Susan Smith: We should avoid knee-jerk Batmanghelidjh reaction

Susan Smith, editor of Third Force News

Susan Smith, editor of Third Force News

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IN Camilla Batmanghelidjh’s various television appearances over the last few decades she has came across as a slightly lonely woman with a huge passion to improve the lives of the urban young people who are written off by the rest of society.

She seemed a bit odd, lets be honest, but her ability to show love to the often aggressive and frightening young people that Kids Company worked with was unbelievably impressive.

Over the years, Kids Company grew and both it and Batmanghelidjh gained enviable reputations – her unorthodoxy lauded as a virtue.

The charity sector can’t create wonderful services that improve the lives of individuals and society without the support and confidence of funders and the general public.

It all famously came crashing down last year and this week MPs firmly nailed the lid on the Kids Company coffin with a hugely damning report.

According to the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the charity, Batmanghelidjh and her chair, former BBC creative director Alan Yentob, were responsible for a catalogue of financial, governance and operational mistakes.

Government ministers, officials and the Charity Commission all also come in for criticism for not noticing the problems earlier and continuing to lavish funding on Kids Company.

Sadly, the aftershock of this high profile case will be felt across the whole third sector for some time to come. One of the defining characteristics of the third sector is its ability to come up with innovative solutions to social problems and take risks in a way the public sector can’t.

This story shouldn’t get in the way of that.

We have fantastic examples in Scotland, just think of Mary’s Meals, Bethany’s Caring Christmas Trees, Social Bite, Impact Arts, or the Scottish Refugee Council and Aberlour Guardianship service, the first UK service specially designed to support unaccompanied child refugees through the asylum process.

The reality though is that the charity sector can’t create wonderful services that improve the lives of individuals and society without the support and confidence of funders and the general public.

The knee-jerk reaction from government is to impose more regulation on charities. That’s one solution, but it will inevitably create a greater red-tape burden on already stretched organisations and get in the way of their ability to do their actual jobs.

The demise of Kids Company is very sad for the young people it supported, but it was an exceptional case in so many ways. The majority of Scottish charities are well run with effective boards of trustees. It’s important to take some of the positive and negatives of the Kids Company story and learn from them without losing the core creativity that is at the heart of the charity sector.

Susan Smith is the editor of Third Force News

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