Kids Company – Plus ça Change?

After weeks of silence, as the very public debate about Kids Company rumbled on, finally Chair of Trustees Alan Yentob has had his say, coming to the defence of the embattled CEO Camila Batmanghelidjh.

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It’s interesting that the headline in the Standard refers to Mr Yentob as a ‘top BBC executive’ rather than ‘Kids Company’s Chair of Trustees’. A BBC executive coming to the defence of a beleaguered charity chief executive is rather more intriguing than the charity’s own Chair standing up for the organisation, but anyway…

Mr Yentob is highly critical of civil servants who advised Ministers against providing continued funding to Kids Company and heaped praise on David Cameron and Oliver Letwin for ignoring their advice. Kids Company have now, it appears, been offered a £3m grant – on the condition of wholesale changes at the charity. And so Mr Yentob feels able to offer a defence of the Charity he has chaired for the last 18 years.

Clearly a compromise has been reached over the Cabinet Office’s demands that Ms Batmanghelidjh and Mr Yentob stand down. Both will stay on, but in different roles – Ms Batmanghelidjh will become President and Mr Yentob will relinquish the Chair but remain a trustee.

New trustees – most of them bankers and corporate financiers – have been drafted in and life carries on. What qualifies them to run the charity, other than their long term financial support for it, I’m not sure – but perhaps they have the skills and experience needed to steady the ship.

Interestingly Mr Yentob is adamant that no financial mismanagement occurred – which rather begs the question why pack the board full of men with finance backgrounds? However he does go on to rather admit mistakes were made in expanding the Charity away from their South London home into Bristol and other cities.

Over ambitious expansion that exposed the organisation to risk that led to cashflow shortages and financial difficulties. That sounds a lot like the sort of thing that was going on at RBS and all those banks that spectacularly imploded a few years ago. Sounds a lot like financial mismanagement to me…

And then there’s the accusations of tax irregularities. Mr Yentob is happy to admit to them, saying he is ‘proud’ to have lobbied Treasury Ministers on behalf of the charity asking them to waive their £700,000 tax bill. This was national insurance and income tax that was due on salaries and had been deducted. That tax ought to have been funding social care, transport, health, education and all the other public services that vulnerable people (among others) rely on – like the young people who use Kids Company. Mr Yentob defends his action by saying that ‘this was a charity doing incredible work that needed support’ as if that is a justification for not paying taxes. What a spectacularly naïve sentiment and how lovely to be able to make that sort of decision how taxpayers’ money should be spent.

I have no doubt that the actions of officials at the Cabinet Office – and Ministers – has been unhelpful, inappropriate and probably unethical, but Mr Yentob’s so called ‘defence’ does little to reassure me that Kids Company comes out of this sorry  ffair any better.

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6 thoughts on “Kids Company – Plus ça Change?

  1. “I have no doubt that the actions of officials at the Cabinet Office – and Ministers – has been unhelpful, inappropriate and probably unethical”.
    Why do you have ‘no doubt’ about that, Toby?

  2. An excellent piece Toby. Gosh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t have to pay our NI and income tax contribution at the charity I run, because, well, we’re a charity so that makes it ok. These people might be great at their jobs at large financial institutions, but know little about the challenges of growing a charity.

  3. Hi Toby, great summary of debate. There is a wonderful Chinese proverb which nails this poor leadership behaviour: A fish always rots from the head. TKC could certainly do with a complete governance review, including adding Trustee and Chair terms into the governing documents, and a root and branch analysis of and restructure of the business model.

  4. Pingback: In defence of Camila Batmanghelidjh | tobyblume

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