Issue 12

KIDS COMPANY - WEANS WORLD?

By Richard Kerley, Chair of the Centre for Scottish Public Policy and Editor of Scottish Policy Now

One of the ironic sights of the summer has been to see the ever lengthier queues of people who, with hindsight of course, knew that something was ‘..not quite right..’ about Kids Company, the large English charity with a seemingly never ending pipeline of government support. That is, until the pipeline was shut down, as was the organisation a few days later, and in effect overnight.

Now it is always a tragedy when a benign and well-intended organisation, that appears to have done a great deal of good for a good number of people – though the actual number is disputed – suddenly crashes. There will be a lot of disappointed and distressed people.

Kids Company has, until now, been treated as spectacularly unique in its apparently successful work with really troubled children; rocket like growth; and equally rocket like failure. Perhaps it is, was, unique but in a number of characteristics that have endured over the life of the organisation it has parallels with other organisations and there are lessons here for Scotland, even though this has been an entirely English organisation, mainly operating in London and entirely regulated by The Charity Commission, not by the distinct Scottish regulatory organisation, OSCR.

.. we can currently see what appears to be an increasing flow of charities operating in Scotland that are in trouble (sometimes leading to closure or withdrawal)

The broad reason why this is relevant to Scotland is that here, as there, we can currently see what appears to be an increasing flow of charities operating in Scotland that are in trouble (sometimes leading to closure or withdrawal) as happened to the British Association for Adoption and Fostering recently – through their web site survives. In other cases, the options taken are not as sharp or as immediate as overnight closure but may involve centralisation as is proposed in relation to a couple of major charities with their Scottish operations being consolidated into a London corporate control base, with the cited reasons being cost pressures. This development is an outcome that a Carnegie Trust study I carried out a few years ago – ‘A Charitable Concern‘ - signalled might be a possible outcome of the Scottish , or Scottish arm of UK charities , not thinking about the consequences of the referendum as much as London based charities appeared to be doing.

There seem to be some key messages from the Kids Company collapse that have significance for similar organisations here.

The first is basic governance and some of the elements of that. Alan Yentob chaired the board of trustees for 18 years, correct – 18.  If a public company had a chair or directors that served that long without rotation or replacement, it would be subject to regular and pointed press criticism and such stagnation would be raised and criticised at annual meetings.

There seem to be some key messages from the Kids Company collapse that have significance for similar organisations here.

The second issue is how any organisation handles rapid growth of the kind that Kids Company both benefitted from and at the same time probably suffered from. The woman who founded and grew it, Camila Batmanghelidjh was obviously highly motivated and motivating, and threw her energies and empathy into caring for young (and older) people who other organisations appeared unable to help. One of the key lines of hindsight shared with us by almost everybody involved with the organisation, including herself, was on the lines of : ‘…Marvellous social entrepreneur but maybe not well equipped to organise, control and manage a large organisation ….as it became‘. Hmm, who knew? Board members in place for up to 18 years and they noticed that glaring gap in her skill set in July 2015!

The third linked group of lessons for charities here is this. Don’t get too close to government even if sometimes this seems very appealing. A related lesson is not to be too delighted when your assiduous campaigning and ‘halo‘ qualities enable you to override formal government procedures and get support and/or money as KC managed to do with both Labour and Conservative /Coalition governments .

So is this really relevant to Scotland?

Well, the world of charities and voluntary organisations is actually quite a small one – despite the vast numbers. If you are part of some of the conversations that go on in that world, then it is not long before you find people talking about other organisations – collaborators or competitors of their own organisation.

It’s not difficult to find suggestions of organisations that meet some, or even all, of the Kids Company lessons to avoid. We might just see our own instance here in Scotland; watch this space …

Richard Kerley
Chairs the Centre for Scottish Public Policy and Edits Scottish Policy Now.

By Richard Kerley, Chair of the Centre for Scottish Public Policy and Editor of Scottish Policy Now

Issue 12

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