The media is alive with stories about the closure of Kid’s Company. It is very sad. I don’t know the charity directly but I have admired their work.
What I glean from everything I read is that there were problems with accountability for how the money had been spent and that questions about the finances generated implausible responses. In the charity world ‘Risk and Reputation’ are key so even if an organisation is squeaky clean, if it communicates poorly, it will create a perception of incompetence which will inevitably generate further investigation and mistrust.
Another issue is that when an organisation takes money from the public purse, it agrees to play by certain rules. When a charity is innovative and ground breaking, those rules can compromise the way a charity wants to deliver its services so clear, transparent and accurate contracting about exactly what is going to happen to the money is vital and both sides are responsible for making those agreements and monitoring them. Especially if the organisation wants to be in a position to give feedback to the government that it might not want to hear.
I also read that there were recommendations not to give Kid’s Company any more funding but this was over ridden at the highest levels. An article in the Spectator by Miles Goslett was raising concerns in February. This means that there was obviously some form of mistrust much earlier. What a shame that at the first sign of disagreement or mistrust, there wasn’t a call for mediation and discussions facilitated by an impartial third party.
Of course, I don’t know why that didn’t happen but from experience I can say that choosing mediation at the first sign of tensions is not common practice in government yet it would save huge amounts of money.
What I’m telling myself is that if mediation had been used much earlier in the process, then, even if it turned out that Kid’s Company was no longer capable of managing its operations, a much better exit strategy could have been negotiated. One which took care not only of the public purse but of the young people, their families, the staff and, not least of all, the volunteers who have devoted so much personal time and effort but which wouldn’t have resulted in handing over the last £3m pounds without an in depth and transparent agreement about what exactly would happen to that money.
Instead, what what happened was a brutal blow to what had previously been considered the last word youth work.
It really begs a question for me about why mediation and facilitated dialogue is not the first position? An impartial third party can make a massive amount of difference to the direction of a dispute by creating the conditions in which positive outcomes can be negotiated which will save money, heartache and wasted effort.
Is there any possibility that one small learning from this whole sad affair is to build early mediated outcomes into the ‘rules of engagement’?
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