The collapse of the Kids Company raises many questions. Already in the media some commentators are saying it is a disaster for the charity sector as a whole.
I really don’t agree. Few charities operate like the Kids Company. Even fewer have enjoyed the political patronage of the Prime Minister. And I cannot recall an incident when a senior official say that a further investment of £3 million does not represent value for money that he is overridden, not by one, but two, government Ministers.
Yet within a week of that £3 million being handed over, a decision was made to close the charity.
There are, obviously, many questions being asked tonight. I would be interested in the answers to three in particular:
Who actually made the decision to close Kids Company?
Were the Trustees of the Kids Company in control?
How much of a free hand did the Trustees give the CEO?
A problem for Charities with Boards made up of the Great, the Good and the Glamorous is that Trusteeship can become a status symbol. Being a Trustee is a serious undertaking, not to be entered into lightly. The easy bit is that Trustees are the custodians of the charity’s ethos. But there are many regulatory and legal responsibilities for which Trustees can be held accountable.
No matter how dynamic, committed, energetic, visionary the chief executive might be, the buck often stops with the Trustees. This can be a particular problem when the ceo is also the founder of the charity, and the Trustees have been recruited by the founder/ceo. It is understandable that trustees appointed in those circumstances are loyal to the ceo, and defer to them.
Yet a well governed charity has a Board of Trustees who are in control. I hate meetings of the BHT Board of Trustees. I can feel physically sick in the morning before meetings. I am known to be very grumpy and for people to give me a wide berth on days when the Board meets. I know that I will be held to account. I know that notwithstanding any passion or ambition I might have for a scheme or direction for BHT, there are almost a dozen wise heads who will question, probe, challenge and then either agree, defer or reject a proposal. I will be held to account, and the worst aspects of my excesses will be curbed! Nothing we do in BHT can not be traced back to an authority given by the Board.
When the Public Accounts Committee carries out its inevitable enquiry into the collapse of the Kids Company, each and every trustee should be called to give evidence on their individual role and the collective responsibility of the Trustees.
Well governed charities have nothing to fear from the learning to come out of the demise of the Kids Club. Some politicians and regulators might not feel the same about their involvement.