Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Time to pull our socks up. The Panorama programme this evening, which in many aspects was rather thin, has nevertheless highlighted an issue the sector needs to grapple with.
When organisations have endowments (like many Foundations) or big reserves they must invest these both for the good of their beneficiaries, and ethically, for the wider good.
Charity Commission advice used to be too blunt and unhelpful: that trustees should only invest for the maximum return. Now their advice (CC 14 to be precise) is more nuanced and encourages 'mission driven' investment. Not enough charities are taking notice of this new more flexible approach. They need to.
Because, quite simply, it doesn’t seem right that charities invest in tobacco or arms companies.
We need more people in the sector looking seriously at ethically managed funds. The argument is that they don't give as good a return. But you might be surprised to learn the size and strength of the ethical investment industry. There is around $34 trillion under management in funds that subscribe to the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment. That’s about a third of all money under managed funds anywhere in the world. So there’s plenty of choice and we expect that choice to grow.
Impact investment funds, though in their infancy now, may also become an investment option of choice for charities further down the line. Why shouldn't our sector be looking at how we can expand opportunities for social finance; for loans to develop and grow our sector
So, I'm giving our sector and those associated with it a call to action. I have two messages.
One is to the fund managers themselves. Why are you not alerting your charities to ethical problems with proposed investments? Before you put our money into an investment you think raises issues then consult the charity trustees responsible. Fund management companies need to get their act together and understand the ethics of their investment decisions.
Secondly, to charities. Charities traditionally delegate their investment decisions to a sub committee and they in turn appoint fund managers. So many trustees simply do not know where their investments go. Time for the full board to review investment policy. The full board should review the Charity Commission advice and question whether they are investing in line with their mission and with their own ethos.
The sector needs to do more to engage with ethical investment principles. Ensuring that their investments conform to the particular and the wider good will help ensure that our sector remains true to our collective mission in all aspects of our work.
This is our wake up call.
Today sees the launch of the second report of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement into the government’s deeply flawed Lobbying Bill. The report urges the government to abandon its plans to gag charities and campaign groups, and puts forward amendments which would protect the right of civil society to speak out on behalf of those they serve.
I for one welcome the report and urge government to listen. This bill represents an assault on all campaigning groups, left or right, who do so much to bring our democracy to life.
The bill will silence charities and other campaigners while giving corporate lobbyists the run of Westminster. The Government must rethink - unless we want to become a beacon to oppressive regimes across the world who want to gag their civil society.
The commission draws from a wealth of evidence from across civil society, including ACEVO. It draws together the expertise and experience of a wide range of charities and campaigning organisations from right across the political spectrum. We have stood together against the Government’s lobbying bill and it would be foolish to ignore what we've said today. This misguided bill will not restore trust in politics; instead, it will stifle civic participation and engagement in the democratic process.
The bill will be debated for the second time in the House of Lords on 16 & 18 December. ACEVO will keep working hard to ensure that the Commission’s recommendations are taken up, so that charities are not restricted from participating fully in the democratic process.
Monday, 9 December 2013
A splendid weekend getting things ready for Christmas. And a good break before the hectic week ahead tackling the iniquity of the Lobbying Bill (the Commission on civil society Report is out on Tuesday).
The trees are up in Charlbury. One inside and one out: there is a tradition in Charlbury of putting Christmas trees on the front of our houses and lighting them up at night. Makes it very magical tottering back from the Bull! And the Hound enjoys the log fire, as you can see.
It’s shocking that for the first time in decades the Red Cross are now involved in helping families survive. In Charlbury we support the local North Oxfordshire Food Bank. In this last year they have given out parcels for 423 adults and 339 children. If this is happening in the playground of the wealthy Chipping Norton set there is something seriously wrong. And this is confirmed by research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The majority of people classified as being in poverty are now from working households, according to this research. The charity says a combination of low pay and increased numbers of people in part-time work have contributed to the current situation.
This adds strength to the campaign for a living wage, which ACEVO strongly supports (and adheres to ); indeed we were involved in its launch . Many members would like to do the same but I was talking to one member in the North West who said they can't do that because the contracts they have from the councils, who commission them, will not allow it. It’s time councils specified that when they commission they want their providers to demonstrate they will pay the living wage.
This is exactly the sort of debate we need to be having in this extended election period. Just how the various parties will tackle these issues? How they propose to handle welfare reform or the problems of homelessness and youth unemployment. This is the very stuff of political discourse and our role is to bring the real life experiences of people and families to the attention of those seeking high office. So the debate on the terms of the Lobbying Bill is no mere technical discussion. The amendments we will propose on Tuesday are essential if we are to ensure the lively and vibrant discussion that civil society enables. It’s sad the media have given so little space to this threat to our democratic traditions.
And now I'm off to the Lords for some briefing sessions.
Friday, 6 December 2013
I guess the news last night rather put a perspective on other new stories. Of all the tributes to Mandela, I thought Paul Boateng's was most pointed- he put Mandela's contribution into the political context. Paul was our first Black Ambassador to South Africa- his wife Janet was on the council with me and we both sat on social services. Not an easy task in Lambeth, and we both remember the momentous time Mandela came to Brixton. The crowds around and in the Recreation Centre were enormous and ecstatic and rightly so. All this reminded me of the work I, and friends did in Amnesty International (I was the Medway Towns secretary) in the late 70s and 80s supporting a group of political prisoners on Robben Island (the Pietermaritzburg 13). For those of us old enough to remember, not everyone supported the anti-apartheid struggle. But the genius of Mandela lay in his message of reconciliation. The tributes we have been listening to remind us that not all politics has to be adversarial.
This week turned frenetic. We are finally getting traction from the Department of Health on our plan for charities to help relieve pressure on A+E over the winter. I have been working on this with my colleague CEOs in the Red Cross, RVS and Age UK. It’s clear we can make a big difference in demand by building on the work that charities do in cutting admissions to hospital and securing early discharge. It’s a classic win-win. We get better care for our elderly and we get more cost effective use of hospital resources.
The plan we drew up on a request from No 10 showcased how using charities can tackle the root cause of increased demand over the winter.
We’re delighted at now getting the green light from the Secretary of State on our plans to help the elderly receive the support they need this winter. This issue is far too important to be kicked into the long grass. Getting the health service to understand the role professional charities can play has difficult, but I think we are now getting real progress.
Our members - large, professional charities and their armies of skilled volunteers - can help relieve pressure on beleaguered accident and emergency services for many winters to come. I’m looking forward to working with the health service on this; but I shall be holding their feet to the fire. Action not words is what our beneficiaries need to see.
We have had a letter from Jeremy Hunt to say he wants to support ACEVO in working our plan up into a strategic offering for all hospitals for next year. So, we are going to see how the consortia of red Cross, RVS and Age UK, working locally with other charities can galvanise volunteers and staff in an offering hospitals would be silly to refuse!
Wednesday, 4 December 2013
Up in Manchester on Monday for a meeting with my Northern members on our manifesto preparations.
In a very caring sharing way we started off by a reflection on our highlights and lowlights of last week. Have to admit my highlight was ordering my Callow Farm organic turkey (currently in Orchard at farm!) And my door curtain purchase... Lowlight was hearing Panorama want to air their programme having a go at Comic Relief. Then it was into a discussion about what our sector can offer the parties if they are listening.
But now I'm in Scotland at our sister organisation ACOSVO who are holding a conference with the Carnegie Trust on how charities in the UK should tackle "cross border" issues for all those organisations who operate across the UK. ACEVO is a UK wide organisation and we have members in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. There are some 800 cross-border UK charities. The key issue we are debating is what will happen if Scotland vote for independence and what should our position be?
So a lively debate. Its clear from our own ACEVO constitution that we operate across all countries, and this is a geographic matter so independence will not alter our ability to recruit in Scotland. Not unless we change that, and we will not be expelling our Scottish members if its a Yes vote. Or change our links with ACOSVO. But all those charities who do operate UK-wide will need to think about the implications of a Yes vote in Scotland.
Then of course there is the issue of whether charities or the broader third sector should be taking part in the debate? Given the significance of the vote its a bit difficult not to have a view or join the debate. Its different from party political debate where we can't take sides, as there is division between parties on this.
I guess it boils down to whether we think we operate better as one country (better together for our beneficiaries), or whether independence would better serve our beneficiaries who live in Scotland? And some would say we shouldn't get involved and leave it to the Scots to determine their own future.
Interestingly the Scottish regulator has given advice on taking a view. But the Charity Commission (for England and Wales) has not given guidance. So where does that leave a UK charity? We have to take a long term view about how this would affect beneficiaries. Why would we not want to take a view on this?
Personally I'm a "better together" man. Like many people across the UK, I have Scottish as well as Irish ancestory, although my Scottish Great Grandfather x 5 fled from Scotland to Ireland in a boat with his parents in 1689 to escape persecution by the Calvanist hordes who were evicting Episcopalian priests from their Livings. Not that I have a vote, clearly (or should have)! Should ACEVO have a view? We have not discussed this at our Board, but we better do that soon.
Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that charities operating in Scotland - whether UK-wide or just Scottish-based - need to understand the implications of the vote in 2014. Whether its YES or NO there will be greater devolved powers. This mirrors the debate about localism in England. More and more decision-making is taking place at a local level, whether in health or local councils, so many national charities will have to structure their work differently.
Food for thought. But not haggis.