Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001
80. Do you or do you not understand devolution?
I would like to ask Mr Nall and Lady Toulson as well because your
board has taken a very important decision on behalf of the most
vulnerable group of people in Wales and I would like an answer
to my question, please.
(Mr Sparks) Chairman, I do not think I can answer
the question. If I say yes I will be told I do not understand;
if I say no, it will be taken as proof I do not understand. The
question is impossible.
Chairman: You said that you would not understand
it as much as somebody living in Wales and I think we would accept
81. Lady Toulson said that she was brought in
as chair to implement the decision that had already been made.
I would have thought the job of a good chair is to show leadership
and careful stewardship, not to rubber stamp what I believe is
a wrong decision. She mentioned it in her letter to Ann Jones.
She said, "Your anger and outrage are wholly understandable
but perhaps you should know that I only took over the chairmanship
of the Society after the board decision had been reached. My remit
has been to implement it forthwith." Surely what she is doing
by saying this was not her responsibility is a Pontius Pilate.
She is washing her hands of the whole affair. Perhaps a more modern
day comparison is that she was only obeying orders.
(Lady Toulson) I am very sad that you are using language
like this in a distressing situation. For a volunteer of an independent
charity to be accused of being somewhat like Pontius Pilate is
very regrettable language.
(Lady Toulson) I was invited to be chairman of the
Children's Society. I had no awareness whatsoever of the difficulties
Wales was facing when I took on the job. I did ask what the major
issues were that the Society was facing. I did not know about
the situation in Wales. The board made a majority decision for
me to put this decision in place. I took over from Bishop Jim
Barton and was asked to do that. That is what I have done. On
the understanding of the board, there was no alternative route
to follow and I therefore took instructions from the management
and together we have moved forward from there.
(Mr Sparks) Paragraph four of this says that a decision
to withdraw was taken because it is the only option available.
The board itself discussed a range of options which would involve
doing nothing in Wales, which would have involved saving a further
£1 million in England, reducing the work in Wales by half
which would mean saving a further £500,000 in England or
the decision which it took. What this paper says is that the board
concluded it was the only option available. In terms of the cuts
that were made the £5.1 million includes a closure of a further
26 projects in England in addition to nine in England the previous
year. The view that we took on the advice of our director for
children and young people was that we could not make any more
cuts in England without destabilising the work in England as well.
It may not be proportionate to the population, but it was a view
taken regarding the whole range of our work across England and
83. It was more convenient to amputate Wales
from your plans completely.
(Mr Nall) I think that is a misrepresentation. If
I may speak to the financial realities for a moment, firstly,
we are not the British government. We cannot work in an even handed
way right across the United Kingdom. We only work in England and
Wales. We wish to be an effective voice for change for the condition
of children and young people. Wales has rightly in my view embarked
on the path of separate nationhood. You want effective partners
in that country. That means we need to have, as a charity to be
an effective influencing voice in Wales, sufficient practice to
draw worthwhile conclusions about the state of childhood in Wales.
My understanding of the decision is that by reducing our work
we would have ended up with such a small base of work that we
could not have provided that influencing role. Indeed, my understanding
from staff is that it was the integration of the way we work with
various groups of children in Wales that gives us a powerful influencing
message. I was intrigued to hear that echoed in some of the remarks
made by ministers recently. When it came to cutting 1.4 million
or so, which is what the contribution out of the Society's central
funds to Wales is at the moment, that is over one third of our
planned deficit for the year on ten per cent of our work. Given
that we could not maintain influence, the financial imperative
drove us to close Wales. I understand there is a great deal of
anger. I understand, particularly for a country that is embarking
on nationhood, to have a long established partner pull out is
very disappointing and the Society in cutting its work would have
had to cut work from children and young people wherever it chose
to make closures. In this case, that effect is concentrated in
Wales but I repeat we are not the British government. We cannot
be, on the resources we have on our remit, representative in all
geographical areas of the United Kingdom.
84. You are the Children's Society of England
and Wales at the moment so you were committed to serving the children
of Wales. I do not, and I am sure my colleagues do not, believe
this argument that because we have somehow devolved you now do
not have any remit to act as a pressure group within Wales because
you do not have enough judgment about how children in Wales operate.
Children are children, wherever they are. A programme in Yorkshire
would have as much application to Wales as a project in Pontypridd.
The fact is you could have as much pressure in Wales as now if
you cut throughout England and Wales to the level that you need
(Mr Nall) Within your own remark you have encapsulated
the decision. I am not qualified to make the decision about the
influencing side of our work. I am rehearsing for you the arguments
as I understand them. On that rehearsal, to me, they make sense.
You may quarrel with that argument. I am afraid I am not the appropriate
person to have that argument with. There are deprived pockets
of children and young people around the United Kingdom, in the
north east of England and elsewhere, for instance. In terms of
learning from our project work, we will gain that learning there
rather than in Wales. It is a matter of deep regret that it is
Wales that is closing.
85. There is a certain amount of schizophrenia
on behalf of the Children's Society here. Are you a body that
works for children or are you a pressure group? It seems to me
you do not seem to know what you are.
(Mr Nall) We do both and the reason is that is the
most powerful way to gain the information to inform our influencing.
(Mr Sparks) I do not think the Society has any doubt
about what it is doing. It is not a pressure group in the sense
that we write policy papers and do lobbying. Equally, it is not
an organisation which just works with children. We believe that
those two things have to go together. I think a number of the
major children's charities equally see the need both to do the
direct work and to do the influencing and policy work together.
(Mr Nall) The Society has been reviewing its reserves
and what contribution it could make to an organisation that is
ongoing, but we keep coming up again and again with the same problem
of viability in the future in Wales. I understand that staff are
looking to present a business plan to a group including the Welsh
Assembly later this week but the core issue is: if it is costing
us 1.4 million a year and we cannot afford it, we cannot do it;
who is going to pick up that bill? You may say that we can reorganise
the work and reduce that bill. You are still looking at about
£1 million. Mrs Williams, I understand your passion on this
topic but are you offering £1 million a year, or for a two
or three year transitional period, while fund raising income grows,
to fill that gap? That for me is the financial reality.
86. Perhaps if your organisation had consulted
the Welsh Assembly or other bodies within Wales, you might have
found a way forward and maybe there is still an opportunity to
do that. I still think that there is a certain lack of consideration
here for the fund raising that has taken place in Wales. You are
happy to cut Wales off but there has been fund raising. It may
not have looked a huge amount but it was a great deal for the
people in Wales to give.
(Mr Nall) Obviously, we are delighted by all support
that we receive. My major concern is how we can achieve a smooth
transfer of those fund raising activities within Wales to some
successor bodies. The Archbishop has set up a fund understandably
but the interim impact is that income that would have been coming
to the Children's Societyand the Children's Society does
spend substantially more in Wales than it raises in Wales from
central funds; that is the reason for the 1.4 million a year contribution
from central fundsis increasing that burden. We would very
much like to work with the Archbishop to ensure smooth handling
of fund raising activities in Wales.
87. If I understand your reasoning correctly,
the decision in relation to the three options, the three options
being making all of the savings in England, reducing the work
in Wales by half or closing all of the work in Wales, to go for
the last option, which is pulling out of Wales completely, was
partly driven by the need to protect your influencing role in
England because you get a sufficient level of activity in order
to support that influencing role. Do you not think that your influencing
role has been very seriously damaged by the political fall-out
from the decision to pull out of Wales? Should you not be revisiting
that decision because if the rationale is correct that what you
were keen to do was to protect your role in influencing policy,
from where I am sitting, the prestige of the organisation has
been very seriously drawn into question by this. Surely the best
way of protecting your influencing role and enhancing it now would
be to revisit this decision?
(Mr Sparks) I have no evidence at the moment that
our influencing work in England has been affected. On the question
of revisiting, the board met last week.
(Lady Toulson) We met and we revisited it in some
depth. We consulted two members of staff from Wales and two young
people. Apart from Reverend Glover, the vote was taken not to
alter the decision that we made in October.
88. This issue has been raised in Prime Minister's
questions recently by my Honourable friend and clearly you are
not going to be in a strong position to provide lessons in terms
of children's policy in any part of the United Kingdom when you
are not prepared to revisit this decision. I am trying to be helpful
here because I think you need to think through the long term implications
of the decision you have taken in relation to Wales.
(Mr Sparks) I do not know what I can say helpfully
in response to that other than what Lady Toulson has said, that
the trustees revisited the decision last Friday and decided not
to change it.
(Lady Toulson) It has been made clear to us by management
that were we to make the cuts in England, instead of in Wales,
and keep Wales open for business the Society would implode. There
is no future for the Society at all if we do not pursue the route
that we have chosen. We have been to see the charity commissioners
and they have given us great comfort. I have not personally been
but Mr Sparks and Mr Nall have been. As an independent charity,
our objects are to fulfil what is stated in our Memorandum and
Articles and act for the best interests of the beneficiaries.
In taking the course that we are taking, that is exactly what
we shall be doing. As a result of the meeting which Mr Sparks
can tell you more about, we have a categoric reassurance on that
89. What evidence did management present to
the trustees last Friday to make the case that activities in England
will implode if the burden were shared more fairly? In the last
minute submission we have, "Continuing in Wales would have
made both countries unstable." What is the justification
for this? Where is the evidence that it is going to have this
(Mr Sparks) The evidence was presented not last Friday
but in October. It was the judgment of our director for children
and young people which we discussed with her in some detail. It
has to be a judgment. It is not a financial, mathematical calculation.
It is a judgment of a manager about the impact of making further
closures in England.
90. How do you get this implosion? I do not
understand this. Your projects mostly stand on their own. They
will be doing the valuable work they are doing. Are we talking
about the political influence? Is that what you feel will implode?
(Mr Sparks) I do not think you can separate the two
as if they were two things that you do. What we have in England,
as we had in Wales, is a range of work which is concerned with
various programmes on which we are both doing work and also exercising
influence. The view was that to reduce those programmes to smaller
sizesa programme being a collection of projects across
the whole of England or England and Waleswould make those
programmes unsustainable so they would cease to have the impact
not only locally but nationally as well.
91. I remind you of what the Chairman said,
which I think is very true. I think your approach of building
influence on good project work is right but that influence can
be built on good project work in England and Wales and influence
both the United Kingdom government and the National Assembly for
Wales. I am sure if something is relevant and appropriate and
you are showing cutting edge ways forward for helping children
either in England or Wales then both the governments are going
to listen. They are not going to judge that there are 15 projects
in England; therefore, we are going to have to take a bit more
notice of them. They have got three or four in Wales; therefore,
we are not that interested. I do not think it is going to work
like that. I think the whole basis of your decision may be rather
blunt and wrong headed.
(Mr Sparks) I think there is an issue about the volume
of practice you need to support the issues and arguments that
you are making. A concrete example at the moment is a major piece
of work going on at the Social Exclusion Unit about young people
on the streets. We have had huge influence on that because we
have committed resources to a number of projects over a long period
of time and the associated research. Without the practice and
the research, we would not have had the impact. That is the view
that we are taking about the different programmes at work, about
how much practice you need in order to have the experience, the
knowledge of what is happening, the research and the influence
together. It is a judgment about what you need in order to achieve
that. They were the judgments that were made.
92. Do you believe that that experience and
knowledge have to come from one geographical area to influence
a particular policy area? I would suggest that that is not the
case. Take street homelessness as an example. I know the National
Assembly has been influenced by work that has been done in England
and similarly the British government has been influenced by work
that has been done in Wales.
(Mr Sparks) Yes, there is an overlap that comes from
linking up what the Assembly is doing and what the Westminster
government is doing. This judgment was about the choices we had
to make about our resources and where we could make those cuts
in a way that enabled the organisation to continue to be viable.
(Mr Nall) You make some very sensible points and it
is refreshing to air these points but there are some practical
matters that do come into play. For instance, if you are to service
two nations, you will need two influencing functions. You will
need an extra policy officer or two in Wales; you will need the
resources required to service Welsh language policy; you will
need a critical base for projects, as we have already heard. The
Society's trustees' remit is to provide the maximum possible benefit
to children and young people. By making a choice to close work
in Wales, we deal with a very high level of expenditure as has
already been noted and you maximise the number of children and
young people you are able to work with within that resource. I
would put the question back to this Committee: these kind of issues,
in terms of financial constraints, are not unique to charities
alone. They also apply to commercial businesses. We came as close
as I would wish to go on the reserves front and we have made this
very hard decision. Trustees are required by the Charity Commission
to make these hard decisions from time to time. We regret making
the decision. Given some of the costs imposed on organisations
in working in Wales, what policy changes can you make within Wales
to reduce those costs? From my perspective, I am afraid it does
come down to pounds and pence.
93. You mentioned the Welsh language. You are
excluding Welsh speaking children from the good that your Society
(Mr Sparks) Yes. I very much regret that.
Chairman: I am delighted you regret it but I
do not think you regret it quite as much as the rest of us here.
You asked us a question but frankly, if you think you are going
to have influence with any political body, you are talking to
politicians now and you are not doing very well at it.
94. I want to come back to consultation. You
say: "the Archbishop of Wales was informed orally . . . of
the possibility of this outcome . . . in sufficient time for him
to discuss this with his Bishops at one of their regular meetings
and for him to make written representations to the trustees before
they made their decision." The principal officer of the Council
for Mission and Ministry, who made a submission to us on behalf
of the Archbishop, told us: "The . . . Archbishop of Wales
was a president of the Children's Society of the Church of England
and the church in Wales and, as such, should have been consulted
in some way prior to the decision of the trustees of the Society
to withdraw from work in Wales." Was the Archbishop consulted
properly or not?
(Revd Mr Glover) I was told two weeks before the meeting
that there was a possibility that the work in Wales would end.
The Bench of Bishops in Wales meets regularly and I was going
to speak to them about a child protection matter anyway so I was
able within that fortnight to speak to the Bench of Bishops, including
the Archbishop. This was just a few days before the trustees'
meeting and they were shocked. They did not believe what I was
telling them. It is true that the Archbishop was able to respond
and did write a letter to the trustees that was presented at the
trustees' meeting when the decision was taken, but he was given
very little time.
95. Lady Toulson, you mentioned earlier, when
we were talking about the job description of a certain person,
about being a practising Christian. What do you think of this
lack of consultation as the chair?
(Lady Toulson) I was talking about fund raising. I
was trying to explain in some way why there might have been some
delay in appointing the appropriate person. That was the reference
of my remark to being a practising Christian.
96. I am talking about the Archbishop for Wales,
a very key, senior figure in Wales and a practising Christian.
(Mr Sparks) May I add to what Mr Glover has said.
I rang the Archbishop on the 9 October and he wrote back to me
on what must have been the 8 October [sic],
the Monday, and he wrote this as the opening in his letter: "Thank
you very much for our conversation on Monday. We had a discussion
at the Bench this week, and I was urged to write and express our
common mind about the proposals that will be considered by the
Society." So what I wrote in that note is correct. The second
paragraph begins: "There was some feeling, I must say, about
the idea of total withdrawal being put to the Society without
any consultation with the Church in Wales." So I understand
the Archbishop knows as he was spoken to and had an opportunity
to respond, but does not feel that he was consulted.
97. So would you agree with the Committee that
the Archbishop was not properly consulted?
(Mr Sparks) What I would say was that the Archbishop
does not feel that he was properly consulted. Our General Purposes
Committee suggested that I spoke both to Mr Glover and come back
to the Archbishop so that they would have some information. It
is quite clear that the Archbishop did not feel that he was properly
98. And things have developed since, as we know,
Chairman. It seems from recent public statements that we have
seen, and I regret from the Church in Wales, for instance, their
press notices on this subject, as well as the Archbishop's submission
to us, that relations indeed between the Society and the Church
in Wales are somewhat strained at the moment. The Archbishop has
resigned as the President of the Society. Are you concerned that
your decision has provoked such a strong reaction from the Church?
(Mr Sparks) Naturally after the decision had been
made, Lady Toulson and I went to see the Archbishop and at that
first meeting when we told him that the Trustee Board had made
that decision, I said that I understood that he would be in a
position where I anticipated that he would resign as President
because we would no longer be in Wales. Of course we knew this
was a decision which, it was clear from his letter, both he and
the Bench of Bishops would be very unhappy with and did not want
the Society to make.
99. I am astounded, really I am. Can I take
it a step further. Is there a danger that this will place a strain
on your relations with the Church of England and with the wider
(Mr Sparks) Well, I met the Archbishop of Canterbury
last week to discuss this issue and others with him. I do not
have any evidence that it is putting a strain on our relationship
with the Church of England.
(Lady Toulson) I have received a warm and personal
letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury two days ago showing
great pain and understanding for the decision we have reached
and giving support for it in the light of the facts and figures
that we faced as an independent charity.
2 The letter is dated 12 October and it arrived at
the Children's Society on 15 October. Back