Saturday, 17 January 2009

Communities and change

I spent yesterday in Stonesfield , a charming Cotswolds village next Charlbury ; famous as the home of the Stonesfield slate industry but I was there to visit the Stonesfield Community Land Trust,with Steve Whyler of the Development Trusts Association . It was started some 30 years ago by the dynamic Tony Croft , who at 70 still runs the show . Starting off by buying land and building homes at affordable rents for local people , it expanded into buying the Post Office and a pre school nursery, as well as another small homes development. And Tony is now active in trying to buy the Arlington Mill at Bibury and turn that into a workspace for arts and crafts. They have already raised over 100k through a community bond issue.

Of course the popular image of the Cotswolds is one of wealth , but there is rural poverty , and a serious problem that families who have lived in these village for centuries are now priced out because of the huge cost of house purchase . So this type of community action and enterprise is crucial to keeping villages alive.

Last week ACEVO held a lunch for some of our top third sector members to gauge their impressions and experience of what the recession means for them. CCLA , the third sector mutual investment company let us use their board room and Michael Quicke , their great CEO spoke about the effects of the recession . One figure astonished me ; he said that this year third sector organisations will loose around £800m through the drastic cut in interest rates. So it is not just savers who are loosing out . So charities face not just a dramatic drop in income but the value of their reserves ,where they have them , is also falling.

A clear and troubling picture emerges; income is dropping but people expect the worst effects to come through this year and next .There is worry over the effects of public spending cuts in 2010 , but already many local authoriies are cutting back for the next financial year starting in April .A range of councils are saying there will be a zero inflation uplift for their contracts , a clear violation of the principle of Full Cost Recovery . Already members are taking steps to prepare , by job cuts , not increasing staff salaries etc . One of my very wise members , ( the competion for this distinction is fierce ) , made an important point though ; he said that they are clear that whilst they must cut back, where they can they will try to protect their staff interests and ensure that they continue to invest in innovative ways of fundraising and generating income. There is strong support for my point about the sector being a vehicle for recovery and for value added job creation. ACEVO is now working up plans for how Government could make this happen .

One great piece of news in the week though ; our lobbying of Peter Mandleson and of BERR has brought gold dust . We have been arguing that the loan funds and support for small and medium sized business must also apply to third sector organisations , and on Tuesday i get a letter from Peter to say that the package he will announce the next day will make it clear that the third sector is included. The staff in acevo are dead chuffed . A great piece of lobbying on behalf of our members.

And amidst the continuing frenetic work on recession recovery plans we had the FutureBuilders away day . As Chair I am seriously lucky to have a Board of such talent and distinction . We talk through future plans and how we need to expand the amount of capital investment available to our sector . But we also spend much time on what we need to do to protect and enhance the capacity of the sector to lead recovery . Jonathan is developing a strong package of measures for help in the current recession and these will be announced soon. For example , one emerging problem is of serious cash flow difficulties , particularly in organisations that are in contracts with payment by results . There is still evidence of the public sector failing to pay their bills on time and so causing agro. So we need to see how we might be able to loan support .

We must also be clear that any sector body involved in capacity building must now adjust their plans to take account of changed circumstances ; that means us , the Lottery , Capacity Builders and the host of other bodies ( such as Foundations ) who can help us weather the storm . And I suspect that when there is attention being put on the need for mergers and alliances and partnerships we had better look at opportunities ourselves. Back office savings , economies of scale , being joined up ; these are the benefits of partnership . If the sector bodies charged with helping build infrastructure do not set an example we are in dereliction of duty and deserve politicians sorting it for us! I see David Blunkett in the Commons on Thursday and we talk of his plans for a one stop shop of CB, FBE and the Lottery . Its certainly one option and we should be discussing that . But whatever happens we must explore how we pool resources to support the third sector .

Now enough sermonising ; its time for the Hound's run through Cornbury Park to my favourite local pub in Finstock . Time for ale! Its my Annual General Meeting on Monday. Over 200 members signed up . I must spend Sunday preparing ; but for now I relax!

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