I thought we might take a little sliced and diced Quango for lunch today as we wait for Francis Maude to decide precisely which of the Quangos should go on his autumn bonfire.
One of those on the so called ‘hit list’ is the Public Guardian Board, an ‘independent’ – more of that later – Quango set up to scrutinise and review the work of the Public Guardian. That in itself requires some explanation.
The Public Guardian was not short of scrutiny. There were the usual culprits, the Audit Commission, the Court of Protection who commission ‘services’ from the Public Guardian, (otherwise known as a customer), The Ministry of Justice which scrutinises the work of the Court of Protection and any of its ‘sub-contractors’, like the Public Guardian, the Lord Chancellor himself who is responsible for the entire shebang, and last but not least, the merry throng of what are known colloquially as the ‘stakeholders’, those irritating specimens who insist on making complaints to the Ombudsman and talking to the press, and actually reading the Public Guardian’s Annual Report which he is obliged to publish to the public so, as I said, the old boy was not short of scrutiny – you may wonder what the new fangled Public Guardian Board could possibly add to this that would benefit the ‘most vulnerable’ over whom this edifice of the ‘great and the good’ tower like a mighty storm cloud.
The first thing we must take on board is that the ‘most vulnerable’ pay heavily for all this protection. They became ‘clients’ of the Court of Protection because they could no longer be trusted to spend their money wisely – they were dissipating their bank balances, or thought about to, in strange ways; buying lunches for total strangers, leaving money orders lying around so that others could pop them in their pocket, paying people to do jobs that had already been done, renting accommodation when they already had a perfectly good home – foolish, spendthrift creatures that they were, and all in the land were agreed that they must be protected from themselves and their money given to the Court of Protection to spend wisely on their behalf.
Thus it came to pass that the Court of Protection in 2009/2010 agreed that the foolish and spendthrift ‘clients’ should have a cumulative £22 million pounds ripped from their bank accounts and siphoned off to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), that their foolish spending ways be supervised in a self-funding manner. The OPG proudly announced to the world at large that their ‘income’ – their words – had increased by 25%. This is a growth industry.
That £22 million includes the cost of the ‘great and the good’ to supervise the supervisors of the foolish and the spendthrift. See the OPG accounts for the remuneration paid to the ‘trustees’ of the Public Guardian Board. It doesn’t however, include the cost, estimated by Fran Abram at a stonking £27 million, of the cost of the court’s ‘preferred option’ for direct supervision of the ‘foolish and the spendthrift’- the professional deputies, the solicitors (mainly) appointed round the country to tell the ‘clients’ what they can and can’t spend their money on.
You might think that the benighted ‘clients’ would be hard pressed to whistle their way through these multi-millions had they been left to their own devices in the matter of buying lunches for total strangers and renting accommodation they didn’t actually need.
So we come to the annual board meeting of the Trustees of the Public Guardianship Board Quango. You will find these eminent people listed on the OPG web site – seven of them, all august veterans of many a quango, one is even listed as a politically correct ‘service user’. That doesn’t mean that he has at some time been a client of the Court of Protection and might have some useful input, it merely means that he has laudably not only managed to wangle his way onto many a mental health quango, but has at some time also been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, extra brownie points for the tick box.
Once upon a time, the Public Guardian owned a valuable freehold property at the rear of the High Court in the Strand, some £4 or £5 million pounds worth from memory, but he sold that and gave the money away to a man he’d never met in the Treasury, and rented himself new accommodation in the boondocks of Archway. The clients pay the rent, naturally.
It wasn’t smart enough for the lunch he planned to give for 78 total strangers, so he rented accommodation in Smith Square – Westminster, just for the day, and he sent off letters to all the famous people he could think of, Rose Varley MP, Bridget Prentice MP, lots of High Court Judges, CEOs of all the major charities, representatives of the Solicitors that act as Deputies – some of the Solicitors sent four or five representatives – for lunch was free (paid for by the clients!), and you could get expenses and everything. There they all gathered to munch the prawn sandwiches and discuss how wonderfully the Trustees were doing at supervising the Public Guardian whilst he supervised the Deputies who supervised the client’s foolish and spendthrift ways – and all were agreed that it was truly wonderful that when a Solicitor phoned the Court to ask permission to skim another £5,000 from his clients account, these days the phone call was answered in 6.4 seconds which was over and above the agreed target of 7.1 seconds and a huge improvement.
They all agreed that the Lasting Power of Attorney with its swinging fees for registration had been a huge success and one they should promote at every opportunity, for it was important that the Public Guardian remain ‘self-funding’ – (this is shorthand for the client stumping up every penny that the Public Guardian sees fit to spend).
They all had little badges printed specially so they could ‘network’ and then they sat around at small tables and discussed the launch of their first report, a grand glossy affair of some 80 pages all printed in colour which had been mailed to each of them the day before.
Somebody asked them the other day whether they were going to do the same thing again – given that they were about to be abolished.
Oh yes, of course they were, it had been such an enjoyable outing, they are doing it again.
“I note your interest in being invited to the Public Guardian Boards Annual Report Launch later in the year. Attendee List’s, Invites and Agendas are currently being devised and will be circulated once finalised.”
Are you listening Henry Bellingham MP? If you don’t get a move on abolishing this Quango, they will be spending the client’s money on buying lunch for total strangers and renting accommodation they don’t need all over again. I note they are all on four year contracts – fire the lot of them and let the clients waste their own money.
What are you waiting for?