Interview: Javed Khan

Victim Support's chief executive talks to John Plummer about overcoming budget cuts and forming an alliance with other charities

Javed Khan
Javed Khan

Two days after Javed Khan became chief executive of Victim Support in October 2010, the Ministry of Justice, which provided more than 80 per cent of the charity's income, had its budget cut by a third in the comprehensive spending review.

Khan, a former maths teacher, didn't need much time to calculate what a cataclysmic effect a cut of a similar size would have on his organisation.

"I went to the trustees and said: 'I would normally swan around for two or three months, be a sponge and come back and talk to you, but if I did that I would be doing you, the staff and the volunteers a huge disservice,'" he says.

"The MoJ faced a 33 per cent cut, so we faced something similar. I said I needed to take some risks and be bold. To their credit the trustees gave me full licence to do what was needed, even though I didn't really know what I was talking about."

Khan does a nice line in self-deprecating humour, but over the next few months he showed his mettle by steering the charity through a difficult time.

He managed to keep the funding cut from the MoJ down to 16 per cent - a success, in the circumstances - and secure a three-year funding agreement, as opposed to the usual annual deals that are made with charities.

"They wanted us to do more for less, and we said to do that we needed a longer period of stability," he says. "Three-year settlements are like gold dust in the charitable sector."

As a result, Victim Support is now guaranteed £38m a year from the MoJ until 2014. The settlement is still £7m less than the £45m it used to receive annually, and the charity had to shed 250 jobs last summer. It now employees 1,500 staff and has 7,000 volunteers.

"We started with the senior management team, which we reduced by 50 per cent to save £1m," says Khan. "This sent out a message to the troops that we were going to start at the top."

Khan's focus has not only been internal. In December, Victim Support formed an alliance with other charities working with victims and witnesses. The alliance now has 40 members, which will initially share information and campaign together.

Khan says that there are "too many organisations trying to do too many things" and that there is scope for wider collaboration between members in areas such as funding.

"If 20 organisations go to the MoJ asking for the same funding, that creates a headache," he says.

"In the future, we might stop doing part of our work if someone else can do it better."

Khan says there are no plans for mergers or takeovers, and even suggests that Victim Support has an obligation to become a kind of big brother to smaller organisations in the field.

"We have been good at being 'big' but hopeless at being the 'brother'," he says. "In the turbulent years to come we have a duty to offer some shelter to small groups. In the past 12 months we have given £500,000 to smaller organisations to do work and for capacity-building."

To illustrate the alliance's growing political voice, Khan says members are keen for the voluntary sector to fill the void created by the resignation in October of Louise Casey, the Victims' Commissioner.

Khan takes a keen interest in the broader issues affecting the voluntary sector, and, as a British Kashmiri, he would like more to be done to tackle the lack of diversity in the charity workforce, particularly at senior level. Less than 1 per cent of respondents to last year's pay survey by charity chief executives body Acevo said they were Asian or British Asian. "It's poor - worse than the public sector," he says. "In every meeting I attend with my peers I stand out a bit."

Victim Support is Khan's first non-public sector job. He likes having less bureaucracy but admits he underestimated the challenge of managing volunteers. "You can write your corporate strategy, but it means nothing if you don't reach out to their hearts and minds," he says. He now makes a point of ensuring his first email every day is to a volunteer.

He says the charity wants to become less reliant on state funding but "we haven't cracked that one yet". It continues, therefore, to lean heavily on the MoJ. Khan says the coalition government has become more prescriptive about what it wants in return for its largesse by insisting the charity focuses more on victims of serious crime.

"We have been pushed into that," he says. "I don't think it's a particularly good thing."

But he takes a practical view. The government, he says, wants to be more efficient and targeted in its justice work. "The onus is on us to take a mature approach to that," he says.

CV

2009: Secondment to Government Office for London as executive director
of the London Serious Youth Violence Board
2007: Director of community and cultural services at Harrow Council
2004: Director of education at Harrow Council
2000: Assistant director of education at Birmingham City Council
1985: Maths and computer studies teacher

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