More Taxpayers’ Money Wasted By Charities – Treat It Like Procurement!

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When you have been writing for several years, you inevitably find the same themes coming up again and again. It is not always easy to put a new slant on matters, but what is most annoying is the way that the same mistakes, errors or cock-ups keep happening. Sometimes it is so predictable you want to scream or shake someone ... particularly when it is public money being wasted.

So the report in the Sunday Times this week about how some of the £35 million paid as fines by the banks for the LIBOR rigging scandal and earmarked to help ex-service (military) people is being wasted was frustrating to say the least. In a gesture that was pure politics, George Osborne, the ex Chancellor, said that the money would go to this worthy cause. Why this particular cause when there are so many is another question, but then this windfall appears to have been distributed with little in the way of checks in terms of the organisations to which it was given.

So in some cases, the "support" offered to ex soldiers has been basically quack medicine or psychological treatments, with no evidence that they bring any benefit at all. By the sound of it, I could have set myself up as a proponent of "deep musical therapy" got a few hundred grand from the fund to take a few injured soldiers to Reading Festival.

Then there are also cases where the money just seems to have disappeared with nothing really to show at all, or it was spent on fancy offices and salaries rather than helping people. Some may well have been fraudulent operations, others merely gross incompetent.

"About £500,000 from the fund was paid to a small charity called Veterans Council, which then moved its office from a backstreet Wigan community centre to a suite of rooms in a stately home. About £100,000 a year was spent on salaries and £30,000 on furniture.

A promised “one-stop shop” for veterans, the purpose of the funding, does not exist, the charity is now penniless and all its former trustees have resigned".

So again, and this is the common recurring theme, public sector money is spent in a careless manner that in general we don't see when it is "procurement" spend. We might criticise procurement regulations, but they do generate a degree of probity and we do actually end up with something being provided in return for the spend. But as we saw with the Kid's Company, and the number of frauds around  Academy schools, the same rigour is not applied when we look at the government giving money as charity payments, grants and the like.

We know that Gareth Rhys Williams has plenty on his plate already as the government's Chief Commercial Officer, but addressing these areas might be a worthwhile addition to his list of priorities. There is no doubt that if such spend areas were treated more commercially, then the taxpayer would benefit significantly. Basic procurement and commercial principles - competition, due diligence on suppliers, clear contracts that identify deliverables and outputs, basic contract management - would go a long way towards stopping this waste of money.

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