Mark Flannagan: Take what Camila says with a lorry load of salt

The public must look beyond charismatic personalities such as Camila Batmanghelidjh to see that charities are still largely on the side of the angels, writes our columnist

Mark Flannagan
Mark Flannagan

Wow. I fully expected Camila Batmanghelidjh to be self-justifying and try to rewrite the Kids Company story, but when you see it on paper it really does make the blood boil, doesn’t it?

Of course, she has a right to her view. However, in an era of attempts to label stuff certain people don’t like as "fake news", it is vital that we stick to the facts and recognise that the statements of people who are directly concerned should be taken with a lorry load of salt. We must retain our critical faculties. When it comes to most of those associated with causing the Kids Company debacle, I would like a bit more humility: from the trustees AND the politicians.

I thought the Batmanghelidjh interview with Andy Hillier was compelling reading. It simply asked her the questions, then allowed us to engage, using our own evidence-gathering capacity. It was a great piece of journalism.

Someone else who has produced great journalism is BBC Newsnight’s Christopher Cook. He has pursued the Kids Company story and challenged the attempt to tell the so-called "alternative facts" with determination and integrity. His latest blog, The Return of Camila Batmanghelidjh?, is worth a read. Keep an eye on what he continues to publish on this story, because he has relentlessly challenged statements and has produced the evidence to do so. Working under BBC impartiality rules, he has ensured that what he says is truly trustworthy.

In our sector big personalities like Batmanghelidjh have always dominated. These larger-than-life, PR-savvy people are part of our sector, but do not represent it. On many occasions, they are playing the game skilfully to push their cause first. They attract politicians and celebrities like moths to a flame. They provide easy soundbites and good images for the media. "Look at us," the politicians say. "We are working with charities to help (insert the cause of the moment here)…".

All the while, the solid, uncharismatic slog of the thousands of charity staff and volunteers goes on, unsung and poorly rewarded. Every day staff have their work reflected back to them from friends and family through the prism of the public personalities or the latest scandal. But those scandals are the exception, not the rule.

As we go forward, I really hope that the British public can discriminate between the self-justification of individuals who are desperately trying to defend their trashed reputations, and the fantastic work done every day by charity staff and volunteers in their hundreds of thousands. I believe the public do see through the showmanship and the headlines. I believe that most of us are still viewed as being on the side of the angels.

Mark Flannagan (@MarkFlann) is a former charity chief executive who now works in the NHS

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