Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1180-1199)

MR MARTIN WAINWRIGHT, MS JANET PARASKEVA, MS LINDA PARKINSON, MR ANDY FREENEY AND MR MARTIN GRAY

THURSDAY 12 DECEMBER 2002

  1180. Yes.
  (Mr Freeney) Yes. The regional managers meet and discuss this at their meetings. We have shared good practice in terms of what we do and we learn from one another in terms of how we randomly select people. There is no hard and fast rule.

  1181. How many regions select by lot?
  (Mr Freeney) Nine in the north west and then there is Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Chairman

  1182. They all use the same method as you?
  (Mr Freeney) Yes. They use the electoral role.

Mr Lyons

  1183. Are you still holding your committee in public?
  (Mr Freeney) No. We do not have the decision making committee in public in the north west. One of two of my colleagues have tried out public meetings but not full decisions. The reason is that we deal with some very sensitive applications for sensitive grants. Domestic violence is a very clear one. To protect those people we do not make decisions in public, but we have had meetings in public in some of our regions to date and we are looking to see whether we should continue that.

  1184. When Martin and Linda leave the committee, is there any interview or ways in which you might suggest improving the work of the committee?
  (Mr Freeney) I hope so. Martin and Linda do not come to my region but I would hope the committee manager would meet with them and learn through almost an evaluation of what they have contributed, what they have learned, what mistakes we have made and so on. One of the good things about our committees is they are contributing all the time. It is an aspect that your Committee may need to consider at some point. For example, we are encouraging our committees to be more and more involved with grants, visiting and so on. We come across a whole area of police checks and so on. That is an area that we are now having to look at because we have committee members becoming involved in a much greater way. We have 17 areas in the north east where the Secretary of State initiated Fair Shares and six of those are owned by each committee member. The committee member will be visiting those areas. We are looking at all the aspects and implications of that.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  1185. Martin, how many charitable trusts are you a member of?
  (Mr Wainwright) Two.

  1186. Have they ever received a lottery award?
  (Mr Wainwright) No.

  1187. Have they ever asked for one?
  (Mr Wainwright) No. Sorry; three.

  1188. What is the third?
  (Mr Wainwright) It is an old Leeds charity which gives conventional grants.

  1189. What happens if somebody is a member of something and they feel the lottery may look at supporting them? How do they get round that?
  (Mr Wainwright) There is an absolute rule about that.[3]

  1190. If Martin wanted to get something for the River Medway Yachting Club, he would not be allowed to?
  (Mr Gray) I would not take part in the discussion.
  (Ms Parkinson) You have to declare as soon as you get your portfolio. You quickly look through to make sure that anything you are involved in is not in that portfolio.
  (Ms Paraskeva) There certainly were in my day rules about your involvement in putting in the application. We disqualified applications where a member of the committee had been involved in the construction of that application because that was demonstrably unfair.
  (Mr Wainwright) We lost an appointed committee member because he had done something wrong, unwittingly.

  1191. There is a very set procedure?
  (Mr Freeney) When a member joins, they do a conflict of interest form and that is registered with us. When we do an assessment of a grant, it will pop up in our computer system that a member has that. If he or she does not declare it at the meeting, I will know and say, "I am sorry; you do have a conflict of interest in this particular case."

Chairman

  1192. What about just living in an area? Is that a conflict of interest?
  (Mr Freeney) No. There are strict guidelines on what a conflict of interest is.
  (Mr Wainwright) With regard to the point made earlier, this woman did play quite an important role in what was called Brass for Barnsley, which was the experiment that led to Fair Shares, which is an extremely good thing, because it was an analysis of where the charities board was not hitting and an attempt to rectify that with Barnsley taken as the pilot project. She was not appointed for that reason but Amanda got involved way beyond just the committee meetings. We went to all sorts of places touting basically for people to put in applications in Barnsley because Barnsley was hopelessly under-applied.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  1193. Under £5,000, it goes through a fairly low level committee. Over 5,000 is a recommendation. Is that right?
  (Mr Wainwright) The grants all go through the staff and the committee then performs an overseeing role. There was then no way that committee members punted individually for things. You had a more hands off role.

  1194. If it is a sensitive case, you would obviously not want to discuss it in an open forum. One person says, "I am totally anti this." How do you get round that? Is it a majority vote?
  (Ms Paraskeva) When we set up the system in the first place, we knew that we would have groups of people whose views would be very subjective. We knew also that we would be inundated with applications, as indeed we were. What was important was to set up an application form set of criteria which minimised the subjectivity of the people dealing with the grant making process. We then had teams of assessors and staff who applied the criteria to the application and gave a score. You can never completely eliminate subjectivity but I think it minimised it. Some people said it was too mechanical, but the mechanisation process did mean that those applications had a high enough score in each of the categories that they needed a score and they floated to the top. We had a computer system that sorted those. It was only therefore the applications that got a high enough score on a whole range of different accounts that the committee saw as recommended. That was done very publicly.

  1195. There has been comment in certain newspapers that lottery money has gone to causes that it should not have gone to. Do you think there is a case where it gets to the stage where public opinion is feeling this is not something we should be looking at or it grows through the press so it gets to the stage where people are saying, "We are not sure about this." There is no mechanism for you to go back on that and say, "Perhaps the next time we should stop this." Linda could be asked to make a decision on something which may later be regretted in the community.
  (Ms Paraskeva) There is one criterion we never made very clear to the public. If an organisation has more than a year's worth of its expenditure in reserves, it was not in need of that money to do the project it had applied for. Given that we were so inundated with applications, there had to be some basic rule about the need for the money to do the work. There were lots of organisations that were in desperate need of cash and, without going into any of the detail, what the public are much less aware of than we have responsibility to help them with was which of the charitable organisations applying to us were in real need of the cash to do the work in the community and which could have drawn on their own reserves to do the work if they thought it was that important.

  1196. Have you ever been in a position where you felt there was something you were not quite so sure about?
  (Mr Gray) Yes. That is one of the advantages of having been chosen by lot. My background is totally divorced from charity. I am in the minority on the committee. The majority of people on the committee have a background associated with charity. I can give a totally fresh, unbiased view upon any need that is presented to me. There are cases where there are margins, where it is not too clear and I can make a comment. Then there is a vote so the outcome of that vote may or may not be affected by my contribution.

  1197. Is there anything where you felt as a lay member, "I am going to go the wall on this"?
  (Mr Gray) Yes. There have been things I have disagreed with. Hopefully, I have been able to make that clear.

  1198. Would you say to people, "You have got to have the guts to say `stop'"?
  (Mr Gray) You have to be prepared to be the odd one out and make your view clear.

  1199. Do you agree?
  (Ms Parkinson) Yes. That has happened to me. I put over my point of view and we had to go over all the paperwork again but they still could not quite convince me so I had to be satisfied that the majority was right. I was not happy with it but I put my view and, like any committee, you have to accept that you have failed on that particular one.


3   The trustee must leave the meeting and play no part in the discussion or anything relating to the application. Back


 
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