Saturday 4 October 2008

and what of the victims of recession?

I wake to a text from Phil Hope telling me he has been appointed the Social Care Minister ( Ivan's old job ). It is fantastic Phil has this post . It is one of huge importance for many of us in the sector . Ivan has done great work in promoting the third sector and in supporting the introduction of individual budgets for social care clients. This is radical and important work . Phil will carry it on . He has been an extremely effective Third Sector Minister. I like him and acevo has worked well with him . So it will be good that we shall stay in touch in the new job.

Liam Byrne takes on Ed's job in the Cabinet Office . This is also great news for the sector. Liam is a true believer. He strongly backs more service delivery through the third sector. He will give this agenda a renewed push . I have known Liam for years and he was one of the Ministers at the now famous meeting between acevo and Tony Blair in Downing St which led to the creation of the Office of the Third Sector and the public service action plan. So an early meeting beckons.

And I send a text to Ed to congratulate him on a really exciting appointment. It will be a real challenge , and he has the intellectual skills needed to master a brief that is important to all of us; climate change. It will require decisive and firm action . So go for it Ed . Just follow the advice of all the superb third sector environmental groups and you will not go far wrong.

All the talk is of the problems of the banks and building societies , bail outs and support for people who , in the good times , gave little thought for their actions beyond the next bonus. And now we are absorbed in their probl;ems and their insistence on being supported. Of course we need to ensure a recession does not turn into a depression ,.Of course we need to bolster our economy . But what of those who are now losing their jobs? Those who have real struggles to meet rising bills? The elderly or disabled who have rising panic about how to meet the winter fuel costs?

Where is the emergency support for them ? We see a Government providing guarantees for savers. How about a gaurantee no one will die this winter because they cant afford to heat their house?

I am staggered that in all the plans for the new National Economic Council there appears to be no role for the third sector. It is essentail that this new council also look at what needs to be done to support those who will suffer as a result of the recession . I am on Sky News on Friday calling on the Government to look at an emergency funding package ; to support more debt counselling , fuel poverty , unemployment and homelessness support. I am being interviewed on Bloomberg on Monday to make the same point.

This is crucial because , as I was telling Polly Toynbee ,who rang on Friday ; demand on the services of charities is rising at the same time as our costs go up and donations go down . acevo and the Charities Aid Foundation conducted a survey of Charity CEOs 4 weeks ago . At that stage we found;
* over 70% reported rising demand
* over 70% report significant increases in costs
* one third report a fall in donations.

I guess it is not surprising that donations will fall , but this is coupled by a likely fall in commercial sponsorship and support . This is the time when we see whether all those "corporate social responsibility " statements that companies like mean anything! I shall be using my Monday interview with Bloomberg to ram this message home.

And if public spending starts to decrease then we can expect many local authorities to be cutting grants ( always the problem of grants not contracts ) .

So I am writing to the PM to ask him to ensure the new Economic Council look at how to support the victims of recession and crucially ; to look at how we use the Third Sector and how to channel more resources through us to those most in need.

It is not just that Government needs to do more in emergency support . We need to redouble efforts on giving . Persuade the public to keep up the level of donation . And how about the Government getting a grip on gift aid and the huge problem of the unclaimed tax benefits . I have long argued for action to increase take up .. The Tories have said they will act on this . So now is the time for the Government to act itself.

At least those with contracts have more protection , particularly those with 3 years or more . And I would hope TSOs look at opportunities to expand and promote their delivery of public services which are clearly needed at a time of growing recession . This has always been a problem with grants : the upside is the relative ease and lack of bureaucracy . The downside is that it is a form of patronage that can be as easily removed as given . How many Foundations will continue to give grants I know of one London grant maker that has stopped making any more grants. Others may follow , adding to the gloom in the sector.

The sector now needs to gear its loins and demand action . acevo will be taking this forward next week . We have already set up a series of seminars for members " Leading through a recession". They are intended to provide practical advice and support to those CEOs now feeling the pinch , or worried about how sustainable they are . In Futurebuilders we are looking at how we can support TSOs who want to merge or form alliances. You can expect a big growth in mergers ( and acquisitions ) over the next few years . We need to ensure this happens in a structured and effective way .

But to end on a positive note. I have always been struck by the inventiveness and resilience of the third sector CEO. If anyone is able to cope with falling resources and rising demand it is our sector. We are experienced in extracting blood from stones. We will carry on in adversity . And show the public and private sectors our mettle.

Its a cold chill day in Charlbury , but the sun is shining. Its a metaphor for us , chill times ahead but the sector will keep on its brilliant work .

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