Public Administration & Constitutional Reform Committee
Oral evidence: Whitehall’s relationship with Kids Company
Q52 Paul Flynn: A memo was sent from Kids Company to the Cabinet Office stating that the communities served by Kids Company would, if the charity closed, descend into savagery and warned of potential increases in looting, rioting, arson attacks on government buildings. To what extent do you regard this as a reasonable assessment of the situation?
Alan Yentob: There must be people in this room who know about risk assessment.
Q53 Paul Flynn: Did you write this letter?
Alan Yentob: I did not write the letter, no. I wrote the letter about the restructure, I did not write that letter; it was written by the safeguarding team.
Kate Hoey: Sorry, can you just speak up a little bit?
Alan Yentob: Sorry. I did not write that letter, no. It was an appendix which was a risk assessment form, which was required and requested. Most risk assessment forms are what is the most extreme that could happen. Can I also just say something about this? So that was what it was—
Q54 Paul Flynn: All right, but can we just look at that? Couldn’t we put the warning in that letter as one that was a wild exaggeration and you accept that?
Alan Yentob: No, it was not. Can I explain why? Okay, I will explain why and I will explain why it was not a wild exaggeration. I do accept that it is a worst-case scenario. That is what risk assessments in any organisation are required to be. What is the worst that could happen? Remember the riots in 2011, which Camila in fact warned Oliver Letwin about—sorry, let me answer your question, I will. Five days after Kids Company closed, a boy was murdered. He was going to the crime prevention centres, which were closed. If you read the account of that and what was said at the time by those people in that area you will hear what they said and you will hear what they said about the risks that happened once Kids Company had gone.
I also gave, in the evidence, two letters from the Metropolitan Police that were utter and compelling endorsements of the work Kids Company does in Lambeth and the fact that that work would be sorely missed. There were stabbings, there were four suicide attempts. I have not talked about this, but I am now telling you that these things happened.
Q58 Paul Flynn: We have had a great deal of psychobabble, we have had a great deal that demonstrates Mr Yentob’s creative abilities, but would you please answer our questions briefly so that we can get on?
If we look at the numbers that you quoted to start, past employees of your company expressed cynicism about the accuracy of the suggestion that the number of clients you had in 2010 was 16,500 and the numbers leapt to 36,000 in the following year. You maintain that is the same number. If that is so, why was it that only 1,699 cases were handed over to the Lambeth authority when you closed down?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: They are all very good questions.
Paul Flynn: Would you answer why the number went down from 36,000? Presumably the majority were from that local council, the immediate neighbourhood. In reality the numbers that were produced were 175 in Bristol and 1,699. Why?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: First of all, the numbers do not pertain just to one local authority.
Paul Flynn: What were the numbers?
Alan Yentob: That was for the whole of London.
Camila Batmanghelidjh: There are two bits to this question. One is the overall numbers. The way the numbers—
Q59 Paul Flynn: What was the overall number you handed over?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: To the local authorities? Right, what happened is that—
Q60 Paul Flynn: Could you give me the number, please?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: Yes, I am going to.
Paul Flynn: We will be here all day.
Camila Batmanghelidjh: No. I would like to be able to answer your question—
Paul Flynn: Please do.
Camila Batmanghelidjh: —as accurately as possible. What we did is we handed over 1,717 referral sheets, which had on them families. So altogether the safeguarding team and the mental health team who put those referrals together think that they handed over between 3,000 to 4,000 clients, once you put all the referrals in.
Q61 Paul Flynn: Could I stop you?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: Yes.
Paul Flynn: An ex-employee of yours told The Times that they were instructed to shred client records after the charity closed. Is this an instruction from you and does it mean that records that would prove that there were 36,000 clients do not now exist?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: First of all, that is completely incorrect. We did not shred any client records. The records were all handed over to the official receiver. What we handed over are 18,000 hard copy files that contain family members in them, so one file may pertain to several people who are in that particular family. In addition, we handed over a database of our most high risk cases, which amounted to 15,933 individuals, and we handed over copies of the 1,717 referral forms we did. Absolutely no records were shredded whatsoever.
Q62 Paul Flynn: How did Kids Company identify those potential clients who were genuinely in need?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: Because we do a rigorous assessment and we do home visits.
Q63 Paul Flynn: But there are self-referrals you are saying.
Camila Batmanghelidjh: Yes, when they come to the centre.
Q64 Paul Flynn: Do you think it was more to do with the wraparound cash that you were giving them? If people were turning up—and it has not been denied—we have been told that some people were getting £160 a week. Is that not more of an inducement for people to identify themselves in need of your services?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: With appreciation, if this is about respect for vulnerable people, that is making the assumption that people who need help in these poor communities are—
Paul Flynn: How did you assess the level of unmet services?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: —accessing help in such a distorted way. The truth is that there are huge number of vulnerable individuals. In fact, it is so bad that this country does not even capture the real numbers.
Q65 Paul Flynn: How do you measure the number in the areas where you work? How do you decide? We all represent various parts of the country and all these problems occur there. Why is there suddenly a huge unmet service that you claim to be providing for in the particular area where you were?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: Okay. I am really glad you have asked me this question because what is happening in this country is that the numbers of children who get into social services and child mental health are controlled by a process which is a sort of hidden gatekeeping, because the local authorities cannot cope—
Q66 Paul Flynn: What percentage of the children—
Camila Batmanghelidjh: Please let me finish because you are not—
Paul Flynn: Well, I do not think—
Camila Batmanghelidjh: You are not allowing me to finish. Please let me finish.
Chair: Mr Flynn, we’ll let her answer this question.
Camila Batmanghelidjh: It is really important that you understand this problem because that is at the heart of the difficulties that we are all experiencing as a country.
Basically, there is a gatekeeping process in local authorities because they do not have enough money to cope with the scale of the problem, so what happens is that when children and young people are referred into social services or child mental health, they cannot always take that number of kids, so they have to select who they are able to help and who they are not able to help. If you want the real figures, the NSPCC in their report “How safe are our children?” attempted to have a go, because in this country we do not capture the real numbers of vulnerable children and young people who need help. Child mental health data was not updated for 11 years. That means that this country’s economic arrangements around child mental health were organised around the data of 11 years ago.
What you get is, when children and young people cannot get into social services or child mental health, they are left outside the doors of those agencies without anyone really measuring the level of need. When Kids Company allowed self-referral these people self-referred.
Chair: All right, we’ve got the point. Mr Yentob, very briefly.
Alan Yentob: If I can just try to give you some short, concise answers to this. First of all, in terms of the numbers the fact is that 20,000 of these 36,000 children are in schools and we are not saying that every one of them was given therapeutic care, but in terms of evaluation, the schools have got a detailed record of how much contact there was with each of these children. I assure you it is very difficult for Camila. Please let me explain this. I have given it to you in this document and it is important to me that you understand it.
That is what the majority of it is. The Government’s money, the £4.25 million or £4.5 million in the later years that came in, went to look after 800 children. That is £4.25 million for only 800 children, so consequently when we talk about this breadth of service, it is a different level of service for each of these children.
Q67 Chair: Well, how honest is it to put in your annual accounts that you were helping 36,000 people?
Alan Yentob: Let me answer that question. [Interruption.] Let me answer it. Let me answer this question. In the annual report it is absolutely clear and broken down, even in the numbers that I have given you, how much was done. 19,000 young people per year were supported by our children’s services. It then goes into detail about how many of them were given personalised support and what was going on. It is detailed how many got direct contact—
Q68 Chair: Also why was Kids Company so reluctant to hand over the records of these people to Mr David Quirke-Thornton of Southwark Social Services?
Alan Yentob: Very straightforwardly—and I think this is terribly important as well because Camila is not running all this, the 36,000 children—there are 650 workers. Those 650 keyworkers, that is 73% of the costs of Kids Company goes on the staff, not on handing out money to people or sending people to university.
Q69 Chair: Okay, but why was there reluctance to hand over the records to —
Alan Yentob: Because data protection of vulnerable clients—there are legal issues.
Q70 Paul Flynn: That is not true. They would be entirely protected if you handed them over to Lambeth. That is an excuse. Could you tell me, just briefly, how do you help someone’s mental health by buying them a pair of shoes that cost £150?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: Excuse me, because I think the way—
Paul Flynn: This is—
Camila Batmanghelidjh: Hold on, no, the way you have put that question is really unjust because—
Paul Flynn: Well, can you answer?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: I would like to answer it. Please let me answer it because the structure of that question is immensely disrespectful to vulnerable people.
Paul Flynn: Oh for goodness sake! Look—
Camila Batmanghelidjh: No, I want to be able to answer—
Chair: Mr Flynn, let her answer please.
Camila Batmanghelidjh: I would like to answer it.
Chair: But quickly.
Camila Batmanghelidjh: You can have mental health difficulties and you can still need a pair of shoes. So the two—
Paul Flynn: For £150?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: I do not know where you are getting that from and because I do not have any records and I do not have any name, I do not know what that question—
Q71 Paul Flynn: You are running an organisation without records?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: No, the organisation has records, but the records are in the hands of the official receiver to which I have no access, so I do not know what you are referring to. What I am saying to you is that when we had people with mental health difficulties and we had people—one mother jumped off a multi-storey block—
Q72 Paul Flynn: You are giving us examples. We do not live on the moon. We represent areas that have great problems, we know about them, but please do not try to treat us as though we are the Prime Minister and you are trying to get £30 million out of us. We want to know what happened with this organisation which has collapsed, damaging many people, possibly the results of it will do a great deal of harm to the clients you had. But you have given a non-stop spiel of mostly psychobabble; you do not answer the questions. I asked you how do you measure unmet need in the boroughs, and we have had this torrent of words since—verbal ectoplasm—but no answer.
Chair: I would just like to press—
Camila Batmanghelidjh: I would argue that I did answer you. You might not like my answers, but I did answer you.
Camila Batmanghelidjh: Okay. Basically, the reason the charity closed was the sexual abuse allegations that were unfounded. The charity did not close because it was badly run. Numerous independent evaluations have confirmed that the charity is well run. You are holding your evidence on the basis of The Daily Mail and a group of other media providers. You do not have and you have not done the rigorous research that is required in order to be able to determine whether the charity and its structures was failing.
Chair: I have given you the opportunity to say what you wanted. Mr Flynn.
Q129 Paul Flynn: I am delighted to be accused of being a friend of The Daily Mail. It is a novel experience. Mr Yentob, you have a very busy life. Between 2002 and 2015 you held four very important roles. You were chair of the trustees of Kids Company, editor and presenter of “Imagine”, BBC Creative Director and chairman of the ICA. How do you ensure that these positions you had had adequate amounts of your time and did not introduce conflicts of interest?
Alan Yentob: Well, first of all, I do not think there were any conflicts of interest and they were all declared. Secondly, I would look at the work that I did, the programmes I made, my role as Creative Director, ask my various director generals whether I had delivered or not delivered on that basis. I think we can put the BBC work to one side. I am sure they would have ended my service if it was not up to scratch in their view.
In terms of Kids Company, there were different times when that responsibility was greater. I believe that people who have the resource and the ability should make a contribution to public life. That is what I have always believed. My only regret, my great regret and sadness, is that we perhaps tried to look after too many children and we tried to do too much. I am not saying that I do not take responsibility for that.
I would say, though, that—and this is important—in terms of what happened in the last year when I did spend a great deal of time, I managed to bring in Hogan Lovells, insolvency lawyers, KPMG, who will all talk to you about how we conducted this. We moved out of our premises into Deutsche Bank. All this was done pro bono. I communicated in a very straightforward manner with the Cabinet Office. They were very rigorous. David Cameron is not in my pocket. It is clear that in the difficulties that were faced they could no longer give us direct funding. I believe, Chairman, as you said, maybe we expected we would get this funding. We did because of the correspondence that went on and that is another of my mistakes, but I did believe that.
Chair: We will come to that.
Q130 Paul Flynn: Is it true that you accompanied Ms Batmanghelidjh on her interview for the “Today” programme and that you rang “Newsnight” and “World at One” before items about Kids Company were broadcast?
Alan Yentob: All right. Well, “Newsnight” was the first—
Paul Flynn: Is it true?
Chair: It is a yes or no answer.
Paul Flynn: I would like to go on to the real question. Are those things true?
Alan Yentob: No, but the implication you are making—
Chair: Could you answer yes or no?
Paul Flynn: Just answer yes or no and then I can get on with my question.
Alan Yentob: Did I accompany Camila as chairman of Kids Company when they had asked me to be on the programme myself? Did I accompany her to the “Today” programme? Yes, I did and I said, “I cannot be on it, but Camila Batmanghelidjh will come”. I am the chairman of Kids Company, as you are all making it clear to me now.
Q131 Paul Flynn: Okay. You accompanied her on the “Today” programme and you positioned yourself with the producer in the box, which is something you must have realised—
Alan Yentob: I was not. No, I am sorry, I do not know where you heard that. I was not with the producer in the box. She was being interviewed. I was outside.
Chair: I am glad we have put that on the record.
Q132 Paul Flynn: Why have the BBC never interviewed you?
Alan Yentob: The BBC have never interviewed me simply because, from the beginning, we thought there might be a conflict of interest. Because the newspapers wanted to make a great number of it, I decided that I would do an interview with Channel 4 News at the time and not compromise anyone in the BBC. As you may know, the BBC anyway loves to have an executive to have a go at, so it is not something that they will not get the opportunity to do.
Q133 Paul Flynn: Do you think your presence, as you were there in your capacity with Kids Company but you are also one of the most senior people in the BBC, was your intention to put pressure on the interviewers to go easy on Ms Batmanghelidjh?
Alan Yentob: If you know anything about the BBC—
Paul Flynn: I do, yes.
Alan Yentob: Yes, you do. Well, you know that when I have been interviewed on “Newsnight” and anywhere else I am given a harder time than any of you guys are. The execution of a number of director generals by their own staff is history.
Q134 Paul Flynn: Do you think it is right with such a senior position that there was not a conflict in that and your presence and your phone calls were an abuse of your position as a senior member of the BBC?
Alan Yentob: I absolutely think that is completely untrue, no.
Q135 Paul Flynn: There are members of BBC staff who disagree and a certain unhappiness has been expressed. You put your hands up, but would you in hindsight think it is right for somebody who is regarded as one of the three or four most powerful people in the BBC to be around, to be ringing people up, to influence the way they are handling the Kids Company interviews?
Alan Yentob: The only thing I did and the only phone call I made—I made two phone calls. I had been phoned, perfectly rightly. This story has been the BBC’s story and that is the right of BBC News to do that, absolutely, and they have run it. That is one of the reasons I did not want to get over-embroiled in it. I made one phone call because, as chairman of an organisation that I believed in and which I had disclosed very much that I was running, not for no one and none of the trustees to have known this was going on, that there was going to be a programme, it was 9 o’clock at night and I rang. I was asked, “Are you going to be on it?” and I said, “Well, why can’t you do it tomorrow? I don’t even know what the allegations are.” That is the conversation I had.
Since then other journalists have spoken to me and have rung me up continuously and I have tried to speak to people but I wanted to wait. You will notice that I have done two interviews, one with Channel 4 News and one, a short one, with the Evening Standard. I have done no others until yesterday. The reason I have is because I wanted to come and speak to you first and take the responsibility that I have and talk to a public body who also have a responsibility. I did not want to get involved with lots of people talking about it.
Q136 Paul Flynn: Have you considered your position at the BBC as a result of your behaviour and your attempt to influence the coverage of it?
Alan Yentob: You say. In no way did I intend to influence or put pressure. I know perfectly well that BBC News, over which I have no control, is not going to listen to me and you only have to look at the number of BBC journalists out there interrogating this case and this organisation to know that that is the case, I am certain.
Q139 Paul Flynn: I have a final question. You prayed in aid a long list of Ministers who supported Kids Company. There is a feeling that they did this, including the Prime Minister, to advance the stunt they were running at the time called the Big Society, which appears to be dead and buried now. These voices appear to be silent now, the ones who supported you then. Do you think they used Kids Company to advance their political agenda and have run away from you now?
Alan Yentob: I absolutely do not, no, and I do not think they are running away particularly. The Prime Minister, Oliver Letwin, Nick Hurd, people like this, these are difficult times and the issue of the care system I think everyone would know—Kate Hoey knows more than anyone—how difficult, how challenging it is. I think they are genuine in their views that they want to do something about it. At the same time, the speed of change is very slow. We have found in Kids Company that the children that we look after are still not necessarily cared for by the statutory system. I did not send it to you but I have to say that every time we have challenged a local authority about care for children and we have gone to judicial review, we have never lost. It is not good and bad on both sides. Everyone is trying to do the best they can in the most difficult circumstances.
Q142 Chair: I want to move on to the relationship with Government because obviously that was a very strong determining factor in how you made decisions about the charity, but just before we do so, I just want to make sure that we have this right. You have denied that you were in the cubicle of one of the programmes that you visited with Camila. You did not stand in the cubicle?
Alan Yentob: Camila was behind the glass in another room. I was on the other side of the glass, yes, but I was not in the cubicle where she was being interviewed.
Chair: No, this is the point. The allegation is that you were not in the studio with her—
Alan Yentob: No.
Chair: —but you were the other side of the glass with the producer.
Alan Yentob: Yes, I was, yes.
Q143 Paul Flynn: Well, of course, that inhibited the producer. That was the whole point about what—
Alan Yentob: The producer was not doing the interview.
Paul Flynn: I think you gave me a very misleading answer.
Alan Yentob: No, sorry, I misunderstood.
Q144 Chair: It has been remarked to me that for such a senior and interested figure from the BBC to stand beside the producer, so the producer is thinking, “What I say to whoever is interviewing the interviewee is going to be heard by a very senior figure who has a conflict of interest in this matter”, don’t you think that that was—
Camila Batmanghelidjh: They invited him in.
Alan Yentob: Can I put it in perspective? They invited me to be on the programme and I said, “I will bring Camila.”
Q145 Chair: But then you should behave more like a guest rather than as a member of the BBC.
Alan Yentob: I think in all of this you do have to understand that for all these years I have been there supporting these children I have disclosed my position.
Chair: No, I understand that.
Alan Yentob: No, I do not think it was a—I am not a particularly—
Q146 Chair: What I am asking you is, in retrospect, was it really appropriate for you to go and stand behind the producer so you could hear what he was telling the interviewer?
Alan Yentob: I did not stand behind the producer. You see, you see it differently. I just thought I was there to listen to what Camila said and this is an organisation that I am familiar with, so perhaps—
Q147 Chair: In retrospect, was it sensible?
Alan Yentob: If it was intimidating, I regret it put it that way, yes.
Chair: I think that is a good thing to have put on the record.
Q148 Paul Flynn: Can I just say that I thought your answer was probably inadvertently misleading?
Alan Yentob: I didn’t mean—
Paul Flynn: The whole point I was making is don’t you think that you are standing there as one of the most senior people in the BBC, you have a producer that is junior to you there, you have somebody interviewing within sight of what you are doing; of course, they would be inhibited in what they say with you peering over them?
Alan Yentob: I did ask—
Paul Flynn: That is a pressure and it is quite inappropriate.
Q239 Paul Flynn: I have a very brief question that could be answered with a single word: Mrs Joan Woolard, who is a 77 year-old widow, sold her home, so The Spectator reported, and gave the proceeds of £100,000 to the charity. After volunteering at the charity, she became disillusioned and asked for her money back. Has it been returned?
Alan Yentob: No. Can I answer that question? Very glad you asked that question. I could show you e-mails and abusive limericks sent by that lady; I could also show you the Charity Commission’s review of the costings and the challenge that she made, which unequivocally say that it is untrue. The Sunday Timeswere brought in, the deputy editor and the chief financial officer, to come and look at the books and the receipts and see what was done. They have sent a letter, which I can send you, which says, “We unequivocally do not see any evidence that this is true and as a consequence of that—”
Q240 Paul Flynn: It is not true that she made a contribution?
Alan Yentob: It is true she made a contribution. She is quite fragile and we understand and are rather sympathetic, but the abusive limericks that followed; the fact that she was saying she was not thanked when we have seen all the thank yous; the fact that this money was spent on the children and that has been authenticated, that is the kind of thing we have to put up with.
Chair: Hold on a minute—
Camila Batmanghelidjh: The Joan Woolard story was not true.
Q241 Paul Flynn: Again, it is a yes or no.
Camila Batmanghelidjh: It was not true.
Paul Flynn: She gave a sum of money, then she asked for it to be returned. Have you returned it?
Alan Yentob: No.
Camila Batmanghelidjh: I need to answer that question. Joan Woolard gave a donation. We behaved entirely appropriately in relation to that donation. The Charity Commission confirmed that. The Charity Commission advised us not to return her money and we followed all the instructions that the Charity Commission gave us all along, because the story that was written in The Spectator was entirely untrue. We went to The Spectator to present the evidence that Joan Woolard had been thanked numerously, that she had had a whole page in our newsletter thanking her, that every receipt and expenditure was accounted for, ands she had a full report submitted to her. We did everything absolutely correctly in relation to Joan Woolard, and when we presented the evidence to The Spectator, they did not want to print the correction.
Q242 Chair: Does the Charity Commission know all that?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: Yes, absolutely. There are e-mails I can share with you where the Charity Commission confirm that there are no issues in relation to this case.
Chair: Just “yes” would have done.
Q243 Paul Flynn: This is a fragile 77 year-old lady who has come up against all the might of your organisation. Don’t you think you had a moral obligation to return it if she became disillusioned with your work?
Camila Batmanghelidjh: I am so sorry, but if we were to rely on donations that are given to us and then someone changes their mind, it would make for a very precarious contract between a charity and—
Paul Flynn: I think it is a good warning for future donors.
Camila Batmanghelidjh: That is very unfair. We behaved entirely appropriately in relation to Joan Woolard and I think you need to come and see the evidence.
Q244 Chair: I think we will draw the line there and we will ask the Charity Commission about the treatment of Joan Woolard and find out for ourselves.
Camila Batmanghelidjh: That would be great.
Chair: I want to thank you both for coming in front of the Committee today. I appreciate you have both been under a great deal of stress and public scrutiny. I hope that we will draw some positive lessons from this episode.