Saturday, 31 January 2009

Dawn of the Age of Unrest

That was the screaming headline in today's Times. A deep recession will inevitably bring social unrest and challenge community cohesion . How far this will affect the UK is unclear . However the message to our Government is that you ignore the social consequences of the recession at your peril . Just as in France, there is huge resentment at the way the Government is bailing out the financial institutions and rewarding bad behaviour in so doing . Whilst it is not the British way to take to the streets , that should not allow our politicians to think that resentment is not there , nor to fail to tackle social as well as economic problems.

I had a first hand report on the French troubles when we had our Euclid ( that's the third sector leaders network) executive committee conference call on Friday . Thierry , our President, said the situation is dire . There is huge anger at the way the banks have been rewarded and people ignored. i was also involved in a conference call for the Commonwealth's Civil Society Committee on Friday . I am a member and it was useful to discuss with sector colleagues from around the far flung Commonwealth how the recession is truly global in its impact . Our UK based NGOs are not only finding they must cut aid because of falling donations but they are also facing the consequences of a drastically falling Pound . And this just adds to the woes of the developing world and will inevitably increase social unrest .

It is all too obvious that the emphasis is on the financial sector and failing industry . It is now time for the Prime Minister to turn his attention to the social fall out and the way he could involve our sector. The third sector Recession Plan will give him the opportunity to demonstrate the Government's commitment to the sector. But he must also show he understands this is not simply about the sector and volunteers , or work at the margins .We must be seen as integral to recovery , not the sticking plaster on society sores.

In the last big recession of the early 80s we did see the effects of massive unemployment . I was elected to Lambeth Council in the wake of the 1981 Brixton riots . Clearly a major part of the problem for this flare up was the racial discrimination faced by Brixton's black community ; but as the Scarman report showed there were economic reasons too . Remember that this was the time of massive youth unemployment. The new Council also took a radical departure from the usual municipalist trait of local government of the time and realised that to regenerate Brixton you had to involve the third sector and black led community groups. The state had failed these communities . They were deeply mistrusted. Only the third sector had the confidence and the trust of people to lead . I am not sure politicians or business have yet realised that the sector is now the most trusted part of our state and society . I am going to blog about this more on Tuesday......

This is doubly true today . That is why the Government must realise that they need to work with and through the Third Sector . A strong and confident sector is able to tackle the rifts and divisions in our society in a way the State is unable. We will be at the front line of delivery of service to those who are failed by the system .

The Government's recession action plan is now 2 weeks away. ACEVO has been actively involved in the work to prepare this and I am hopeful it will be wide ranging .With my other Futurebuilders hat on we have also been closely involved in work to ensure our offers of loans are targeted and take account of the recession . And I do need to point out that we are one of the few financial institutions left still actively lending!

It is unlikely the Plan will be the last word. More support will be needed as we head into a deep recession . And I still do not get the sense that Government have understood that our sector can be the agent of recovery . ACEVO has James Purnell MP , ( DWP Secretary of State ), to speak at the launch of our acevo -DWP task force report on Wednesday . I will reinforce this message at the launch which I will be chairing .

I contributed £6 to the Conservative Party this morning ! This is not a sign of me hedging my bets on the next election , merely that they were running the cake stall at the Charlbury Library this morning . A rather splendid carrot cake. Perhaps baked by Mrs Cameron herself I thought ( Charlbury is David Cameron's constituency ). But then again that's hardly likely eh! She does not seem the baking type?

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