In her role as Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Lucy has written to Oliver Letwin today calling for the National Audit Office to investigate the allocation of grants from the Cabinet Office to Kids Company, following the charity's closure earlier this week.
Raising concerns about the support now in place for the thousands of vulnerable young people who had relied on Kids Company, Lucy asks why concerns about the charity's financial position, previously expressed by the Department for Education, had been overruled by the Prime Minister.
Lucy's now calling for a full independent investigation into the matter and for checks and procedures to be put in place to ensure that concerns about charities in receipt of public funding are acted upon by the Cabinet Office.
The recent events surrounding Kids Company, culminating in the charity’s immediate closure, have been deeply distressing and left an estimated 6,000 vulnerable young people without support. I am writing to ask you to clarify the Government’s involvement in this sad episode.
First, given the serious consequences for young people, what steps is the Government taking to ensure that the thousands of young people who relied on Kids Company will continue to receive the support they need?
Second, it seems clear from interventions by the former Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton MP, and the former Special Advisor to Michael Gove, Dominic Cummings, that the Department for Education had previously expressed concerns about the financial position of Kids Company but that these concerns were overruled by the Prime Minister.
Most recently you also overruled your Permanent Secretary. In overruling the advice of your permanent secretary that the grant provided ‘poor value for money’ you said: “We also take confidence from the changes that Kids Company has undertaken to make in terms of its leadership, management and governance, which we judge do give it a realistic prospect of long-term viability”. Could you explain what concerns the Cabinet Office had, and on what basis you believed that those concerns had been addressed?
Could you tell me what procedures and checks you will now put in place to ensure that concerns about charities in receipt of public funding are acted upon by the Cabinet Office, and what protection is in place to prevent political interference from Number 10 overriding considerations of probity, good governance and value for money?
It seems clear that Ministers’ concerns have been repeatedly overturned by Number 10 and the closure of this organisation shows that the Government’s strategy to support it has failed. Given this, will you now ask the National Audit Office to undertake a review of public funding to Kids Company so important lessons can be learned and so we can ensure that other charities working with vulnerable groups do not collapse in the same way in future.
This is of course not the first occasion in which serious concerns have emerged about the way in which this Government has funded a charitable organisation against the advice of civil servants and without adequate checks, with negative consequences. Big Society Network, launched by the Prime Minister, also received millions of pounds worth of funding, and was criticised by the National Audit Office for breaking the Government’s own funding rules and wasting public money that could have been spent to greater effect elsewhere.
It is vital that the Government learns the lessons of these repeated failures and I hope you will agree that a full independent investigation of this matter now takes place.
Lucy Powell MP
Labour and Co-operative MP for Manchester Central and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office