Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)



  140. In paragraph 11 of our report from four years ago it says that the Commission had 600 staff and £13 million. How is it that you have got 53 staff fewer while you have got £8 million more?
  (Mr Stoker) 13 million?

  141. I read paragraph 11 of this Report, which you say you have read as saying that the Commission spent £13 million on staff in 1995-96. Am I not comparing like with like? Is the £21 million not just staff costs?
  (Mr Stoker) No, the £13 million is presumably the staff costs within the total budget of £21 million.

  142. What is your staff cost now?
  (Mr Stoker) I would have to get that figure for you.

  143. If you could do a note on that, what I am looking for is the comparable figure to paragraph 11 of this report.
  (Mr Stoker) The £13 million.

  144. Yes exactly, so I can understand

  . (Mr Stoker) It is still £13 million.

  145. So you have lost 50 staff and that is basically because you could not keep up with competitive pay rates is it, or not?
  (Mr Stoker) The effect of having a level budget over a period of six years is a real terms cut of 11 per cent. What that means you have to do to keep operating and to carry on giving your staff pay increases is you have to find continuous savings.

  146. Elsewhere?
  (Mr Stoker) Yes and staff are among the most expensive items that we have.

  147. I wanted to ask you about the Liverpool office Mr Osborne raised the question of paragraph 3.13, the question of this difference between Liverpool and London and the backlog of cases where advice or support was sought, 146 days in Liverpool and 89 days in London. Paragraph 3.14 goes on to say that the London office was 13 per cent under-staffed. I take it that the Liverpool staff office was not under-staffed?
  (Mr Stoker) No

  148. So that highlights even more the difference between the Liverpool and London offices. The London office under-staffed managed to considerably out-perform the Liverpool office with its full complement, that is right, is it not?
  (Mr Gillespie) Can I just clarify some issues here, the first of which is that the figures are based on the average case duration and the Liverpool office was dealing with some considerable backlogs for a number of historical reasons which I think it is true to say management were not happy with. We have got a situation now on the year to date figures where the Liverpool office is clearing cases in an average of 114 days as those backlogs are reduced, compared to 99 days.

  149. But it is still not performing as efficiently as the London office?
  (Mr Gillespie) They are clearing a lot of cases but they are having to deal with backlogs and that is reflected in the average figure.

  150. I must press on, I have not got much time. If there is anything further you want to add perhaps you could add it in a note. I would like to ask a general question. Am I right in thinking, Mr Stoker, that charitable giving is declining?
  (Mr Stoker) The latest figures I believe from NCVO show that the trend recently is slightly up but they are declining from historic levels.

  151. I have got some figures from the Charitable Aid Foundation which are not completely up-to-date, 1997-98 compared with 1998-99, of the amount fundraising charities raised from fundraising, as opposed to shops etcetera, a total of £263 million down to £207 million, which is a 23 per cent decline. Do you think there is a relationship between declining confidence among the public in their giving and the declining amount that is given, because the Performance and Innovation Unit has raised this question and says there does need to be an input and they said there is a growing public demand for openness and accountability. Since many voluntary organisations are getting money from the taxpayer and even more importantly from the point of view of this Committee that is the case, is there a relationship between the lack of transparency and accountability and openness and public confidence and the diminution in giving?
  (Mr Stoker) The factors which affect trends in giving are very, very many and complicated so I would not care to guess, and it would be a guess, at any direct relationship between those two. What I would say is whatever way you look at it, whether or not there is a direct correlation between those figures, it is very important that we do all we can.

  152. There is not a direct correlation?
  (Mr Stoker) I did not say there was not.

  153. I did not catch the last bit you said. You said that you thought there was not a correlation.
  (Mr Stoker) I did not say that at all. Shall I start again?


  154. Start again briefly.
  (Mr Stoker) It is too complicated to say what is determining trends in giving but, whichever way you look at it, confidence in charities is important to donor confidence.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for that. That sums it up quite well. May we now move into private session to discuss case two. Will all members of the press and public leave the room and also any officials not directly concerned with this inquiry. Thank you very much for your presence.

  The Committee continued to take evidence, in private.


  155. Mr Stoker, case 2 makes some pretty sorry reading. The case ran for nearly three years, no contact was made with beneficiaries, the Commission relied almost exclusively on the word of the chief executive. What was this charity and what was going on?
  (Mr Stoker) It was a charity called the ******. It was a regionally based outfit as described in the background note here. It was operating on its fundraising in a way which, as you see from the case, was far from satisfactory. Basically the first time round, I regret to say, we failed to crack it. What we have done since is go back, as we said we would, to review this case as a result of the work that the NAO did on it, and what we found was that there were further problems. Some of them were about governance and standards of administration, some of them were about high fundraising costs relative to expenditure, some of them were about the financial position of the charity as a whole, and there were one or two other issues as well about remuneration matters. So there is now an inquiry open on this case and I can give you my commitment that we will do a better job on it this time than we did last time.

  156. Was it fraud or was it just that the people that run this charity were running it for their own benefit? What was actually going on?
  (Mr Stoker) ******

  157. Was somebody at street level trying to fiddle something or not?
  (Mr Stoker) ******

  Chairman: Do any colleagues want to ask further questions on this?

Jon Trickett

  158. I just think that there is no evidence that you are managing your investigatory officers in an appropriate way and this is a case where they seem to have conducted it in a haphazard and basically slack way. You have been to told to expand substantially your investigatory division, you have been given an extra £1 million. What steps are you taking? Are you going to recruit internally? How are you going to get the management to respond to the kind of things which you want them to do and which the Committee wants them to do?. I have no confidence that you are managing. That is probably a statement rather than a question.
  (Mr Stoker) I am sorry to hear you make it. I will ask Simon Gillespie to answer the question about recruitment in a moment. What we are doing about the management is what I have described before, the resources which you quite rightly mention are part of the mixture, the review of the procedures that we put in place, the fact that we have got new structured instructions to investigative officers, backed up by training, backed up by a project team to do the embedding of the new arrangements and analyse what is happening behind the introduction of the new arrangements, a greater public spotlight on issues in this field through publishing reports on the web site. I am sorry if you do not have confidence in that. All I can tell you is that we are determined through the avenues that I have mentioned to make a real impact on the quality and consistency of investigation work. I will ask Mr Gillespie to answer on the training point.
  (Mr Gillespie) There is one other thing that may be helpful here. Both case 1 and case 2 were pre the significant internal review that we conducted of our investigative procedures. All the items Mr Stoker mentioned have been put in place since the completion of case 2. To be frank, this case does make sorry reading and it was a case study in how not to do one and we have learned very much from it, which I think is reflected in our results both towards the end of the last financial year and also in the current year. As far as recruitment is concerned, we are moving ahead to recruit, we have advertised in the last couple of weeks for new staff, predominantly for the review visits teams who form part of the regulatory arm, but also for new inquiry officers. These were advertised externally nationally in The Guardian, also in the sector press and we have also trawled across the Civil Service in the normal arrangements for that and advertised internally. At the last count, Capita, who are running the recruitment exercise for us, had received 3,000 applications for the 35 or so posts and had to reprint the application pack. The indications are that we will be successful. We were obviously successful in drawing in a wide number of people. We will go through a rigorous and thorough recruitment process which will involve a proper sifting of those people to get down to an assessment centre where individual candidates will be examined on the particular skills they can bring to review visits and investigations work and then they will be interviewed in front of a team of people from the Commission, but teams that are being set up specifically to make sure that we get the right people through the door. We know exactly what we are looking for, we have done a lot of work in this area and we are satisfied we will get the right candidates through the door.

Mr Osborne

  159. The commentary on case 2 says that it ran for nearly three years without clear objectives and planning. You readily concede that. I notice in the Report, Paragraph 2.7 on page 16 that you still have 16 cases that have been open for more than three years and indeed have 40 cases which have been open for more than 18 months. Can you give the Committee an assurance that there are not such similar nightmares sitting in the 16 cases running for more than three years or the 40 cases that have been running for more than 18 months?
  (Mr Gillespie) One of the things we are concerned about is looking at "cradle to grave" times for a particular case. It is quite difficult to monitor through the systems but nevertheless we are looking to introduce systems for that.

previous page contents next page

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 3 July 2002