Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  100. One of the targets you failed to hit is turnaround time for determining charitable status. Your targets is 95 days, which sounds quite a long time to me anyway, and you are currently conducting them in 117 days. How do you intend to meet the 95 day target next year?
  (Mr Gillespie) The figures that we have available to us—shall I read them rather than have Mr Stoker struggle with his eyesight? Our year to date achievement this year is 104 days which is already quite considerably down. Last month in the month of October we achieved a 97-day turnaround. So you can see we are putting considerable effort into that and those figures are coming down quite substantially.

  101. I am glad to hear that. Am I right in saying there is still quite a difference between the performance of different regional offices?
  (Mr Stoker) There is a difference between different offices as measured by the quality review system we have in place, yes.

  102. I am looking at paragraph 3.13 which says that the Liverpool office took on average 146 days to clear a case but in London it only took 89 days. That is a huge difference, is it not?
  (Mr Stoker) This is 3.13?

  103. Yes.
  (Mr Stoker) That is correct. The underlying reasons, we believe, are that basically the figures in Taunton are better because the experience of the staff was higher and the caseload was lower, but there again the whole point of the quality review system, which looks at five per cent of cases on each site each month, is so that you can analyse the reasons for that and derive direct management messages from them. What you will get from quality review, for example of registration cases, is a number of triggers which are of different kinds. Some of them are about timeliness, some of them are about an assessment of the technical quality of the governing documents which have finally been finished, and some of them will be about record-keeping. There is a direct message for managers which comes out of that series of comparisons every month. There are regular cross-site meetings of people who do the quality review. We put out guidance for staff, staff instructions, which come directly from experience with this. So we do try and learn the lessons of this and times are converging.

  104. Sorry to interrupt, I will admit the figures I was quoting you were the figures about the time it took to give advice and support.
  (Mr Stoker) I was talking about the registration ones.

  105. There are also big regional differences in registration. Paragraph 3.5 and paragraph 3.13 point to very big differences between your offices and the way they handle the various work that comes before them. Surely it is a management issue why it takes Liverpool 146 days to clear a case and London only 89 days?
  (Mr Stoker) It is and that is why we have a system of measuring these things on a monthly basis.

  106. You measure them but what do you do about them?
  (Mr Stoker) We have an operational management group that discusses them monthly and there are bespoke direct management messages to staff on every site. We distil them into guidance that goes to operational staff. That is what we do with them.

  Mr Osborne: Very sadly my time is up.


  107. Mr Stoker, you seem to be throwing some doubt in answer to Mr Osborne on paragraph 2.12. You do agree 2.12?
  (Mr Stoker) I am sorry?

  108. Page 20, paragraph 2.12, they are talking about the `cup of tea' culture.
  (Mr Stoker) I was not objecting to 2.12, Chairman, what I was saying was that the `cup of tea' gloss which Mr Osborne put on it gave perhaps the wrong impression. I do not quarrel at all with 2.12 as an analysis of what the NAO found.

  Chairman: Thank you. Barry Gardiner?

Mr Gardiner

  109. Mr Stoker, I refer you to paragraph 4.8 and Figure 15 on Page 31 where it says that 38 per cent submit late or do not make their annual return to the Charity Commission. It also says that you do not have any capacity to impose fines under Companies House.
  (Mr Stoker) This is on submission of accounts.

  110. Would you like to have that power?
  (Mr Stoker) I think that there are some quite difficult issues around that which are essentially issues for ministers. On the one hand, you have got considerations about increasing compliance. On the other, you have got considerations about fines coming out of charitable resources.

  111. All the administration of charity comes out the charitable resources, does it not, and therefore if this is ensuring more effective and proper administration of the charity, would that not be a good thing?
  (Mr Stoker) That might well be the conclusion ministers came to if they considered this but I think it is a matter they would need to consider. They would need to balance these considerations. It is not for me as a creature of statute to call on that one I do not think, it really is one for ministers.

  112. If you were investigating an irregularity in a charity, and that charity shuts down, what powers do you have to stop it shutting down so that you can continue your investigation?
  (Mr Stoker) A lot would depend on the circumstances but if a charity were shutting down while it was under investigation the one thing I can say is that they would not be able to avoid that investigation being carried through, and if there were charitable assets involved, we would be able to pursue them from trustees whether or not the charity itself remained in existence in those circumstances I should think. But again, it is difficult to answer in isolation.

  113. I would not have thought it is difficult at all. It is very clear that the Inland Revenue can say to a company, "No, you cannot close down until we have concluded our investigation." My understanding was that you could not do that, you had to allow them to shut down. I do not want you to be pushed into an answer that you feel you cannot give. Why not give us a note on that to say yes or no?
  (Mr Stoker) I would be quite happy to give you a note on that. I think the important thing is we would not allow a charity to shut down as a way of escaping scrutiny from investigation.

  114. If you could give us a note of all charities that have tried to shut down in the last two years and tell the Committee in the note how many of them have been successful in shutting down and how many you have refused to allow to shut down.
  (Mr Stoker) I do not know whether we would have that information, Mr Gardiner, but I will certainly have a look at what we do have.

  115. You would not have that information so you do not know out of those charities that you have investigated whether any of them have shut down, whether any of them have sought to shut down?
  (Mr Stoker) We know how many have shut down, it is whether we know how many sought to shut down, which is difficult to get a handle on.

  116. Is not the way in which they seek to shut down by notifying you of that?
  (Mr Stoker) It might or it might not be.

  117. If we can have a clear note on that, it would help.
  (Mr Stoker) Okay.[9]

  118. Mr Gillespie, you have had a quiet afternoon so far, can I turn to you. I do not know whether you recall we had correspondence earlier in the year concerning a charity called Options Development Agency Limited and you undertook at that stage that further investigations would be made into this. I have to say that that was on 15 May this year and I have not received anything further from you since then, which I did find disappointing. You will recall that in the documentation which I sent to you there were a number of points. I had suggested that ODA Ltd had bid for a gardening project previously run by Kilburn Skills and funded by Brent and Harrow Health Authority and that there was a capital bid regarding equipment that ODA had received of £1,110 in February 1998 in respect of the bid and ODA did not supply the gardening equipment nor make any other expenditure at all in relation to that bid. Is that something you have pursued with them in further investigations?
  (Mr Gillespie) Can I give a general answer and then deal with that specifically. We have been in correspondence as a result of the information you provided us with the council. We are not satisfied entirely with the information that we have been provided with. In fact, we have not been provided in certain instances with key pieces of information. We have threatened, to pick up an earlier point, use of our powers if we do not receive it by a particular time. We have not received it yet. If we have not received it within that time we will serve an order to get that information. That has been threatened and will be carried through, if need be. So we are actively pursuing the case.

  119. Does that also apply to the project funding of £5,553 from the health authority and the £2,025 also obtained from the health authority?
  (Mr Gillespie) Again if I can answer the general question that we are following up the issues that you raised and, if necessary, we will use our statutory powers.

9   Ev 19, Appendix 1. Back

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