course of action.
99. Is it not a fairly simple thing to do, to
check somebody's references if there is some query over their
honesty? The first thing you would do is go and see if anybody
had queried this in the past in their personnel file.
(Mr Clark) As I say, at the time the briefing I received
was by way of general warning about this person.
3 Note: See also Appendix 1, page 17 (PAC 1999-2000/296). Back