|Gerry Steinberg MP||In the House...|
Public Accounts Committee 06 Nov 2002
Mr Steinberg: Thank you, Chairman. Mr Gieve, I have very mixed feelings about the service that is provided as a result of reading this report and I may well be a lone voice on the Committee. I think the subject is too important to be left just to volunteers and I also have misgivings about the way the whole scheme is financed. Do not get me wrong, the scheme as it is working at the moment is very good but I do very much have misgivings about the whole thing. I knew very little about it and when I read the report I was amazed at the wide discrepancy there was throughout the whole of the country for the service that is provided. Surely the reason has got to be because of the way that it is actually funded? Would that be right?
(Mr Gieve) I will ask Helen to comment on this, but this is a service which has grown on an independent basis and then we have supported it and our objective has been to get a national coverage and in the last two years - and this has been something we have worked with Victim Support on - to get the coverage to match the need. But inevitably in a voluntary service as it grew the places where there were more volunteers and the places where they could raise more funds locally grew quicker than the rest.Mr Steinberg: Absolutely.
(Mr Gieve) In the last couple of years through the allocation procedure which Victim Support run and we observe we have been trying to switch funds so that you match the actual need in terms of crime and cases.Mr Steinberg: I will come on to that. So basically what you are saying is that it was a voluntary organisation that set up and then you started to support that organisation?
(Mr Gieve) Yes.Mr Steinberg: But do you not think it has now gone further than that? Do you not think that the service is apparently necessary and it no longer can be dependent upon volunteers and for them to have to raise their own funds?
(Mr Gieve) It has gone a lot further and we now do have a national coverage, although there are still areas where it is not as good as others and we want to fill those gaps. We think there are strengths in employing volunteers on this. Partly, obviously, there is a value for money point but the main contribution from Victim Support comes in terms of voluntary free time, not just in terms of resources. But also our experience has been that having volunteers from the locality is actually a good element to offer in the service.Mr Steinberg: Yes. Could I ask you to answer the questions a little more quickly because we have got a very short amount of time and there is a lot I want to get through. On p.30, for example, paragraph 3.8, it tells us here quite clearly that the Home Office has only ever intended to make a contribution to the costs. Explain to me the logic behind that. Why do you not fund the whole of the service?
(Mr Gieve) Well, we do not need to fund the whole of the service.Mr Steinberg: You do.
(Mr Gieve) No.Mr Steinberg: It is quite clear that you do because in some areas they can only raise something like 2 per cent of the money and in other areas they can raise 70 per cent. What about the areas that are only raising 2 per cent? They are going without a service so clearly you do need to put more money into it?
(Mr Gieve) No. Helen will correct me if I am wrong but I think that on average about a quarter of the funds for Victim Support are raised from other sources, some from the local authority, some from charitable organisations.Mr Steinberg: Is it not irrelevant where the money comes from as long as the service is provided? At the end of the day you make a lot of shout about it but I get the impression it is just lip service. I do not think you are putting your money where your mouth is. How much have you put in, for example, or how much do you intend to put in to expand the service, let us say in the next year?
(Mr Gieve) As the report shows, we have expanded the funding very rapidly over the last few years so we have put some of our money where our mouth is. For next year we are still looking at how much we can afford within our settlement. We have told Victim Support -Mr Steinberg: How much money are you setting aside to expand the service? Tell me, how much are you going to put in to expand the service?
(Mr Gieve) Well, I am saying we have not yet decided how much we can afford to expand the service.Mr Steinberg: You have not decided?
(Mr Gieve) You are saying, why do we not fund the whole lot.Mr Steinberg: Yes.
(Mr Gieve) Why do we not find another £X million. Well, firstly Victim Support would have a view about that because they prize their independence, and secondly all that money has an opportunity cost in other services which we provide.Mr Steinberg: I am not sure that is important now, the views of Victim Support, because clearly the Criminal Justice System, witnesses and victims desperately need help.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.Mr Steinberg: They are doing a very excellent job according to the report.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.Mr Steinberg: But there is a huge discrepancy across the country. There are areas that do not get it at all, or very little of it, should we say. If you look at paragraph 3.9 it actually tells you that there is a staggering difference in terms of how the scheme is funded. As I said before, 2 per cent to 65 per cent in some areas. Only 50 per cent of the areas actually raised the 20 per cent of the money that was actually needed. So I think that substantiates, does it not, my view that the Home Office should be the paymaster in order to see a full service right throughout the country?
(Mr Gieve) No, I do not think it does substantiate your view.Mr Steinberg: You do not?
(Mr Gieve) It means that you have to allocate the Government subsidy more to some areas than others. That is what it means and that is what is happening. Is that not right?Mr Steinberg: Dame Helen, do you want to comment?
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes. Sorry, that was a factual question about whether we allocate money more where there is less fund raising.Mr Steinberg: Yes.
(Dame Helen Reeves) No, we do not. We do not take account of local fund raising. We allocate Government money equally to all areas on the grounds that if we gave more money in areas where local government did not pay it would encourage other areas not to pay -Mr Steinberg: That is the point.
(Dame Helen Reeves) --- and it is a serious problem.Mr Steinberg: Yes. Why should local government pick up the tab? Local government have huge difficulties as it is, to begin with. I suspect that certainly in my area the district council who would be asked to find the money have no sort of brief as far as crime and justice is concerned yet they are being asked to donate. Why does the Home Office not donate? They are the ones who are responsible for crime and justice in this country and yet they are passing the buck, as I see it, in this report. They are depending upon volunteers, they are depending upon people to raise money and donations from here, there and everywhere, and they only get the money that is actually left from somewhere else because I read somewhere in the report that in fact they had not got a budget but they look to see where there was an underspend in certain areas and they pass the money on to you. So it does not seem to me as though it is a very good strategic plan, if you like.
(Dame Helen Reeves) May I answer part of your question?Mr Steinberg: Yes, sure.
(Dame Helen Reeves) I would agree entirely with John Gieve about the importance of Victim Support being in the voluntary sector for all the reasons that are in the current Compact with the Government, that we have been able to go into the courts and to point out things which possibly should have been changed some generations ago. We have been able to take the cutting edge in a number of developments and in fact to develop many of the policies which are now being implemented. I think that level of flexibility is very important in the early stages. I also think the use of volunteers is fundamental to the value of Victim Support. I think that the equality of having somebody from the community offering their time free of charge is absolutely vital to a lot of the work that we do. People do not all want professionals. But I do agree with you absolutely that core services do need equal funding and that volunteers have to be supported by a professional, well paid staff and that in some areas they can top up salaries and employ additional staff and in some areas they cannot. That is and always has been a fundamental problem for us.Mr Steinberg: Thank you. I have no complaint with that at all. I have no objection to and in fact fully support the idea of a volunteer service. All I am saying is that the Home Office should put their money where their mouth is and dip into their pockets and have a strategic plan and enough money to put forward so that we get a service right across the country which is equal. My understanding is that the Government White Paper on the Criminal Justice System emphasised the need for a better Victim Support system, did it not, to ensure that cases come to court and we get justice?
(Mr Gieve) Yes.Mr Steinberg: But frankly you are saying that but you are not actually providing the cash to do that. So I disagree with the sort of feel of the report where the report is basically saying that the voluntary sector should basically pay for it, if I am reading it correctly. I do not think that is right. I think you should be paying for it to ensure that the country as a whole gets the amount of resources needed to provide a service right across the country, an equal service right across the country. Am I right about the Criminal Justice White Paper? You do say that in that volume.
(Mr Gieve) Well, yes. The major theme of the Criminal Justice White Paper is to improve the service for victims and witnesses and we are determined to do that. In terms of funding, our funding has increased (this is p.15) over the period from £2 million to £28 million actually this year. That has been a big increase. I think what you are saying is that it should be substantially more than that. I would like it to be substantially more than that but we have got to squeeze it into a limited budget.Mr Steinberg: Yes, but you have not actually put any money aside really at all in your vote, so to speak, have you, because if you look at 3.13 it says: "Recently, additional grant funding has been drawn from other budgets within the Home Office's Spending Review allocatio", £2.4 million and £1.0 million from, was it the Criminal Justice System allocated reserve, and £2 million from somewhere else? So in other words what you have done is you have actually robbed Peter to pay Paul, have you not?
(Mr Gieve) Yes, but you are asking me to rob Peter even more to pay more to Paul.Mr Steinberg: No, I am not. I am asking you to increase the expenditure. Still pay the ones that you are doing -
(Mr Gieve) Yes, but the Criminal Justice System Reserve is a system we have which funds initiatives right across the Criminal Justice System, so not just in the Home Office but in the Lord Chancellor's Department, the courts, and so on, and we bid to that to get some extra money for Victim Support.Mr Steinberg: My final question then, Chairman. I know I have been told my time is up. Will you in future have a specific vote for Victim Support and witnesses?
(Mr Gieve) I am afraid I do not know how this appears on our vote but we will continue to fund victims and witnesses but I do not think we will have a separate vote for it, no; it will be part of our overall budget.
Mr Steinberg: That just sums up what I have been saying, I think.
Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Steinberg.