Wednesday 26 November 2008

Lets hear it for Large and Good, Crime and Awards

The Guardian Public Sector Awards was a glittering affair . At Billinsgate .I had been a judge for some of these awards . Though I arrive late because I come straight from the futurebuilders Board meeting in Highgate . We have had our meeting at Treehouse ; brilliant charity who provide education and care for autistic kids . Futurebuilders have invested nearly £5 million in helping them put up their brilliant new building . As well as the direct service they provide to autistic kids- from 4 up to 19 - who would otherwise probably be in resident Care , they run national research and support services which draw on their experience with autism . It is great to see the results of an FBE investment . Made under the previous tender so all credit to them for a great decision .

I get a quick tour round by the Chief Executive , who is also an acevo member . It is sometimes good to see the effect that the investments we make and remember that the majority of our investments are brilliant contributions to growing the sector , even though some,times the media want to concentrate on problems . Stephen Cook , you know what I mean!

But it does mean that I arrive having missed the champagne reception and the networking. But not too late to have a word with the great Ed Miliband.Good to see him . And obviously I make up for the missed networking by doing a round of the tables. Good to see some of our members there.

The morning started badly. I see a press report that Ian Duncan Smith has been attacking large charities again ( see Third Sector ). He apparently argues the fact that the larger charities have grown by more than smaller ones is an indication of that bizarre phenomena he calls " tescoisation" . Now this sort of small: good , big :bad approach makes my blood boil. Larger charities have got large and are often growing because they are good at what they do ; productive and efficient, meeting client need and delivering good things . He makes an attack on large charities for campaigning . And this is the nub of the problem I suspect. He appears not to accept that a core purpose for many charities is to campaign for a better life for their beneficiaries. So the great NSPCC was set up in the 1820s to deliver a better deal for abused children and to campaign against child abuse . Thank goodness they still do this . They both provide child protection services as well as fearless campaigns against abuse . We need them against continued evidence that child abuse is present in our society . And it needs a charity with the strength and the scope of a large national organisation. You may disagree with them , but it seems to me just wrong to argue they should not campaign . It is how we secure change . And how we ensure that a vibrant civil society ensures a healthy democracy.

And what is it with this jibe about Tescos? I am old enough to remember the days of the old fashioned High Street . The shops that opened at 9 and closed at 5 as well as an hour for lunch . And you bought your bread at the bakers and meat at the butchers and candles at the candlestick makers. And now we have Tescos. Open at weekends . And in the evenings. I wonder if Mr Duncan Smith shops at Tesco ? Perhaps he is like me and goes there for the wide range of choice ,well priced and decent quality products . A store that aims to deliver what customers want . And because it does that it has grown . And if charities do that is it a problem? And if a great small charity has a service people need and it grows because people want what they have to offer does it turn into a bad charity ?

I know some fantastic small community enterprises and local charities through the work I do as Chair of the Adventure Capital Fund. We invest in small organisations . We invest to help them grow. They want to expand . They want to upscale because they believe in what they do . Other organisations want to stay small . This is a diverse and a rich sector where there are big and small , campaigning and delivery third sector bodies. I know of the tremendous work of the large national charity Chief Executives. Their dedication and professionalism . I hate to see this work attacked in this way because somehow large is held to be bad . I want to see a sector that grows in strength and influence . That means stronger and bigger organisations with the capacity and infrastructure to challenge as well as to deliver to scale what they do best .

Ian Duncan Smith has done some brilliant work on behalf of the sector. He has championed the role we play and his work in the centre for Social Justice and the work he has done with Graham Allen MP on social exclusion is a real advance . He has helped the Tories understand the important role this sector plays . But he lets himself down when he attacks large charities. And I urge him to stop .

A phone call later in the day from David Hanson MP, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice who is handling work on offender management . Our members working in this area have been increasingly upset at the lack of progress in ensuing they can deliver more services in prisons and in probation . The lack of progress in harnessing the talents of the many excellent third sector bodies that work in rehabilitation of offenders is a scandal . The entrenched interest of the prison and probation establishment who have scandalously opposed the sector in their desire to expand their work has meant that opportunities to deliver better services have been stymied and thwarted. David made a statement in the Commons today and was keen to talk me through it .

I had proposed to Jack Straw that we set up a working group to look at the role the third sector could play in dleivering services. It seems our work has borne fruit . Although we had argued for the retention of a national target for outsourcing the new scheme they are planning to open up to competition may well offer better chances for us to compete and win contracts . He tells me they will make further announcements on how the new competition and better value scheme will work . It is clear he has taken on many of the points we have made in our working group . So I feel a quiet sense of satisfaction that an acevo initiative may well have advanced our sector's interest . Of course the entrenched powers in the state service may still fight a rearguard action I think we will see progress . And if that means we get better and more targeted rehabilitation services that is good for the country . We can only reduce crime in the long term through recognising most crime is committed by those who have been in prison. And the third sector has a unique role to play in this great quest .

So the cross mood lifts and I get home in time for The Archers and Coronation Street. The only night in this week so Im allowed a little soap!

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