Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)|
TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001
160. The end of July?
(Mr Sparks) Yes.
161. Well, it seems to me that you have to be
giving it by the end of this month.
(Mr Sparks) No, the end of January to the end of July
will be six months. The 31 January to 31 July will be six months.
162. So the end of January?
(Mr Sparks) That is right.
163. So you are not in a position to say now
that you will fund until July 2003?
(Mr Sparks) It is March 2003. That came as a proposal
asking us to indicate our willingness to enter into discussion
about that and that is what we will do and that will be discussed
on Thursday. Presumably if there is willingness to move that forward,
it could move very quickly in January.
164. I am still concerned about how much money
you will be able to put in for this gap. Would you not feel with
all that has happened in this sorry saga that you should find
the money to plug that gap and keep those projects going until
July 2003? It seems to me that that is the very least you could
do so that there can be proper negotiations to ensure that the
threat of redundancy can be lifted early on.
(Mr Nall) I do apologise for re-raising this point,
Chairman, but the issue is that the Society has a deficit in the
current year of £4 million a year. It has postponed needed
investment in its training and development to ensure the very
best safe practices for children and young people. It has to re
start pension contributions and that is clearly important to staff,
that they have secure pensions. There are expenditure needs which
require the cuts to be made. We are looking at sums at the margin
to extend as far as possible the work in Wales. The sort of sums
we are looking at are around £600,000. That is probably what
it will cost financially to close the work in Wales. The subsequent
question then is, "Is there scope for augmenting that at
all?" That is in addition to the endowment funds we have
already talked about which we very much want to go to be the basis
of further work in Wales, either continuing our own work or other
work if that is not possible. Now, the basic problem in Wales
is the very large continuing contribution required to keep that
work open, and that contribution is over £100,000 a month
and if fundraising income, which is quite likely, falls sharply
in Wales, that contribution will rise to £150,000 a month,
perhaps more, and that gives us a limited period. We would very
much like to extend the work in Wales. We do not wish to close
the work in Wales, but there is a deficit and it must be tackled
and that does impose very tight constraints which we would wish
to explore in terms of extending the work.
165. On that briefing, I would like to make
a point. At point 10 you write, "The Society's objective
is to ensure . . .", objective does not mean the same thing
as commitment, does it?
(Mr Nall) Commitment and objective require feasibility.
If it is not feasible it cannot be done. We wish to explore the
constraints on feasibility to maximise the possibility to continue
166. But you would agree that objective and
commitment are two different things? You are trying to link them
now because it is convenient for you.
(Mr Nall) You are trying to distinguish them because
it is convenient for you. Commitment and objective, you are quite
right, are two different things. We have an objective to try and
secure the continuing work. We have a commitment to do so. We
have appointed specific planning resources to explore the options
with staff in Wales, to assist them in creating a business plan,
to nail down all the details of funding arrangements and the position
of partners and what they may be able to contribute, working with
the line management in Wales who, you would be right to suggest,
best know the situation. That is a commitment. It is a commitment
backed by money which is in short supply, and we wish to do everything
we can to explore the opportunities of maintaining the work. However,
there is a million a year funding gap. That has to be found, and
I would welcome a commitment from the National Assembly for Wales
and from the other partners in Wales to work out how that £1
million a year can be found. If we can find that £1 million
a year, it is not just the next year we get through, we sustain
the work long into the future. That, after 113 years, would be
very much the Society's preferred outcome from these negotiations.
167. You mention the National Assembly for Wales
now in your answer, we have established early on I think that
you have not even approached the National Assembly for Wales.
(Mr Nall) We will be approaching them with the business
168. It is a bit late for that, is it not?
(Mr Sparks) Just so we do not confuse the issue. There
is a group trying to set up their own charity which will take
over from the Children's Society in Wales, they have produced
a business plan. One of our staff, as Charles has referred to,
has given them some help because he has experience in writing
business plans, but that is their proposal, not our proposal.
169. Do you now regret not approaching the National
Assembly before now?
(Mr Sparks) The problem is the issue is not about
Government funding but the issue is about voluntary income, and
I am not sure that would have changed the position. As Charles
said, we are talking about a one million funding gap in our own
resources, not about the level of funding which would come from
the National Assembly.
170. Have you not heard the word "partnership"?
In Wales we work as partners in order to provide the best service
possible for our clients.
(Mr Sparks) Yes, and there is a partnership. Most
of the work has a partnership of one sort or another, but I did
not see, and I have not heard any evidence so far, that approaching
the National Assembly would have resolved that. As Charles has
described, it is a financial problem, it is about resources.
171. On a different matter, it seems to me that
this Task Group you are working with has actually been set up
by the National Assembly to try to rescue the services.
(Mr Nall) They are two different groups.
(Mr Sparks) They have very similar titles. There is
a Task Force which was set up by the Minister for Health and Social
Services, Jane Hutt, chaired by Christine Walby, which is the
meeting we are going to on Thursday. There is a Task Group of
staff who are trying to set up their own charity separate from
Julie Morgan: Does it not seem to you that you
should have been involved in doing this, setting up these groups
and working with the different organisations to try to find some
Mrs Williams: If you had commitment, you would.
172. These two groups have been set up as a
result of your actions.
(Mr Sparks) But the solutions they are working at
are the solutions which arise from the trustees' decision, they
are trying to find ways forward on the basis of the decision the
trustees have made. We are quite clear we need to have mechanisms
for looking at the way forward, and these are useful mechanisms
for that but they are not resolving the basic question.
173. But the mechanisms have been set up by
the National Assembly and by the staff themselves, who must be
pretty disillusioned with their organisation. I am sure any sort
of surveys of staff satisfaction in Wales towards your organisation
would be very grim at the moment.
(Mr Sparks) I am sure they would.
174. Absolutely. I want to be quite clear, you
will be making a decision before the end of January?
(Mr Sparks) No.
175. On how much money you will be able to put
(Mr Sparks) No. Our directors and I
will be going to the meeting on Thursday on the basis of saying
that the Society is willing to make some contribution towards
the process of continuing to March 2003. Also we will be saying,
if we can reach a conclusion before the end of January, that would
be very helpful because it would avoid the need to get into notice
of impending redundancies and other things like that, so it would
smooth the whole process for the staff involved. But, clearly,
there are other parties who have to say what they can do and what
they are willing to contribute.
176. What are you willing to contribute?
(Mr Sparks) I think that is subject to the discussions
which take place there. The director has a remit to go and say,
"We are willing to contribute" but clearly there are
going to be negotiations about what people can offer towards that.
177. But surely in that situation you need to
go with a clear view about how much money you can get to put into
these negotiations? I do not see what it can be dependent on.
Surely you can work out how much money you can put in to save
the situation in a way?
(Mr Nall) I have already indicated that the cost of
closing the work would be around £600,000. A far better use
of that money would be to continue to work. I have also indicated
that the issue facing the Finance Committee is how much further
would they be able to support that work. I am afraid, it will
be to a limited degree. There are other issues which need to be
addressed within Wales, such as who can continue that work. What
we would like to do is maintain the fund-raising activity so it
does not wither, and that is what obviously it is doing at the
moment, partly because of the confusion. Some of the money is
currently going to the Archbishop's Fund and we need to draw those
strands together so that the maximum available resource goes forward.
Within Wales now I would imagine, as you have indicated, there
is enormous frustration and anger at the decision which has been
taken. That does, however, provide an opportunity for a coherent
fund-raising package to try and put the work in Wales on a more
successful footing for the future as regards voluntary income.
178. So you have £600,000 to close down
the work in Wales, so there is potential for that £600,000
being used to keep it going?
(Mr Nall) Precisely, but the longer the work goes
without resolving the £1 million gap, the swifter that money
179. If you do reach an understanding and you
are able put in money to keep the services going in some way until
March 2003, would you in that situation keep the staff on your
payroll and keep it as part of your organisation in that period?
(Mr Sparks) The proposal from Christine Walby is not
for the Society itself to maintain those services. This is quite
a complex proposal she has put about the services being held by
another body. We have to get into that. There is a whole raft
of complex things about liability and that sort of thing which
have to be resolved. What she has tried to do is fit together
what she sees to be the best way forward, recognising the situation
we are in at the moment. We are trying to co-operate with that,
not only financially but with some of the legal complexities.
5 If this is a correct record this is a slip of the
tongue. In response to Q156 I made it clear that our representatives
at the meeting would be the director for Children and Young People
who were accompanied by our Human Resources Director. It was never
intended that I should be at the meeting. Back