I am not going to pretend I understand the ins and outs of the collapse of Kids Company, so I am not going to speculate on any of the media chatter about any alleged improprieties or poor governance. Doubtless it will come out in the wash. My thoughts are with the children and the people who have lost their jobs.
Locally, in Bristol, the story is massive. There are six centres in our city providing essential services. I have cribbed the details of the services they provide from their website:
Alternative Education Provisions delivered in partnership with Bristol City Council for young people, offering compulsory education for young people up to the age of 16 who have been permanently excluded from school or who are at risk of permanent exclusion.
A Further Education Provision offering non-compulsory education to young people over 15 who have struggled with mainstream education.
We support and advise young people through social work, psychotherapy, counselling, employment advice, housing advice, youth offending programmes, drug prevention and sexual health advice
We also offer nutritional meals a day and where necessary, a needs-tested living allowance
We help young people to access, negotiate with and maintain relationships with other statutory and voluntary sector service providers (e.g. GP registration, optician, sexual health and mental health)
We also provide leisure activities, day trips and educational support, alongside alternative and emotional therapy
In short, Kids Company provides vital services to some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in society. I would add that, as a charity, they were delivering a vital frontline public service. Without getting into any of the politics surrounding whether frontline public services should actually be run directly on behalf of the government, the closure of the centres will be devastating for the children. As it is, public provision is massively overstretched and vital work that the state cannot provide is given by over 60,000 children’s charities in this county. I had no idea that so many people relied on so many charities and it disturbs me greatly when something like this goes so terribly wrong.
David Cameron has been reported to have been “mesmerised” by the charity and just days before its closure, following allegations of financial mismanagement and child sex abuse, he overruled civil servants who warned him against making a further £3 million donation. A clear case, it would appear, of the prime minister’s heart ruling his head. And do you know what? In this instance, on the basis of available evidence, I credit him for doing what he felt was the right thing. What would you do, in a similar position, when confronted with a situation whereby thousands of young children would suffer greatly if you didn’t approve the handing over of some cash. Yes, £3 million is a lot of money and time will tell whether the PM was duped and whether there has been any kind of impropriety, but for now the priority must be caring for the children who will not longer be helped by Kids Company.
And what about the workers? Some 650 of them no longer have jobs, kind, caring people whose purpose in life was to improve the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable children in the land. We need more people like them, not less. I always feel that these sort of workers treat it as a vocation rather than a nine till five job. They are the good guys and I hope they find their way back to work as soon as possible.
Once this sad episode is behind us, we as a society need to decide what we regard as an acceptable level of care for disadvantaged children and whether we, as taxpayers, should be far more involved. We are talking about people’s lives here, not just statistics on a chart.
In praising David Cameron for showing some heart, I call him to now use his head and take the debate forward. All this suggests to me that he is, beneath the harsh Tory veneer, a caring person, although his future actions will speak louder than words.