Camila Batmanghelidjh: A response to recent coverage

31 Oct 2017 Voices

Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder, Kids Company

Camila Batmanghelidjh responds to criticism of her book about Kids Company. 

Dear Civil Society,

I am assuming that you are interested in fair reporting and in this context, I thought I would respond to Kirsty Weakley’s article dated 24 October 2017. 

Kirsty has been very selective in her choice of evidence from the book KIDS: Child Protection in Britain: The Truth. So, I thought I would remind her of her omissions, and use her own titles to do so. 

Conspiracy to shut the charity down 

In your article, you suggest there was no conspiracy against Kids Company. Whereas, Steve Hilton who was David Cameron’s special adviser and the architect of Big Society, begs to differ. 

"She (Camila Batmanghelidjh) was seen as a poster child for the Big Society. And that was a conscious decision on our part. As a result, she became a victim of attacks on the Big Society from the civil service and the media.” 

"I do think there was a conspiracy. Not an organised one, but among parts of the establishment that she threatened." 

In 2015, the Cabinet Office forced me to resign from Kids Company for no legitimate reason. They then leaked that they were forcing me to resign, into Newsnight. I had not had any complaints against me from any government departments in 19 years. 

Central government over twelve years made some 48 quarterly and half yearly payments to Kids Company. We received each payment after we were audited both clinically and financially by government appointed officials and researchers. Kids Company received grants from the Treasury, Cabinet Office, Department for Education, Home Office, Department of Health. The National Audit Office could not find a single letter of complaint regarding Kids Company’s functioning from government departments sent to the charity. 

At no time was there any question of us having failed in reporting, accountability or honouring government contracts financially and clinically. 

When the National Audit Office reviewed Kids Company’s functioning in 2015, they were not given all the reports Kids Company had provided for various government departments. These reports were described as being “lost”; which made the National Audit Office Report into Kids Company short of appropriate evidence. 

When PKF Littlejohn independent charity auditors, appointed by the Cabinet Office, audited Kids Company in 2014, they gave the organisation a clean bill of health, but raised concerns about lack of cashflow which were precisely the concerns we were addressing with government. Some civil servants inside the Cabinet Office, perhaps had wished for a more negative report, so they tried to put pressure on the auditor to change his report, giving it a darker tone. Kids Company raised the concerns with a law firm. 

When Kids Company closed in 2015, the Cabinet Office leaked into the BBC a false allegation suggesting I had misspent the £3m grant they had given Kids Company. They claimed it shouldn’t have been spent on staff salaries and they wanted it back. A judge has since said that the money was spent according to contract and Kids Company can keep the remainder. This misinformation led the public into thinking I had stolen the government’s money and gone to expensive restaurants with it. 

The reason I was photographed outside an expensive restaurant, was because the event was set up. I was invited by a foreign government to a private lunch. They insisted I go to that restaurant, whereas I wanted somewhere more low key. Either the representative was genuine or not, but when I came out of the restaurant, photographers were there. The headline in the newspapers the next day suggested I had lunched using government grant money. 

I’d like to remind you that Kids Company closed because of false sexual abuse allegations being taken to Newsnight and not because of lack of funding, we had a year’s funding confirmed ahead. However, funders withdrew their grants because they were being led to believe that Kids Company had facilitated the abuse of children and young people. The police cleared the organisation of any wrongdoing and stated that they “could not find fault with Kids Company’s safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults.” Who took these malicious allegations to Newsnight and why? No parliamentary inquiry, the Official Receiver nor the Charity Commission are looking into the people who created these false allegations and who fed the media false stories. We know who they are, but for legal reasons I cannot name them. 

You could put all the above down to a series of ‘ugly coincidences’, however, I have good reason to believe that they are more than that. 

See the Child. Change the System 

Your article wrongly suggested that See the Child. Change the system had no funder and had failed to commence work. This is not true. 

See the Child. Change the System did have a funder. It is a project, in partnership with sector leaders to redesign children’s services across social care and mental health, making them more fit for purpose, both for workers, children and families. 

It was launched in 2014, films were shown across cinemas. 28,000 members of the public signed to support the campaign. Some charities and other organisations did sign up as partners, we had started the process of interviewing staff and had received applications. However, before we could go ahead, the charity had to close. 

The agenda of See the Child. Change the System has continued, and we have received funding for the work from a philanthropist. Part of the model has been created as a result of this funding and the work is ongoing with an international agenda being added to it. 

Newsnight ‘sat on abuse claims’ 

You suggest that Newsnight reported the information which was taken to them regarding sexual abuse allegations immediately to the police.  

Both the police and Kids Company believe that Newsnight had the allegations against Kids Company for a while. I know this for sure because Chris Cook from Newsnight and Alan White from Buzzfeed News who was collaborating with him, had sent Kids Company some questions. Although we didn’t know that they would use these questions to create the false narrative of Kids Company having allegedly facilitated the abuse of children. 

If Chris Cook is right, and he did report the allegations straight away to the authorities, then he acted irresponsibly by continuing to communicate with potential witnesses to an ongoing police investigation in order to make his film. His behaviour could be classed as interfering with witnesses and victims as well as interfering with the criminal justice process. 

Kids Company had 36,000 beneficiaries 

In your article, you claimed we did not have 36,000 beneficiaries. This is not true. 

A reporter who has integrity relies on evidence and not opinion. You have not approached me before writing your article. Had you done so, I would have been able to show you evidence that we did serve 36,000 children, young people and families. 

For a start I have a communication from the Official Receiver regarding the numbers of case files they hold, which would have helped you present more accurate information. 

Government had promised to give Kids Company £20m 

You claim this did not happen. 

I have a letter confirming my conversations with Oliver Letwin regarding the £20m he wanted to identify for Kids Company. His civil servant has confirmed receiving it. I would have been happy to share this with you had you made contact. Therefore, your suggestion that this statement is false, is inaccurate. Had it been false, then Oliver Letwin or his civil servant should have written to us challenging our perception of the events. 

Sir Chris Wormald, the Permanent Secretary for the Department for Education explained to the Parliamentary Inquiry of 2015, led by Meg Hillier MP, that government was thinking of giving Kids Company a direct grant on a consistent basis, by saying: 

“There was a wish to explore whether there was another route to fund Kids Company via a direct grant, which is something the Department does quite a lot; we do it with quite a lot of other charities—we do it with ChildLine, for example, and in a number of other cases." 

It was not the NSPCC's report which gave me the idea that the government would fund Kids Company as it had done Childline, as your article wrongly suggests; it was the discussions we had been having with government and civil servants behind the scenes. 

As you can see, Sir Chris Wormald confirms it in his evidence. 

There have been false suggestion that Kids Company took too much money away from other charities, this is not true, Sir Chris Wormald confirms this:  

“If you look at the total volume of what we give to the voluntary sector, you see that it comes to a bit over £200m a year, and Kids Company was receiving about 2 per cent of what we gave to the voluntary sector over that period.” 

There were also suggestions that Kids Company received ‘exceptional’ favour when being awarded grants. This too is not true. We competed for funding, submitted applications that were subjected to scrutiny. We legitimately often scored the highest point. Sir Chris Wormald confirms it. 

“It is of course true that the money went up, mainly because Kids Company was extremely successful in a series of bidding rounds, where its bids were measured against the criteria of those schemes.” 

“I do not think there is any disagreement about this—for some highly innovative work with some extremely vulnerable people (Kids Company) was value for money. I can only tell you what we thought at the time, which was that, that Kids Company did represent value for money.” 

He also confirmed that they reviewed the charity’s outputs and found them to be a “reasonable set of outputs for that sum of money.” 

We had enough money 

In your article, you suggest that funders pledged funding, but didn’t confirm that they would give the grants to Kids Company. This is not true. 

In order for Kids Company to get its government grant of £3m in 2015, we had to present to the Cabinet Office a detailed evidence document demonstrating philanthropists would pay their grants once the government had paid their £3m grant. We had confirmations in writing from all the philanthropists which we submitted to the Cabinet Office. Therefore, the ‘pledges’ were confirmations. 

We had a house donated to the charity by Morgan Stanley, which was worth £1.7m and that was the cushion that the charity had created in the event of an emergency.

The reason the charity couldn’t build reserves was because it had too many maltreated and mentally ill children and young people self-referring, with no one being prepared to pay for them. That is what led to Kids Company raising concerns with just under 100 politicians about our lack of funding to support self-referring children and young people. In addition, local mental health and social services were unofficially sign-positing vulnerable clients to Kids Company without paying for them.

These challenges led to government sending us two civil servants in 2012, who tried to resolve the difficulties and left after a year unable to raise any statutory funding for Kids Company. This is because of the self-referral challenges. 

Britain never imagined there would be children asking for help directly and therefore the financial modelling doesn’t exist to fund self-referral. This was Childine’s problem and it had to be absorbed by the NSPCC when it couldn’t survive without payments for self-referring children. 

85p in the pound going to the front line 

Kids Company was very proud of keeping its administrative costs low. Only ten staff were focused on fundraising at any given time and we managed to raise £2m a month.  

People will be discouraged from becoming trustees 

We have been informed by charities that their trustees are resigning as a result of anxiety generated by the way the trustees of Kids Company were treated. Had you checked with me, I would have given you the names of some of these charities. 

Response to your article dated 18 October 2017 

Your article dated 18 October 2017 is similarly playful with the truth. At no time have I suggested that we had £3m available in reserves. What I actually said was that in 2015, we had three months’ worth of reserves and a year’s funding confirmed ahead. I did not imply as you suggest that the police investigation into false sexual abuse allegations taken to Newsnight was a minor event. You also suggest that the parliamentary inquiries into Kids Company were rigorous, the problem is that they were not. I will happily demonstrate that to you. 

May I suggest that next time you write an article about Kids Company, or myself, that you do what all good journalists do, which is check your facts before going to print. Otherwise you leave yourself open to legal action. 

At no time have you contacted me and offered me an opportunity to respond, or verify the information you publish. 

Fact vs Fiction 

I wonder whose fact vs fiction should we be addressing? Your selection of evidence from the book fell short of the truth. I would hate to think Civil Society might be a mouthpiece for elements of the government wishing to discredit Kids Company’s work. Or perhaps your journalism is yet to evolve and acquire some rigour. In the meantime, I suggest your readers buy the book: KIDS Child Protection in Britain the Truth, and judge for themselves. By the way, my share of the money from the sales of the book is being spent on the very children and young people whose existence the local authorities and Cabinet Office denied. 

I hope you will have the moral courage to print this in full. 


 

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