Monday 1 December 2008

Advent Carols , Recession , World Aids Day

The second day of Advent and my first Carol Concert ; an event laid on by the headhunters Harvey Nash in the glorious St George's Hanover Square. A mixture of Gospel and traditional choral ; and all in the place that was Handel's own parish Church . I am going to be away for Christmas , in Tanzania ,so I shall miss a lot of the festivities so this was a real treat .

And it helped lift the mood from the recession . A report from the accountants PWC is showing a potential £2.6 bn black hole in funding for the sector as donations , sponsorship etc fall. The Guardian gave this report good coverage and highlighted acevo's call for an emergency fund of £500ml to support charities at a time when demand on us grows. I know that the Government have promised an action plan in the new year and we await that with huge anticipation .Today acevo received a response from the Third Sector Minister to ideas we are putting forward for the recession action plan .

We are very clear that we must secure additional funding . The letter points out that the implications of all our proposals add up to £865 ml , as though this sum is outrageous and out of the question . Now if it were "billions" I feel that might be stretching it but frankly this is a small sum in comparison with the sums of money that are being poured into the financial sector , SMEs , the PBR changes on VAT etc . We must be clear any Action Plan that contains no new money or reforms of , for example , gift aid will hardly be worth the name. And I strongly suggest to the civil servants who continue to add into letters to us that they have already found £515m for the sector to pack it up now . The small business sector don't get patronised about how much the Government does for them . So don't do it to us. One assumes the Government put money into the Third Sector because they believe in what we do not as a charitable gift ?

The good part of the response is a clear indication that much of the government's package for small business will apply to the sector . For example ; one of the things members fed back was that if public sector bodies paid their bills within 10 days ( as promised to SMEs )this would be a real help on cash flow. Of course for any ministerial letter one has to read between the lines . And Liam and Kevin now have December to put together the cation plan we deserve . We can expect much because that is what we both need , but also , because as Kevin Brennan MP has pointed out ; we have a joint mission and endeavour to help those who will increasingly suffer the downturn in our economic fortunes. this is crucial ; I spoke today to a CEO who is one of the first victims of the recession in our sector .I'm afraid there will be more ; for their sake I hope this Plan will be a good one .

But I must avoid being too pessimistic . At the weekend conference of Progress Liam Byrne , The Cabinet Office Minister made clear the drive for public service reform continues and that the third sector has a huge role to play in achieving more citizen focused services. this is an area where the sector can expand its role . And a recession will test our mettle in finding new ways of working and innovative ideas .

Today is also World Aids Day ; an event that deserves to be well marked though other events have somewhat pushed it off stage . Back in the 80s a number of us set up a small charity in South London ; Lambeth Aids Action. A small charity but with a big ambition ; to set up the equivalent of the wonderful " Lighthouse " that had been established in North London and which the Princess of Wales had made so famous. We did that and "The Landmark" was opened in Brixton in 1988. I was the first Chair and we even got Diana to do the opening- and that as a pretty memorable day . These 2 centres are now one . The HIV-AIDs sector has been an exemplar of merger and alliances in the face of falling statutory support and the need to continue to provide a focused and relevant service in the light of changes in the virus and its treatment . the Terence Higgins Trust under Nick Partridge ( CEO and acevo member ) is a good model of how a sector can handle change . It shows that merger can be a good response at times of funding challenge.

Advent is a time of hope and expectation of a better time to come . It must be so for us .

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