Welsh Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 131

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Welsh Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 19 June 2012

Members present:

David T. C. Davies (Chair)

Stuart Andrew

Guto Bebb
Geraint Davies

Jonathan Edwards

Susan Elan Jones

Karen Lumley

Jessica Morden

Mr Robin Walker

Mr Mark Williams

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Neil Robertson, Head of Operations, Taunton, Harvey Grenville, Head of Armed Forces Charities Unit, Charity Commission, and Air Vice-Marshal Tony Stables CBE, Chairman, Confederation of British Service and Ex-Service Organisations (COBSEO), gave evidence.

Q245 Chair: Good morning. Welcome to this morning’s session. Thank you for coming. I am David Davies, Chair of the Committee. Perhaps you would introduce yourselves. I shall then call Susan Elan Jones to ask the first question.

Neil Robertson: I am Neil Robertson. I am a member of the Charity Commission’s senior management team and head of the operations function at our Taunton office, which has responsibility for armed forces charities.

Harvey Grenville: Good morning. My name is Harvey Grenville. I have been the lead specialist on armed forces charities at the Charity Commission since November 2005. I am also a trustee and volunteer for an armed forces charity. I have previously served as a volunteer welfare officer for SSAFA and a regimental association.

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: I am Tony Stables, former Air Force pilot. I am currently chairman of the Confederation of Service Charities-COBSEO-and have been for six years. I have a rather broader veteran portfolio. I am also the chairman of the Forces in Mind Trust, the chairman of the Headley Court Trust-the trust owns Headley Court and leases it to the Ministry of Defence-and a member of the War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Appeal Tribunal.

Q246 Susan Elan Jones: Would you please briefly tell us a little bit about the organisations that you represent-a sort of four-sentence summary?

Neil Robertson: The Charity Commission is the independent regulator and registrar of charities in England and Wales. It is a non-ministerial Government Department. Its function and objectives are set out in the Charities Act 2011, but basically we first decide whether an institution is a charitable one and, if so, we enter it on the Central Register of Charities, which we maintain. Secondly, we investigate misconduct and mismanagement in charities, and take remedial action. Thirdly, we encourage the effective use of charitable resources. In doing that, we publish advice and guidance on good practice for charities, and use the powers that we have as an extension of the High Court to make schemes and orders for charities to enable trustees to do things that they would not otherwise be able to do.

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: In its present form, COBSEO dates back to about 1982. It has about 200 member organisations. It has four principal aims. One is to exchange and co-ordinate the activities of those charities. When necessary, we act as a point of contact for those charities, particularly in our discussions and relationships with the Government. We identify areas of common concern and issues, and I have to say that the charitable sector works best when there is a common issue, for reasons that we may go into later. Finally, we represent the needs of the people that we are there to support.

Q247 Chair: Do any of you have concerns about the proliferation of armed forces charities at the moment?

Harvey Grenville: When we talk about registrations and new charities, we need to be aware that a large number of the registrations that the Commission has undertaken in recent years have been due to changes in charity law. We are simply taking charities that have been unregistered and excepted from the requirement to register and putting them on the register. A further proportion of those registrations are to do with modernisation and merger work. You need to strip out those kinds of registration to see the true underlying number of registrations1.

Between 2005 and 2009, typically, we were registering between 10 and 20 charities a year. We saw a peak in 2010, when it rose to 44, but it has since ebbed. I would expect the number of registrations to reduce to historical levels by about 2015. When you take account of the number of removals, we have actually seen a contraction in the registered sector. My estimate is that the registered sector has reduced by between 6% to 7% over the last three years. We are not so much seeing an increase in numbers of charities, as some commentators have observed, rather, it is a shift in the composition of the sector. It is very much a shift in the welfare agenda. The post-war social infrastructure that was established 50 or 60 years ago is contracting and being replaced at a slower rate by more contemporary charities.

Q248 Chair: May I ask, Air Vice-Marshal Stables, whether you have any concerns about some of the charities that are seeking registration with COBSEO at present?

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: I am often asked this question about proliferation. Frankly, it is not an issue that concerns us. After all, we cannot control people who seek charitable status, and we cannot control the number of charities. In some cases, why would you want to? Who is going to stop the grieving mother who wishes to honour the memory of her son, and establish a trust in his name? Who is going to stop it? It certainly is not going to be the Charity Commission, and it is not going to be us.

The key thing from our perspective is to ensure that they work in a complementary way. That is the very foundation of what the Confederation is all about. It is about co-ordination and co-operation; more recently, it is about collocation. It is about bringing the charitable sector together to best effect for those who need the help.

Q249 Chair: How does a service charity become a member of COBSEO?

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: It is by application. It is a confederation, and it is driven fundamentally by an executive committee. The executive committee is essentially the 14 chief executives of the major funds and charities; there are some permanent members and some elected members.

Q250 Chair: Do you turn down many of those that apply? You say that it is done by application, which implies that some get through and some do not.

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: There are eligibility criteria on our website, which are fundamentally a demonstration of an indication to support the armed forces community. Some do get turned down; you are quite right. We have to make a distinction for those that have a medical connotation, particularly those involved in mental health.

Six or seven years ago, COBSEO was a word that few people had heard; that may still be true, but I like to think not. We are, to some extent, a victim of our own success. There is a danger, of course, that once you have a successful brand, as COBSEO has become in the services charitable sector, people will seek to have it as a letterhead on their own organisation’s paper, so there needs to be a careful exercise. To take a normal charity that applies, there are eligibility criteria and a very clear application process, all on the website, and the process does require evidence of your charity’s aims and objectives and evidence of your financial position. That is presented to the executive committee, and the committee makes the choice.

In the case of medical charities, particularly those for mental health, we have a medical advisory committee, currently headed by a retired consultant rheumatologist, which gathers together consultants in various specialisations; they will look at the clinical governance of a particular organisation and will advise the executive committee of COBSEO whether that charity should be given membership of COBSEO.

We have reached a stage where we need to protect our own brand and name.

Q251 Susan Elan Jones: May I ask the Charity Commission about those charities that are required to register with the Commission and those that are not? If a charity is not required to register, is there any other way that you can regulate it? For instance, would it not be required to produce an annual report and accounts? I should be grateful if you were to tell us a little more about that. I realise that these are smaller charities.

Neil Robertson: First, there are the charities that Parliament has decided should be exempt from regulation by the Charity Commission. That is usually because they have a principal regulator-it might be Higher Education Funding Council for England or the Department for Education-and are totally outside our jurisdiction. We are responsible for regulating everything else.

Within that field, there are certain charities that do not have to register with us. Some are excepted, but that is a historic exception. Then there is the minimum threshold, which has been set by Parliament at £5,000 income a year. If a charity has a revenue of under £5,000, it does not need to register with us, but we are still responsible for regulating it, although, as you can imagine, we have no record of the charity. However, the indications are that there is no systemic risk in these small charities. Parliament’s idea was that small charities ought to be able to get on with their business without the burden of regulation and all that goes with registration. In that respect, they do not have the burden that would otherwise be imposed upon them. Daily, the Commission receives complaints about charities, intelligence and so on, but we have not identified any thread to suggest that these small charities pose a considerable threat to the sector.

Q252 Susan Elan Jones: To be absolutely clear, does their charitable status mean that they are still eligible for gift aid?

Neil Robertson: I think that that is correct; they can certainly speak to the Inland Revenue and get an IR number.

Q253 Stuart Andrew: Somebody mentioned that the Charity Commission should not stop anyone setting up a charity. Do you ever envisage a point where that might be necessary? I am thinking here of the hospice movement, for example, in which I have worked. We have seen a number of hospices set up in the memory of children, but we are getting to the stage where we might be reaching saturation point. Is there not a need for the Charity Commission to start looking at that? My fear is that some of these charities will otherwise become unsustainable, and that services will be lost to the people who need them.

Neil Robertson: As the law stands at the moment, if an institution is established for charitable purposes and for the public benefit, it is a charity and has to be registered. If it meets the minimum requirements, we have nothing else to do but to register it. Having said that, there is a registration process and we have to look at the applications.

First, we ask newly formed charities whether setting up a new charity is the best thing to do, or whether it would be better to work with existing charities. We encourage collaborative working. Secondly, if the registration process throws up doubts about a charity, we will analyse the application and get back to it. Last year, for instance, we received 7,000 applications for registration, but we registered only 5,000. We formally rejected only 60, which could then appeal to the tribunal against that decision. The remaining 2,000 stopped their applications for a variety of reasons; one might be that they did not get the funding that they expected, but, equally, because sometimes we had started to ask questions about them in order to identify whether they would be able to carry out the charitable objectives that they thought they could.

Q254 Stuart Andrew: Do you think that the Charity Commission has enough teeth, or do you think it should have more power?

Neil Robertson: It is very much a balancing act. What we want is to have a simple registration process for newly formed charities, without imposing an undue burden. Nevertheless, we are the gatekeeper of the register, and if we think that there is a higher risk, we will want to look very carefully at the application. Generally speaking, if it is a charity that is going to follow a traditional pattern-it might be the parent teacher association of a new school-we will fast-track it and get it on the register. That gives us the opportunity to use our resources to look at those charities that we think perhaps need greater attention. We think that we have probably got the balance about right.

Q255 Guto Bebb: You have already touched upon the subject of my question in your response to the Chair. In your submission, you stated that the forces charity sector was complex, to say the least. You mentioned a threshold of £5,000, but I understand that the threshold for forces charities is higher, at £100,000. Is that threshold differential a reflection of the complexity of the sector or of something else?

Harvey Grenville: It is a reflection of the legislative structure. Until the Charities Act 2006, any charity that existed solely to promote the military efficiency of the armed forces of the Crown was excepted from the requirement to register with the Charity Commission. When Parliament passed that Act, the intention was to create more of a level playing field. The £100,000 threshold was then introduced, and some of the larger charitable services funds were then put on to the register. However, if an armed forces charity is not solely connected with promoting military efficiency-for example, if its purposes extend to the relief of veterans, which are our terms of reference here-the relevant threshold is £5,000.

Q256 Guto Bebb: Does the Commission have any figures on how much money is raised by the charities in that sector?

Harvey Grenville: First, I would like to make a caveat on the figures that I shall cite, in that there are two principal difficulties when trying to assess the financial resources of the sector. The first is that all charities have differing financial year ends. The second is that there is a slight element of double counting, in that when you aggregate the figures for the sector you are possibly including income that appears in a grant-making charity that also appears in a service-delivery charity. Notwithstanding those caveats, the approximate income of the sector is £700 million for 2010-11. That increased from about £500 million in 2005. The increase is partly inflated as a result of the changes in charity law.

As for the charities themselves, the figures that we have suggest that the top 50 benevolent charities control over half of that sector income, and that their net capital assets total more than £1.1 billion. Charitable service funds covering in-service welfare and efficiency account for about 20% of the registered sector’s income, and military heritage charities account for a further 10%.

Q257 Guto Bebb: Do you have any breakdown between those charities that are registered and those that are not?

Harvey Grenville: No. All that information relates to the registered sector.

Q258 Guto Bebb: In terms of the complexity that you described-this question is open to you all-what steps would you like to see taken to simplify the whole structure of legislation? Are any steps necessary?

Neil Robertson: Lord Hodgson is currently undertaking a review of the Charities Act 2006, and I am certain that thresholds is one of the things that he will be looking at. A number of people out there that feel that the threshold ought to be removed and that all charities should have the voluntary right to register, but other people are thinking that it ought to be increased, and could be increased substantially. We do not have a view on what it should be; we wait to see what Lord Hodgson recommends.

Harvey Grenville: The other strand of that is merger work and collaboration. One of the key strands of the Commission’s work over the last five years has been facilitating mergers within the armed forces charity sector, and we virtually always have cases on our books where we are looking at mergers within the sector. As Air Vice-Marshal Stables indicated, collaboration is another key feature of the sector. Certainly, our experience of working with this sector is that there are very good case examples of collaboration. Indeed, COBSEO and the major service charities working together on the welfare side is a good example of that.

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: We have now established a single point whereby all the services charities involved in welfare have come together, so there is a standard format and a standard electronic form and one is able to move appellants or clients from one system to another. In other words, it gives you quality assurance; whichever service charity you go to now, you can be assured that you are going to be treated in exactly the same way. There is a standard protocol.

Perhaps I may touch on the point about complexity? It quite often seems so from the outside. One of the great difficulties that I have experienced in the last six years is getting services charities to work beyond their boundaries. They all have boundaries, of course, with trust deeds and deeds of trust, but it is quite often difficult to work out-sometimes for very obvious reasons-so about two years ago we established clusters within the Confederation. The clusters are based on topics-for example, research, residential care homes, housing, welfare delivery; there are 10 of these topics. We involve those services charities that have a particular interest in one of the topics, and they are led by a member of the executive. They involve charities and other organisations from outside the sector. One of the most successful has been job finding, where a consortium formed from a cluster bid for and won an MOD contract for the early service leaver project trial.

I am very hopeful of the cluster process; it enables charities to work across their boundaries and reduces complexity. It gives better identification, and I think that we will have a better outcome. When we set it up two years ago, we did not prescribe any outcomes or any time lines-frankly, it is a matter for each cluster to determine how its progress is achieved-but we will audit the process, two years down the track, in the first week of July.

Q259 Chair: That is a very proactive approach.

One of the potential criticisms of the Charity Commission is that, rather than taking a proactive approach, it waits for people to apply and ensures that the law is being adhered to, but-you may say that is it not your job-it will not necessarily go in there to make sure that those charities conform to certain ethical standards. However, people giving money to charity who see the connection with the Charity Commission or COBSEO might well feel that that in itself was enough to guarantee that the money that they are giving was going to the right place. My question therefore is whether you think that that is a fair criticism. Are you doing more than simply regulating and making sure that charities obey the law? Can we be absolutely certain that charities that have the COBSEO name on them are upholding very high standards?

Harvey Grenville: There are two separate issues here. The first is about requirements under charity law. Running a charity imposes certain legal duties, as we are aware.

Q260 Chair: Nobody doubts that you are upholding your responsibilities in that regard.

Harvey Grenville: There are no indications from our casework that armed forces charities are any more prone to governance issues than the sector more broadly, and the vast majority of trustees take their duties very seriously.

When you talk about ethical standards, as Air Vice-Marshal Stables said, the charity is governed by its constitutional framework, its trust deed or memorandum of articles of association and its purposes, and the trustees are expected to take reasonable steps to safeguard the beneficiaries that they deal with. They are also under a duty to monitor the effectiveness of the resources that they use in furtherance of their purposes. There are strong indications-for example, with the newly established mental health charities-that they are moving in the right direction. For example, three of those new charities contributed to the National Assembly for Wales Health, Wellbeing and Local Government Committee review of post traumatic stress disorder treatment, and one of them is funding research at Oxford university. There are indications that they are meeting certain standards.

Q261 Mr Walker: You mentioned earlier that the number of registered charities percentage is declining, once you take account of all the other factors. Does anyone have oversight of the unregistered charities? What is the total number, and is anyone overseeing them?

Harvey Grenville: No; by definition: they are unregistered. There are two parts to the unregistered armed forces sector, let us be clear. There are the smaller trusts and regimental associations, but to the extent that a fair proportion of the unregistered armed forces charities might be unregistered branches of the Royal Naval Association and other military associations, then there is oversight. In my view, the largest proportion in the unregistered armed forces sector is in the excepted service funds, and we have worked very closely with the MOD and the policy units in each of the armed forces on the regulation of those funds. Even though they are unregistered, and there are several thousand of them, they are quite well regulated because we agree the regulations that they are managed by.

Q262 Mr Walker: There is, I suppose, an element of oversight for the majority?

Harvey Grenville: Yes, but I cannot tell you exactly how many unregistered charities there are.

Q263 Mr Walker: You said earlier, in terms of the governance issues, that the armed forces charities were no worse than in other areas. What about the issue of duplication? We heard anecdotally in oral evidence that there is a high degree of duplication, and that there are some concerns about that. Do you feel that there are other sectors where that is the case?

Harvey Grenville: Do you mean other charity sectors where that is the case?

Mr Walker: Yes.

Harvey Grenville: It comes down, as we said, to the right of individuals who wish to help in a voluntary manner to establish charities. There can be legitimate reasons for them to want to establish a charity. Although it might well be that the notional purpose is exactly the same or very similar to another charity, the mechanism of delivering and furthering that aim may be quite different.

If I may, I remind the Committee that, with a charity such as Help for Heroes, if we had a more rigorous registration application, it could have stalled or stifled the start of a very successful charity.

Q264 Mr Walker: Air Vice-Marshal, you mentioned clusters and people working together. Would you say that there are cases in which that means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: May I answer first the point about duplication? There is no doubt, at the point of delivery, that historically there has been duplication of effort-if not triplication. That has been recognised, and we have done a lot of work nationally in joining up the service charities and interfacing with Government, not least through the work of the Covenant Reference Group.

What we are seeing now, I think, is a greater need and desire to do that at a regional and local level. The very existence of the Expert Group on the needs of the Armed Forces Community in Wales is a good example of that. You can see equally good examples in the north-east of the country and an emerging one in Norfolk and Suffolk. Somebody has taken the lead in order to co-ordinate and bring together what are actually the delivery arms. After all, nationally the Department of Health does not deliver, but local trusts do. These sorts of groupings and this co-ordination are the way to avoid duplication in future.

The other reason, of course, is that, as with change in almost everything, it is driven by financial concerns. If I am honest, I do not think that such financial concerns exist within the services charitable sector-at the moment. However, there is a concern among many, certainly as we withdraw from Afghanistan, that public opinion may fall off in terms of charitable support. There is no evidence to suggest that it will, but there is nevertheless a fear that it might.

Q265 Mr Walker: In terms of the way that clusters work, is there a case to be made that having multiple charities sometimes working together in a cluster can be more effective than trying to put them all together and having one delivery arm?

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: Yes, but one has to tread carefully. People often liken my job to herding cats, but it is not like herding cats at all; it is a very pleasurable job, and it is wonderfully rewarding when we achieve things. However, it is a slow process. For instance, our oldest charity, the Lord Leycester hospital, has had 450 years of continual charitable work. Changing these organisations takes time. At the end of the day, of course, you are dealing largely with a volunteer organisation, and the over-regulation of volunteers most certainly does not work. It is a softly-softly process. If you show that a new structure, a new way of doing business, is beneficial, people will gradually come on-side.

People bought into the cluster concept as a way to overcome the problems of working across boundaries. Have we seen some results? Yes, we have, but in other areas it has not been quite as quick as I would have hoped. For example, we have a number of service charities running residential care homes for veterans. You might reasonably expect that if they put themselves together they could at least have some common procurement policy. What it actually did was to cause all the charities to look at themselves and say, "Do we actually want to be in this business?" So, it is a slow process, but I am absolutely convinced that it is the right way to do things. In Scotland, they are called pillars; we call them clusters. It is absolutely the right way to do it, and we will see very positive outcomes in the future.

Q266 Mr Walker: Lastly, you spoke about the facilitation of mergers. Is there anything more proactive that you could be doing on that front, in terms of identifying potential candidates for mergers, or do you see it as being outside the remit of the Commission?

Harvey Grenville: I would say that it is largely outside the remit of the Commission. Ultimately, mergers are matters for the discretion of the trustees of the individual charities. I can give the Committee the assurance that, certainly within the last five years, we have not blocked any mergers of armed forces charities. Instead, we have been active in facilitating them, and participating in reviews to look at restructuring and modernising armed forces charities.

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: May I add to that? We established a register about five years ago of all those armed forces charities located in London, looking at when their current leases end with a view to collocating. We currently have six collocated in one building, with the potential in the next year or two to move that to seven. We have not yet seen any of the advantages of the shared back-office, but it will happen as people naturally leave. There is a determination to collocate, and people can see the benefits of it. It will just develop, as leases expire.

Q267 Jonathan Edwards: Mr Robertson, the Commission says that it takes a risk-based approach to regulating charities. What exactly does it mean by that?

Neil Robertson: We are a proportionate regulator and adhere to the best practice regulation, which means that we will get involved in a case only if we think it is necessary for us to do so.

We have a risk framework, which is published on our website. The starting point is to ask whether it is a matter for the Commission or for the charity itself, given that trustees are responsible for its administration and management, or even for another regulator, so that we do not duplicate action. If we identify that it is for us, the next question is to ask what is the level and nature of the risk involved. That will then determine what action we take.

We are very conscious that we regulate the voluntary sector, and that we have to bear that in mind in all that we do. Again, we have a balancing act. Where there is deliberate wrong-doing-if the trustees have been wilful, for instance, and will not co-operate-then we are going to come in hard. If, say, there has been serious fraud, links to terrorism or the abuse of vulnerable beneficiaries, we will use the full force of all the powers that are open to us by opening a statutory investigation. However, the majority of cases that we see involve trustees who have tried their best but things have still gone wrong. In those cases, we want to work with the trustees to identify the problem, to help them put it right and to put the charity back on track again for the future. If we were to come down hard on all those cases, we would compromise the ability of charities to recruit volunteer trustees. We think that we have the balance right between coming down hard where there is deliberate and wilful abuse, and taking not a soft approach but an appropriate approach that is proportionate to the sector that we regulate.

Q268 Jonathan Edwards: Will you explain a little more about those regulatory powers? What sanctions could you impose in cases of serious misdoing?

Neil Robertson: If we do not open a statutory investigation, our powers are limited. We can ask for copies of documents, and we can go to banks, for instance, and obtain copies of bank statements. However, our powers are limited until we open a statutory investigation. When we do that, however, our powers include the ability to freeze bank accounts, to remove trustees, to appoint new trustees and to appoint a receiver manager.

Q269 Chair: How often does that happen in a year?

Neil Robertson: That an investigation is opened?

Chair: Yes, with bank accounts frozen.

Neil Robertson: I do not have the figures in front of me, but I would say roughly 50 times a year2.

Q270 Jonathan Edwards: May I ask Air Vice-Marshal Stables-you touched on this in your initial remarks-what oversight you have over charities that join your organisation?

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: First, we look at eligibility, which we define as being charities whose sole purpose is to promote and further the welfare and general interests of servicemen and ex-servicemen and women of the armed forces. There are a number of charities who seek to join us for which that would be a subsidiary or secondary aim. We have sometimes considered whether we should have associate membership, but the jury is still out on that, and I think that that is largely to protect the brand name itself and to protect what we do. Oversight of applications and the continuing operation of charities within the Confederation is vested entirely in the executive committee. People who wish to make applications are basically vetted by that committee.

Q271 Jonathan Edwards: Is there anything in particular that you would like to see the Charity Commission doing in terms of regulating service charities?

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: No, I think that there is a natural balance. There is a misconception about proliferation, but frankly it is not something that worries me. I am more concerned about co-operation and collaboration than I am about the number of charities involved. If you started with a blank piece of paper, you might come up with a different way of doing things, but we are where we are, so to speak. We have a close working relationship with the Charity Commission. It certainly does not pose any difficult for us.

Q272 Jessica Morden: We touched on this earlier, but do you have any concerns about the number of smaller charities that are offering magical treatments, particularly in the area of post traumatic stress disorder and especially for veterans in Wales?

<?oasys [pc10p0] ?>Harvey Grenville: First, there is a danger of PTSD being used as a generic term for mental health issues. Mental health covers a broad spectrum of matters, many of which are not service-related and cannot be evidenced as being service-related. There is also the possible misconception that some mental health charities are offering medical treatment when, in fact, they are providing respite to beneficiaries who may have been unsuccessful under the conventional PTSD treatment methods.

As I mentioned earlier, three of the recently formed mental health charities provided evidence on alternative therapies to the Health, Wellbeing and Local Government Committee. I believe that the committee went to a centre in Wigan to hear first-hand evidence from service users. Regardless of whether there is statutory or professional regulation, as I mentioned earlier, there are legal obligations presented to charity trustees that they have to undertake. We have not seen any indication from the Commission’s casework that there is a thematic pattern of complaints or any major risks around the treatment of beneficiaries where no statutory clinical regulation exists.

As you know, it is planned later in the year to introduce the assured voluntary regulation scheme, introduced under the provisions of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and we await that with interest, to see how it affects the operation of these organisations.

Q273 Jessica Morden: In previous evidence to us, SSAFA said: "there are one or two on the mental health side that one would seriously raise one’s eyebrows about." Is that something that you have come across?

Harvey Grenville: We look at whether the trustees have systems to protect their beneficiaries from harm; that is the first and fundamental point. The second point is that they then look at the effectiveness of the services being undertaken, so we need to distinguish between medical treatment and respite. A number of these charities are providing respite. If you look on the websites or at the annual reports of these charities, they are providing testimonials from beneficiaries who have received respite, but because of the cycle of establishment of some of these newer charities, they have not yet produced annual reports. We are waiting to see what they provide, in order to ensure that they meet the public benefit reporting requirements.

Q274 Jessica Morden: I put the same question to Air Vice-Marshal Stables.

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: In any application, we would seek expert psychiatric opinion in coming to a view of membership of that organisation. One of the difficulties is that mental health charities claim to treat people, but there is a big difference, as Harvey said, between remedies and treatment. It is interesting that the war pensions appeal tribunal is looking at members of the armed forces or former members of the armed forces where the cause or predominant cause of their mental illness was their service, whereas in the service charitable sector we are looking at people who have served whose mental illness may be totally unrelated to their service in the armed forces but is a result of societal factors. That is quite a big difference.

Within the service charitable sector it is different. Most people would say that if bells and whistles work for you, then terrific-and why not?-but in terms of remedies, it is not for me to come to a judgment. In terms of seeking to treat people, which seems to me to be a fair call upon the national health service, we have seen terrific advances over the last few years in the relationship between the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health in the seamless transfer of people out of the armed forces into care and treatment within the NHS. Within the constraints under which the psychiatric element of the NHS works, I am very optimistic about the future. In terms of applications to us for membership, I go back to expert psychiatric opinion.

Q275 Chair: On that point, how many organisations do you think you turn down in a year? I may have asked this before, but I did not quite get the answer that I was looking for.

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: The answer is that I do not have the facts in front of me, but I can provide the Committee with the information.

Q276 Jessica Morden: On a more positive note, which are the best service charities, and why?

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: We do not run a league table; I would argue that they all are.

Q277 Jessica Morden: Will you give us some good examples of service charities?

Chair: Perhaps you could talk in general terms about what makes a service charity good, and what might make it not so good.

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: What would make it good in my eyes would be a willingness to work across boundaries. In fact, if you engaged in surrendering an element of sovereignty for the greater good of others you would really have reached the end of the tunnel. Of course, many are quite specific in the work that they do. You might therefore look at Combat Stress and the mental health area and say that the charity is extremely good at that; or you could look at BLESMA and amputees, and say that it is very good at that; and Blind Veterans UK clearly has a niche in blindness-and so on. It is extremely difficult to compare them.

Jessica Morden: I should have said most successful.

Air Vice-Marshal Stables: I do not think that we have ever had a competition for being the most successful, nor do we run a league table. However, individual charities will themselves say that they are the No 1. The Royal British Legion will say, "We are the No. 1 provider of welfare across the country." If you went to the AGM of SSAFA Forces Help, I am sure that it would say exactly the same. Indeed, I could tell you that COBSEO is the No. 1 confederation. Everybody clearly has an aspiration within their own organisation. After all, you are dealing with a volunteer grouping of people, and they all want to feel good about what they do. Of course you will see that.

There is an element of healthy competition, but that is only in terms of the identity of the organisations and the members who work for those organisations. It would be a bit of a bland answer if I were to say that, frankly, there are no bad ones-I suspect that there probably are-but everybody who works within our Confederation contributes to it. At the end of the day, the important thing is that the need is met, and we should seek to do that in the most effective and economic way. That is the key to my answer. I am not sure that who is best at doing it is very important.

Chair: We shall end on that positive note. Thank you for giving us the names of a couple of charities, without saying what you thought.

Examination of Witness

Witness: Colonel Philip Hubbard OBE, Deputy Chief Executive, Reserve Forces and Cadets Association for Wales, gave evidence.

Chair: Good morning, Colonel Hubbard. I should declare an interest as a former member of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association for Wales, although I am not longer connected with it. Thank you for coming along today. I call Mark Williams to ask the first question.

Q278 Mr Williams: Colonel Hubbard, would you give us an overview of the work of your association?

Colonel Hubbard: The Reserve Forces Association was set up in 1908; it was similar to an ombudsman for the reserve forces before it really got under way and it ensured that the reserve forces of those days were looked after outside the chain of command, so that funding was channelled to them. Today, we still act in an ombudsman-type role but we look after the estate for the reserve forces, particularly the Army Cadet Force, which we have a mandate for. There is community engagement and employer support; we are involved in the community in setting out the good work of the armed forces. That is pretty much what we do.

Q279 Mr Williams: Could you paint a picture of the typical reservist-the type and length of service and the training that they receive? What is the general picture?

Colonel Hubbard: I can talk from personal experience about the reserve forces, as I commanded a field hospital that was a reservists’ hospital. They vary from young people who are students looking for a bit of pocket money while going through university to consultants in specialities, who clearly are not looking for very much money, but who are looking to give a return and gaining some skills out of what they do. It is a wide range. The average TA soldier that I work with is pretty much committed, and spends a long time in the reserve forces.

Q280 Mr Williams: Will you give us a geographic picture of where across Wales the reservists are based?

Colonel Hubbard: They are based right across Wales, predominantly around the areas of major population. They are focused in Wrexham, down in Cardiff, across to Haverfordwest, up in Aberystwyth and throughout the middle. There what you have is pretty much rural, but that is the geographical spread.

Q281 Mr Williams: What contribution have the reservists made in the armed forces over the past 10 or 20 years? More critically, what changes are going to be asked of them in the future, not least as we are facing cuts in the armed forces?

Colonel Hubbard: Once again, I will use the medical services as an example-I have spent my life in the medical services. The UK forces could not deploy on sustained operations without the use of reservists. Reservists will have already worked in most of the reserve hospitals in the UK, with most of them probably entering their second tour of Afghanistan. They certainly supported the initial operation into Iraq, and they did their turn in Iraq during the roll-over and sustained operations.

Q282 Mr Williams: I turn specifically to the Government’s plans to shrink the Army from 102,000 down to 82,000 people by 2020, and to double the number of trained reservists to 30,000. Do you feel that the armed forces and the MOD are ready to cope with the increased pressure that that will cause? Those are bold figures, but that is going to put severe pressure on the reservists, and there will be a need for some changes, will there not?

Colonel Hubbard: I am not really in the right position to answer that question, inasmuch as I no longer serve, so I do not have an inside view. The commitment from our reservists is already quite strong. What is probably missing at the moment is what the new deal is for reservists, and what will bring them in to make that leap.

We have always been at about 30,000 to 38,000, so that is not new; it is the amount that we are about to train and keep at the right level of training. As someone who struggled while commanding to maintain a reserve force that was ready to rock and roll, if I were to have a potentially greater demand on me, I would want greater resources and the knowledge that my people could be trained at a time that is convenient to them. I use the health service as a good example. Most of my staff will have worked at least two weekends in a four-week cycle, and I will want them for two weekends. There is not much left for them in their family life, and that is routine. Routine is probably not the right word, but that is the life that we have led over the last 10 to 12 years, and demands have increased on them. That happens as you get to know that you are going to be mobilised; the demands increase in intensity.

Q283 Mr Williams: I was talking to an Army cadet in Aberystwyth at the weekend who was trying to reconcile his studies with the increased demands being made on him. Would you tell us a little more about the community role of your association? You mentioned promoting the good story for the Army. I am aware of some very good work with the British Legion in my area. On what sort of scale is community work is being undertaken?

Colonel Hubbard: We work with the three services in terms of community engagement, and we try to work in a collegiate way so that we are not all out there selling the same story at the same time. Our aim is to raise the profile of the armed forces, and all the good that we believe it does, in a co-operative way. We are more of a support to the armed forces. The Army Cadets are the footprint for the Army in Wales. There are between 6,000 and 8,000 people, including adults, and they are in places with the uniform on where the armed forces are not. They really are part of that community engagement, and the good work that they do within their communities is clearly of benefit to the armed forces.

Q284 Chair: I served in the TA in the late 1980s, and I guess that very few TA soldiers had ever been anywhere near a war zone at that time, although obviously some of the regulars who came in had. A lot has changed since then. Could you give us an idea of what percentage of reservists have been sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, or to other conflict zones? I do not expect a specific figure, but I take a wild guess that it could have been as low as 5% in the late 1980s, whereas I assume that it is now much higher. That is relevant to our inquiry.

Colonel Hubbard: In the 1980s it was fairly quiet. Apart from the Falklands and Northern Ireland, it was pretty much a regular force world that we lived in. It is probably 10% and rising. Most operations today have 10% of reservists or thereabouts in support.

Chair: So 10% of reservists now will have been sent to conflict zones?

Colonel Hubbard: That is 10% on any operation, so some may have gone two or three times.

Chair: So the percentage of people in the reserves who have gone to conflict zones would be much higher than that?

Colonel Hubbard: Much greater, yes. We may well have used all the 15,000 active members once or twice, but I do not know. I certainly would have had people deployed with me, and deployed during my time, who would have been three or four times on deployments.

Q285 Karen Lumley: We have heard some concerns about the quality of the resettlement process for our veterans. Do you have any concerns about current provisions for them?

Colonel Hubbard: I certainly did have concerns. I have retired myself, and I would say that it was very much geared to ensuring that I understood certain elements-about housing, education and what have you-but I do not know that it actually prepared us for the real world that we were about to go out into. I had spent my life in the armed forces, and if I had stayed single I would not have had to worry about paying utility bills, putting the dustbin out or anything. It would all have been done for me.

I go back to the 1970s, when I served in Chepstow. I was working with a lady who had been out and who had come back in. She said that she came back in because she spent so much time at the citizens advice bureau asking questions about day-to-day living that she felt it was easier to come back, and to go out and take residential care when she felt that she was old enough. The principle is that we tend to prepare ourselves for employment and what have you, but we do not understand the real world that we are going back into. We are pretty much a closed institution, with care. If we had a young soldier with a marital problem, we would have looked after him, given him bed and breakfast and his evening meals. We would then resolve his problems and home he would have gone. When you come out of the armed forces and that happens to you, there is no one to give you bed and breakfast, and you do not know where to turn unless you really have experienced life.

Those are the areas, but today they are very much closing the gaps and working hard to identify the challenges that young men and women face when they come out the armed forces. We very much do get up at 8 o’clock. I am wrong; we go to work at 8 o’clock. Life is pretty much governed for us in what we do, where we go and the things that happen. It is very much a team, so if you do not know, the man next to you does, but when you are outside that is not always apparent. Young people, and not only young people, tend to find it very difficult. You can take it that the journey is coming to an end, but in my time I would have met soldiers that had served 20-plus years in Germany and were coming home to the UK for the first time as an adult, given that they left as an 18-year-old, with a family who were probably German, and trying to settle into a whole new world that not even they were really ready for, let alone their family.

Q286 Karen Lumley: How has it moved on in practical terms?

Colonel Hubbard: The armed forces have recognised those challenges, and they are now trying to identify those areas where we need to close the gaps. There is work going on under the new covenant that looks at how people come back into regional areas, one of which is Wales. We want them to focus on the regional brigade. We would like to know where every soldier moves to, and try to help him, but they do not all tell you where they want to go. We would like to think that we knew every young ex-serviceman and woman coming back into Wales, so that we can contact them and let them know what is available in the area.

Q287 Karen Lumley: How do you support the reservists?

Colonel Hubbard: That is a regular forces package, but the reservists are predominantly employed or unemployed before they start in this world, so there is no resettlement area for them other than if they have come back from a military operation and have been seriously injured. Then there is a package similar to that for regulars, which is about sorting them out and getting them back. Everyday reservists who just finish their time just carry on with their life as it was on Tuesday once their kit is handed in on Wednesday.

Q288 Stuart Andrew: I want to talk about data. Are you frustrated by the lack of information to hand, particularly on TA veterans in Wales?

Colonel Hubbard: The whole question of veterans is challenging. For SSAFA, it is about 10 million, and that is growing every day because every time one pops off there is another veteran. That is probably one of our biggest challenges. As we do not know the challenge of the veteran community, we do not know what we are trying to provide for or judge against. Most people readjust quite normally and get on with life. It is that number that does not that we really need to identify.

Q289 Stuart Andrew: What sort of data do you think would be usefully gathered?

Colonel Hubbard: It would be nice to know that you were an ex-serviceman. If I was your GP and you walked in, I would not have to say to you, "Mr Andrew, are you an ex-serviceman?" There would be something there that indicated to me that you were an ex-serviceman, and that it would help me in addressing some of your problems-or even excluding them.

Q290 Stuart Andrew: Going back to the question of adjusting to civilian life, we had a very interesting visit to Veterans First Point in Edinburgh. We had the opportunity to meet veterans there who had nothing but praise for that establishment. Do you think that that sort of thing would be good not only in Wales but probably for the whole country?

Colonel Hubbard: Is that the one-stop shop?

Stuart Andrew: Yes.

Colonel Hubbard: It is a wonderful idea. I was talking to one of my colleagues on the RFCA in Merthyr only a few months ago. We said that that is the kind of thing that we should be setting up and that perhaps he should get his chief executive to talk to all the other chief executives about doing something collective, with little nodes coming off it. We could have one stop shop first, and from there you could be directed to where you needed to go. They should be people who can point you directly to where you need to go as opposed to saying, "I think there’s someone around the corner that does that." The local community, the local authorities, are probably best placed to deliver that.

Q291 Stuart Andrew: They work closely with the local health providers as well.

Colonel Hubbard: They do.

Q292 Stuart Andrew: Is there any evidence that that happens in Wales?

Colonel Hubbard: Not to my knowledge, but Wales has a great focus on health provision for veterans. The Health Inspectorate Wales recently did a report for the Government on some of the areas that it felt could be tightened up on.

Q293 Mr Walker: With regard to signposting veterans to health care workers, could more be done with data, particularly the transfer of data between the armed forces and the NHS?

Colonel Hubbard: That has always been the biggest challenge. Hopefully in 2013 that electronic transfer is going to happen. As it happens now, I have to go to see my doctor for my final medical, she or he writes out a few notes and I take it to the GP who said that he may consider taking me, and he has a look to make sure that I am not going to take all his money away or fall apart in front of him. That is it, but there is an opportunity to apply for your documents. I spent probably 38 years in that organisation, but it was never mentioned to me when I left; I just knew that I could do it. They may have assumed that I knew and did not need telling.

I am not too sure that it is as joined up as it needs to be. I have concerns with the reservists about it being joined up. Their documents are already civilian documents; should we transfer their documents to the regular organisation when they mobilise? I am not too sure what happens. I know that they go and see the doctor when they are on military operations and that they receive treatment for routine stuff, but I am not too sure about the transfer back into the general practice.

Q294 Mr Walker: Does your organisation hold data on veterans, or veteran reservists? Do you keep any of that?

Colonel Hubbard: No.

Q295 Mr Walker: You mentioned that people are coming back from theatre and going back to their day jobs. Are you concerned about the lack of support there, particularly for anything with a psychological follow-through?

Colonel Hubbard: It is a concern. Indeed, I wrote to all my people who came with me to Afghanistan. I advised them first to tell their general practitioners, if they did not already know, to annotate their documents to show that you are a reservist. I made every effort to meet every chief executive of the health trusts and the employers of my people to discuss occupational health therapy with them, and to look at these people when they came back. However, I lived in an environment that was very easy. The health service has occupational health, and it is all there for them. However, one young lad was a coxswain on a ship that went to sea, and there was not too much occupational health out there in terms of what I was looking for.

There are concerns when they come back, after what they have seen. In the medical environment they see it daily, constantly. It is not a quick blast and it is over; it is there in their faces all the time. People do change; they go out perhaps with a shift mentality to work and come back with a 24/7 mentality. The little things that may have grated when they went are no longer significant because there are greater challenges in life. Other little things will grate, so we try to educate their employers to look out for those sorts of things and to let us know whether we can be part of that rehabilitation or bringing them back down from where they are, because they do not all come into the centre when they are redeployed. If they have gone on their own, one of my pieces of work once they had been back 28 days was that we would contact them and invite them back in, to make sure that they could tell their stories among people who understood those stories.

Q296 Mr Walker: What support, if any, was available to the families of reservists? Is that is something that you or other organisations in the armed forces can provide?

Colonel Hubbard: When they mobilise, there is welfare; every commanding officer is responsible for ensuring that they take that on board. If they are mobilised with a regular unit as an individual, that unit is responsible for ensuring welfare.

Q297 Susan Elan Jones: Good morning, Colonel Hubbard. I turn to the issue of charities. I personally found our discussion with the other gentlemen who gave evidence this morning quite fascinating, having worked for 15 years in the voluntary sector. Personally, I see the diversity of charities as a great strength, because a lot of the passion and commitment that comes as part and parcel of charities is to do with people being interested in a specific cause, and sometimes having set up a charity themselves. The Charity Commission, in its written evidence, estimates that there are about 2,000 charities connected with the armed forces in England and Wales. It is estimated that their gross income for 2010-11 was around £700 million. Are any charities specifically targeted at reservist veterans?

Colonel Hubbard: Not that I am aware of. My experience of most charities is that the reservists are treated just like any other servicemen. I think of the British Legion and SSAFA.

Q298 Susan Elan Jones: Do you think that there would be a benefit if there were charities that were specifically targeted? I am surprised that no former reservist has considered setting up a charity that specifically targets reservists, or would it be a rather odd thing to do?

Colonel Hubbard: I think that they would find it a rather odd thing to do. They have been fighting for a long time for recognition, in what we used to talk about as the one-army concept and is now the whole-force concept. They would like to be considered the same as their colleagues, whatever the circumstances.

Q299 Susan Elan Jones: I have one final question. Do you personally feel that service charities should be better regulated? Do you feel that it would be beneficial if there were fewer of them? Do you think that they should work better together? Do you have any specific thoughts on that aspect?

Colonel Hubbard: In terms of health, I think that they should all be regulated. They are proliferating at the moment, and it is mainly on the back of PTSD. The witnesses before me alluded to that. It is not all down to PTSD, and it will not all be service-associated, but if we do not start properly trying to find that association, the news will all be that is it is service-associated. It could well be service-associated, but have nothing to do with recent conflicts.

Q300 Mr Williams: Responsibility for providing support for veterans is split between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government. Part of the duty of our inquiry is to navigate our way through that sometimes complicated picture. More generally, has the post of Veterans Minister at the UK level, and his equivalent in the National Assembly Government, been effective as an instrument in raising the agenda?

Colonel Hubbard: It has raised the agenda. As to whether it has been effective, the jury is still out on that. We do not see any real resource-driven focus on veterans of the sort that veterans would like to see. That is a personal view. Certainly the work in Wales is pretty much focused on what are the needs, and gathering the evidence on the needs, before looking to do anything about it. That is probably the right way round.

Q301 Mr Williams: Would you be a sceptical juror in that jury room in terms of resources? The armed forces covenant is feeding its way slowing in Wales, through to community covenants at the local authority level, although I note that all the trusts in Wales now have a dedicated armed forces champion, which is a laudable step. Do you have concerns about resources?

Colonel Hubbard: I have, UK-wide.

Q302 Jonathan Edwards: How does the RFCA interact with the Welsh Government, the MOD and other Government Departments?

Colonel Hubbard: The UK Government interact through the council in London. In Wales, we interact through our own connections with the armed forces.

Q303 Jonathan Edwards: Do you have difficulties penetrating any of those Government Departments?

Colonel Hubbard: Not in Wales.

Q304 Jonathan Edwards: Are you in a position to judge the provision of services in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and which has the better record?

Colonel Hubbard: No. All I would say is that, in terms of health, we want the best that is available to all our citizens; it is just that we might want to be up the queue a bit, occasionally.

Q305 Karen Lumley: In your larger operational experience, what will the long-term impacts be on our veterans of all the high-level commitment that they have had to bring in over the last 10 years?

Colonel Hubbard: I do not think that there is a tsunami coming, in terms of health challenges in mental health. There certainly will be challenges, and evidence will show that that is true throughout history, because of the size of the force. We are not a large force, so there will be no massive tsunami, although that is a personal view, but they will be there and the challenge will be identifying them. If we do not get the one-the serviceman-it will go to the family and the children; we will then have a bigger problem. That is why it is important. Serviceman equals one; family could equal five. It is trying to get the serviceman in health and sorted so that the problem does not permeate into the family, as it will then become a larger problem, both socially and everything that goes with it, than we really need. Identifying it at the right time will be our biggest challenge.

If the general practitioner does not know, when young Mr Smith sits in front of him, that 10 years ago he was in a conflict, and Mr Smith says that he is not sleeping well and is having all these weird and wonderful dreams, and that may not be associated directly to the incident that is causing the problem, there is no reason why the doctor should say, "Oh, you have been a soldier." There has to be a connection to help the doctor to tie it in. The sooner we have a connection, the better it will be. Not all young men and women will identify the problem with service life. It is only when someone tells them that they connect and start unwinding it.

Q306 Karen Lumley: Do you think that the biggest priority for the UK Government and the Welsh Government is to get that right?

Colonel Hubbard: It is the biggest challenge for the Government overall to get that right if we want to keep a lid on the numbers with the associated problems, as opposed to the direct illnesses.

Q307 Chair: Are most service charities doing a good job, or do you have any concerns about some of them?

Colonel Hubbard: They all start with the intention of doing no harm. I believe that if you do no harm, you are all right. It is the promises that some of them may make which are not treatments. I would say that sitting down with another soldier would help him unwind and sort out most of his problems, because most can be sorted out, through talking over some stories, swinging a few lights. It is the really sick ones who need the professional help, and they are the ones that I am concerned are perhaps being looked after by the wrong people.

Q308 Chair: Are you happy that COBSEO and the Charity Commission are doing a good job in regulating those, or do you think that they could or should be doing more? Perhaps they are doing as much as they legally can, but is there a role for an organisation to benchmark service charities in some way?

Colonel Hubbard: I do not know whether it is their position to do that.

Q309 Chair: It probably is not.

Colonel Hubbard: I would certainly go to their websites to see if someone was connected to them as a first port of call. That would be a good benchmark for me if they were associated with COBSEO. I just think that they need regulating. As someone who has worked with NGOs, I know that there are so many of them all chasing the same money and all trying to do the same job-and we end up painting the same wall four times. What a waste of money. I cannot see it being any different with all the charities that are chasing the same money, the same donors and the same outcomes. It can only go so many ways.

Q310 Chair: Finally, if you were the Veterans Minister, is there anything obvious that the Government could be doing that they are not doing at the moment to help people, whether full-time or Territorial Army service personnel, coming back to the UK?

Colonel Hubbard: The covenant is a good step in the right direction, but it should be more than words on paper. It should be, "We will deliver that covenant." We all believe, every one of us, that if we go off and do what is asked of us, our families and all those we leave behind will be cared for. The trouble is that when we are not there to see it, we have to rely on the written word. A number of soldiers, sailors and airmen will be sceptical about whether the covenant is really meant or is just words for the press.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed for coming along.


[1] Note from witness: the registrations referred to in this section are specifically of new charities

[2] Note from witness: the Commission typically opens between 10-20 statutory inquiries each year. Not all such inquiries involve the use of the power to freeze bank accounts.

Prepared 8th February 2013