Why Kids Company deserved to close

To escape tougher regulation, charities such as Kids Company, must run themselves like businesses. Emily Hohler reports.

attends the 'Kids Company: Heart Of Gold' fundraising dinner at the Porchester Hall on March 6, 2014 in London, England.
(Image credit: David M. Benett/Getty Images)

Until the publication of my article in February this year, "not a single bad word" about the now-defunct Kids Company or its chief executive, Camila Batmanghelidjh, had appeared in the mainstream media for the best part of 20 years, says Miles Goslett in The Spectator.

When I began investigating the charity in 2013, I was struck by the "improbable statistics" quoted in the newspapers about the number of children it helped: a figure of 16,500 in 2010 jumped to 36,000 in 2011, a number "obediently repeated" by every publication thereafter. That the charity was helping a group larger than Newbury's population, in London alone, seemed "incredible".

Yet celebrities and philanthropists "flocked to the cause".

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The closure is terrible news for those who relied on it. But any group that raises £150m over two decades, much of it from the public purse, and winds up in "such sorry circumstances" deserves to be "scrutinised to the highest degree". The trustees, led by the BBC's Alan Yentob, and Batmanghelidjh, all owe explanations.

Batmanghelidjh's "passionate defence" against the allegations has had "more than an air of the persecuted martyr", says Harriet Sergeant in The Daily Telegraph, with hints of dark secrets about sexual abuse and an "establishment plot". 

But along with tales of financial mismanagement, claims of a "culture of fear and favouritism" are emerging.

Yet while the charity was unconventional, revolving around the "lodestar of its eccentric founder", who is "so dyslexic she can't read a text message, let alone a balance sheet", many professionals admired the clinical work therapists did with disturbed children, says Eleanor Mills in The Sunday Times

What has got lost in "all the hullabaloo" is the reason it existed, which is to "fill the gaps in our creaking care' service". It drew funds because it did good work. Why else would the government have handed it over £30m of taxpayers' money since 2008?

As a rule, charities tend to be more effective than the state at helping vulnerable people, says Philip Collins in The Times. They know the local area and have a set of values that the "remote, bureaucratic state cannot match". 

The immediate consequence of Kids Company's demise is that the children will fall back on ill-prepared local authorities without the money, time or expertise to look after them. 

But running a charity is hard. They have to deal with clients who are "either chaotic or recalcitrant" and are often reliant on "capricious donors" for funding.

When large sums of public money are available, as they were in this instance, "accountability has to be better". There is no shortage of "idle cash" in Britain and to escape tougher regulation, charities must consolidate, raise more money, and run themselves like businesses. "It would be terrible" if the verdict of this episode was that charities are not fit to provide services. 

Every time a relationship works between a child and a company like Kids Company, "society gets a little bigger".

Emily Hohler

Emily has worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and was formerly Assistant Editor of MoneyWeek, which she helped launch in 2000. Prior to this, she was Deputy Features Editor of The Times and a Commissioning Editor for The Independent on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph. She has written for most of the national newspapers including The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail, She interviewed celebrities weekly for The Sunday Telegraph and wrote a regular column for The Evening Standard. As Political Editor of MoneyWeek, Emily has covered subjects from Brexit to the Gaza war.

Aside from her writing, Emily trained as Nutritional Therapist following her son's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2011 and now works as a practitioner for Nature Doc, offering one-to-one consultations and running workshops in Oxfordshire.