Thursday, 27 January 2011
HODGE WATCH - NOW WHAT IS SHE UP TO?
FROM THE ACCOUNTANCY AGE WEBSITE
Hodge outlines Public Accounts Committee revolution
by Accountancy Age Staff
25 Jan 2011
PLANS TO BE NICE to top Whitehall mandarins instead of subjecting them to a humiliating public mauling have been outlined by the first ever woman to chair the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
Former Labour Culture and Tourism Minister Margaret Hodge, who is also the first to be elected to the position by fellow MPs, outlined the revolutionary policy in a speech to the Institute for Government.
She said the committee had a reputation for being "something of a bear garden, with permanent secretaries dreading their appearances and expecting humiliating verbal maulings", but remarked that although one top civil servant had admitted appearing before the PAC was very difficult "it seldom changes the price of fish".
The aim is "to change the style of engagement so that we can strengthen the impact of our findings", she said.
WHAT THE BLOODY HELL IS THIS WOMAN DOING CHAIRING THIS COMMITTEE? IT LOOKS LIKE A BACKSCRATCHING SET UP TO ME!
LETS TAKE A LITTLE TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE, SHALL WE, MARGARET HODGE?
THE TELEGRAPH 12 Nov 2003
Mrs Hodge 'has not learned anything'
A child abuse victim plans to sue after being described as 'deeply disturbed' by council leader who could have helped him, reports Stewart Payne
After the years of sexual abuse he suffered as a boy in care at an Islington children's home, Demetrius Panton might have expected kinder words from the woman he tried to alert to what was going on.
"I wasn't blaming Margaret Hodge. It was the man who came into my room at night, the man who was meant to be caring for me, that I blame," he said.
"But perhaps Mrs Hodge could have apologised and assured me that something would be done."
Instead, years later, when Mrs Hodge did find words for Mr Panton it was to call him "deeply disturbed". And, in doing so, she reopened a wound that he has spent all of his adult life trying to heal.
"Everyone who has been abused will tell you the same thing. They feel that they will not be listened to, will not be taken seriously.
"In calling me 'deeply disturbed' Mrs Hodge had dismissed me. She has sought to suggest that I am not reliable, not credible. She does not appear to have learned anything."
The remarkable thing about Mr Panton is that "deeply disturbed" is the one thing he is not. Not only is there not a shred of clinical evidence to suggest it, he is a survivor who has emerged relatively unscathed.
He is angry, certainly. He still bears the scars. He has a burning sense of injustice. He would like someone to own up and say sorry.
But where many fail to come to terms with childhood sexual abuse, Mr Panton was able to move on. He went to university and got a good job.
But he never forgot. Which was why, in 1992, he arrived at the door of Mrs Hodge's surgery when she was Islington council leader, determined to tell her about what had happened.
"I was studying for my PhD. I wanted her to know what had happened to me. I wanted to prevent it from happening to anyone else. And I wanted the council to support me to help me pay for my studies."
He had been placed in a home at the age of 10 because his mother had walked out and his father could not cope. Islington council had taken on a duty of care and Mr Panton wanted assistance from its education department.
"I felt they owed it to me after all that had happened," he said. He had made an allegation against Bernie Bain, the head of his children's home, while he was still in care but no corroborative evidence was found and Bain was allowed to leave with the minimum of fuss.
He repeated his allegations several times after leaving the home, but no action was taken. His visit to Mrs Hodge was, he said, an attempt to go to the top with his concerns. When he arrived he found that Mrs Hodge was away and her surgery was being taken by another councillor from her ward, Stephen Twigg, now also a Labour MP and a minister in Mrs Hodge's department.
"He was very new. I was reluctant to talk to him but I decided to tell him what I knew and to request help for my studies. He knew I had come to talk to Mrs Hodge and it was my impression she would be informed."
Mr Panton never heard from her. A spokesman for Mr Twigg said yesterday that he remembered meeting Mr Panton but could not recollect if he was asked to bring the issue to Mrs Hodge's attention. "In any event, Mr Twigg did not do so and, with hindsight, regrets that he did not."
A few months after that meeting, the London Evening Standard published an investigation that exposed the extent of child abuse in the Islington child-care system. Mrs Hodge went on record to deny the allegations but later, when the findings were confirmed by official independent inquiry, conceded that mistakes had been made. But, she said, she had not been personally aware of the extent of the abuse.
Finally, Mr Panton went to the police and an inquiry was launched. Bain, it was discovered, had left Britain and continued his assaults on young boys in Morocco, where he was jailed for indecent behaviour. He committed suicide in Thailand in 2000, following a failed attempt to extradite him to the UK, and never faced trial over the Islington allegations.
In 1998 Mr Panton received an out-of-court settlement from Islington and an unqualified apology from the local authority.
Following the appointment of Mrs Hodge as children's minister earlier this year, Mr Panton's case was brought to the attention of the BBC Today programme. It was during the course of its investigation into what Mrs Hodge knew of the Panton case that she wrote to Gavyn Davies, the BBC chairman, describing Mr Panton as "deeply disturbed".
Mr Panton said: "I have every intention of suing. I have spoken to lawyers and I am advised that because Mrs Hodge is a Minister of State her letter has qualified privilege."
He said he had been told that that defence can be defeated if he is able to prove that malicious intent lay behind the allegation.
His solicitors, David Price and Co, said: "We are considering with Mr Panton the possibility of legal action in relation to the particulars contained within the letter."
That would not mean being less tough or rigorous, or less incisive and hard hitting, but there would be more emphasis on learning and capacity improvement.
She added: "We want the hearings to be constructive exchanges, not defensive appearances because in that atmosphere we are more likely to identify what's really going wrong and we're more likely to be able to articulate good and practical recommendations for change."
There would even be praise for good practice obtaining value for money and MPs would widen the scope of those called to give evidence.
She added: "If we are to be effective, civil servants and ministers must not just pay lip service to our recommendations, they must consider them properly, implement those with which they agree and give us a coherent and convincing argument where they disagree."
She said the committee would even consider issuing reports in advance of spending by departments and take a more rigorous approach to monitoring the implementation of recommendations.
Ms Hodge also signaled a breach in the tradition that the PAC relies on the National Audit Office, by appointing its own advisers and seeking advice from independent sources, stressing this "in no way reflects on the quality of the NAO work".
She said the committee was dealing with the first peacetime coalition since the 1930s embarking on the deepest cuts for decades, making the realisation of best value more important to minimise the impact of spending reductions on the public.