Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  60. You did not consult anybody in your organisation who worked in Wales?
  (Mr Sparks) No.

  61. That perhaps explains why some of the information you have was incorrect because you did not have enough contact with Wales to know exactly what was going on.
  (Mr Sparks) I do not think it does explain that because that information was available a long time before that decision was being considered. Some of the discussions we had the previous year about cost savings with people in Wales was for example on the basis that the advocacy projects ran to March 2002. That was the information I was given. There was no reason for believing that that was incorrect at the time.

  62. What was the correct information that you should have had about the advocacy projects, because you seemed to base your decision on the understanding that they were going to end in 2002 or a contributory part of your decision.
  (Mr Sparks) No. It was neither. I do not think that we argued the case on the basis that they would close. It was a piece of information. Even the information I have now I would not want to put on the record as guaranteed to be accurate. We have an accountant who has gone in and is examining the information that we have. He has given me the information he has to date which, as I understand it, is what he believes to be correct. If you ask him, "Are you guaranteeing this is correct?" he would say, "No, because I need to do more investigation."

  63. I cannot understand how you made these decisions without having all this information at your finger tips. Perhaps you could tell us what is the situation with the advocacy projects now?
  (Mr Sparks) The information I have is that the project in Caerphilly has an agreement to March 2003; the one for Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot to 2003; the North Wales Advocacy Project to 2003.

  64. That is all the information you have?
  (Mr Sparks) The others apparently are 2002.

  65. When you came to meet with the Welsh group of Labour MPs you told us that they were all finishing in March 2002.
  (Mr Sparks) That is what I believed to be the case.

  66. And that employees had had to be put on to six month contracts. You gave that as one of the reasons for explaining that the work was ending in any case so this is part of the decision about why you were able to withdraw.
  (Mr Sparks) That puts together things that did not go together. First of all, people were not in six month contracts. We would have to give them six months' notice of impending redundancy. Secondly, that I understood to be the fact at the time. The reason for making the decision hung around our need to reduce our voluntary income spending overall for the Society by £6.4 million, of which this was one part. The facts, as I understood them, about the contract were what I understood them to be but they were not the deciding factor. The factor hung around the need to reduce our voluntary income spending.

  67. That was put forward as a contributory factor. The other issue that has caused a great deal of distress among the professional people working in Wales was your article, Mr Sparks, in Community Care where you gave an impression about things that were not true. For example, you said, "The advocacy services which are now a statutory requirement . . .". I am sure people have made this point to you: that advocacy services are not a statutory requirement in Wales and it indicated to us that you were not very much in touch with what was happening in Wales.
  (Mr Sparks) That is not correct. The discussions I was having with people were that they were of a different status than they were in England in view of the outcomes of the North Wales Inquiry and that they were more or less a statutory requirement, but it was incorrect of me to state that they were a statutory requirement in Community Care.

  68. That did cause a lot of distress amongst professionals when they saw you, in your own words, writing in a respected social work journal saying that these projects were a statutory requirement when they are quite specifically not. You also said in the same Community Care article that your applications for grants were not approved by the Welsh Assembly, which again we all found very mystifying. What comment do you have on that?
  (Mr Sparks) Part of that comment is to do with writing a brief article and trying to put in a piece of information very briefly. The situation is this, as I understand it, having talked to one of the staff today: we made ten local bids for objective one funding and one consolidated bid nationally. We made three bids for our project Sylfaen which was in Bangor, three from the St David's team in Caernarfon, three from the Valleys Project in Pontypridd and one from Merthyr Tydfil. The ten local bids were approved by the Wales European Funding Office but turned down by the Local Partnership Boards in most cases because the Partnership Boards said they were over-subscribed. In one case they did not give any reason. The national bid was turned down by the Wales Council for Voluntary Action because it was seen to be too diverse. The phrase was "not having additionality." In that particular comment, it is my understanding that these bodies who have delegated powers to deal with these applications were being overseen by something like a programme commissioning body which I understood had delegated powers from the Assembly. This was a time when the Assembly was being set up and all the paperwork was not straightforward. We made applications which were for objective one funding which were turned down. I am sorry if one sentence which was not the key point of the article misrepresented the position but there were those applications; they did go through processes which had been set up in Wales to deal with objective one funding and they were all turned down.

  69. This shows a complete misunderstanding of the processes as they work in Wales because when I and many other people read that you had been turned down for grants by the Welsh Assembly we all assumed that you had been to the health and social services section of the Assembly and had asked for child care grants, extra grants through the Children Youth Partnerships and had been asking for grants for help from that organisation. What you were talking about was the objective one funding, which is considered completely separately, where not accepting some of those grants was as a result of local partnerships deciding that they were not appropriate or that WEFO (Wales European Funding Office), which is a separate organisation set up by the Assembly, had decided that grants were not appropriate. The lack of knowledge about what was happening in Wales is staggering. We do find it extremely distressing that this decision seems to have been made without a close knowledge of the way Wales works and what has happened since devolution.
  (Mr Sparks) The issue about the trustees' decision was not related to the objective one funding. That article was just pointing out there are issues about the funding of voluntary organisations and our experience through these various bodies has not been successful in that. A number of people have said to me, "Why did you not apply for objective one funding?" We did.

  70. You said you did not get any grants from the National Assembly. Why did you not ask for help from the Welsh Assembly? Why did you not go to the Minister for Health and Social Services to ask for help? Why did you not go to the chair of the Social Services Committee to ask for help? Did you go and ask anybody for help to try to keep the show going in Wales?
  (Mr Sparks) No, because the issue again was not to do with the funding that might be provided by statutory authorities but the funding that the Society had available to itself. In recent correspondence from Christine Walby, she wrote to me about possible sources of funding to extend the work through to 2003. She made the comment that the demands of the National Assembly exceed the resources available. It does not seem to me that even she is saying at this particular time it would be easy to fill that gap. We were looking for a way of filling the gap of the voluntary income that we were already putting in and I do not see that applying for a grant is going to fill that particular gap.

  71. I said who did you consult and ask for assistance, which is not necessarily giving a grant. This decision has a huge effect in Wales and on the way that health and social services and part of the Assembly function. Surely it would have seemed common practice to say that you are in trouble in Wales and ask for help. That help does not mean necessarily financial assistance but just to consult with your partner agencies, with the local authorities. One of the most shocking things about this whole thing is the total lack of consultation. I believe it is possible to put the case to your staff as well and to young people, to say, "We are in difficulties. We are trying to find a solution". To just announce this without any consultation with such a devastating blow to Wales and with devastating implications is pretty unacceptable. I cannot understand the logic of why you did not consult with anybody. I do not know if the trustees have any views, whether you would have thought it normal to consult with organisations that you were working in partnership with and who were giving money to you to run the projects, because as I understand it the advocacy projects are run by you but you receive a considerable amount of funding from other organisations who put the money in and you work in partnership and you deliver the services. Would it not be normal practice to consult with those organisations?
  (Revd Mr Glover) Clearly, the decision to pull out of Wales was taken very quickly. At the end of July, I was appointed by the then chairman as the first chairman of the Welsh Advisory Committee of the Children's Society and by September the decision had been taken to pull out of Wales. I was told two weeks before the meeting of the trustees that there was a proposal to pull out of Wales. I asked if I could tell the Archbishop and the other bishops in Wales and I was able to do that but the timescale was very short and it was very difficult to consult anybody.

  72. As I understand it, earlier in the year you did have a report prepared about the implications of devolution. Did you change your name to Children's Society Cymru?
  (Mr Sparks) Yes.

  73. You set up this committee. 30 people were approached. To move from doing that to closing down all the work in Wales in such a short timescale certainly explains why there was no consultation and it makes you wonder if it was a really properly considered decision in view of that. Do any of you have any comments?
  (Mr Sparks) I think it is for the trustees who were there to say whether it was a properly considered decision. We provided the information and the background to it and the options that were available. The trustees believed that they were in a position to make the decision, which they did.
  (Lady Toulson) My remit was to implement the decision. My remit was not to consult. My remit was to go and see the Archbishop and to tell him what the position was and to consult about how it was to be implemented, not whether it was to be implemented.
  (Revd Mr Glover) My recollection of how the decision came about was that there was an urgent need to save money. No one would deny that. Seemingly, the Children's Society is realigning itself in the voluntary sector to become a social justice organisation. The advocacy in Wales did not seem to fit into that kind of pattern and I suppose is not seen as being politically glamourous enough because the idea is that the Society is able to influence government by the work it does. I certainly had the impression that the trustees felt that the fact that the majority of the projects were coming to an end in March 2002 was an important factor because that would mean that we would not have to break contracts. The cost of working in Wales was stated to be a reason for pulling out of the principality.

  74. You are confirming that misinformation that was given to the meeting did help contribute to the decision?
  (Revd Mr Glover) I did not realise at the time that it was wrong.

  Julie Morgan: For a reputable children's charity to put wrong information forward when such important decisions are being made is inexcusable.

Mr Caton

  75. On the same issue, what Julie Morgan has shown is that consultation is not just a matter of etiquette and being polite to the people you are partnering; it is a vital management tool. You get the correct information which clearly, as has been exposed, did not happen; you also involve the imagination and the ideas of your workforce, your volunteers, other institutions and other agencies. Your failure to harness that potential, if nothing else, surely is mismanagement?
  (Mr Sparks) I do not think it bears any resemblance to what is happening. For example, we have considerably more projects closing in England. We are not talking to the authorities concerned until we decide what our programme approach will be. In Wales, what went to the trustees was a range of options and we needed to know what decisions the trustees were going to reach. We can make a recommendation but that was not final until the trustees decided what they wanted to do. It has never been our practice to have a consultation on the basis of what might happen but to go to our trustees and say, "These are the options before us" and for them to discuss them first.

  76. That would be fair enough but one of the options perhaps that could have been put to the trustees is, "We have these various avenues we can go down. Let us consult or workforce, the partner agencies that are affected and government and, in this case, the National Assembly." I am not advocating that you just adopt consultation in your dealings with Wales. I am sure it would help your management in your dealings with projects in England as well.
  (Revd Mr Glover) I did ask at the trustees' meeting for a stay of execution for 12 months to enable that kind of consultation to take place but clearly I was a lone voice and I lost that.

Mrs Williams

  77. I would like to ask those of you who are here today: do you understand devolution? If all the members of your board were here, I would ask them the same question. It is clear to me that perhaps Reverend Glover is the only person here, sitting on that side, who understands what devolution is all about. Mr Sparks, in what I assume was the hurriedly put together document that you faxed through to my office this morning, the headline is, "The Children's Society's decision to withdraw from Wales" and you say, "The decision to withdraw from Wales was taken because it is the only option available." When you met us two weeks ago, you talked about options. You have talked about options this afternoon and in writing this morning you say "the only option available." Point six of your hurriedly put together briefing says, "In total we need to make savings of £6.4 million. Of this 5.1 million will come from England and 1.3 million from Wales." Have you looked at the population figures for Wales and the population figures of England? How do they relate? Can I have an answer to those three questions, please? Do you understand devolution? Could you answer that first?
  (Mr Sparks) I presume it is a rhetorical question.

  78. It is a question I would like an answer to, please.
  (Mr Sparks) I would not claim to understand devolution as fully as someone who lives in Wales. We have had a working party looking at the impact of devolution.

  79. You have confirmed what I already thought.
  (Mr Sparks) I presumed it was a rhetorical question. That is why I was not going to answer it.

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