Friday, 6 February 2009

Guardian Public Services Summit

The snow continues to fall over the Hertfordshire countryside and the Guardian Public Services Summit. Getting here was a trial, though I managed very effectively to blag my way into a taxi with the wonderful Jackie Ballard, CEO of RNID. And we end up talking about dogs. As you do !

This event is one of the most stimulating conferences I go to and this year was no disappointment. It is interesting to reflect how much consensus there is around the growing role of the third sector in service delivery. We now discuss how to do it, not why. So Suzi Leather from The Charity Commission was asking us to think whether it is acceptable for 70% of charities not to have complaint procedures when they are delivering publicly funded services! Liam Byrne gives a fantastic speech about devolving power - particularly to communities and he pays a very generous tribute to ACEVO for its fantastic work over the years in promoting change and working with Government on reform. I blush - but only slightly.

I was particularly struck by a speech by Michael Bichard. He talks of how the recession ought to be a stimulus to change. He talks of smaller government which concentrates on strategic direction and not micro managing services. He says the current crisis should be driving innovation. I agree with his point that the public sector has an anti-innovation culture. It is so risk averse it will not support or promote innovative people.

How good are we in the sector at innovation? Are we sometimes risk averse? But I agree that the direction of travel for our sector will be more service delivery and we need to think through how that gives us opportunities to innovate.

Leigh Lewis talks about how DWP set up the Directgov website where citizens can go for information and advice on a whole range of services. Why should charities not do something similar? We talk of sharing back office services. Well what about sharing front office?

I talk to Neil hunt CEO of Alzheimer's and we agree to pursue this idea for the chronic disease charities. A direct charity website and phone helpline? This is exactly the type of project crying out for investment. An example of why we need a social investment bank.

And so its great to see a full report in today's Times on our call for a Bank that lends. Please click here to read the story.

I get a copy of the NAO report on FBE and Capacity Builders. One interesting point that Third Sector fail to report (I wonder why?) is the praise the Report gives to the new management at FBE since the change of contract. I send a furious note to the Editor to ask why they omitted this rather salient point from their coverage and why they implied in their headline that the NAO were equally critical of us both. They were not.

But I have asked Jonathan Lewis for us to review the report at our next Board. We can always do better and such reports are always good ways to look at what you do and think differently. One of the good things about Futurebuilders is the way we have been innovative in bringing forward new products and changing systems to provide a better customer focus. Michael Bichard is right to highlight innovation in a recession and we are king at how FBE can invest in this and encourage new ways of working and new approaches. Risky investments sometimes, but our job is to be risky. Look for adventure. And when we get pilloried by Third Sector magazine not to be put off carrying on and innovating.

The Guardian need to be fulsomely thanked for this event. But also for the way in which they are campaigning on tax avoidance by business and the scandals of bonus and top pay in industry. Obama is leading the way in expecting the Banks to limit top salaries. Time for Government to do the same as The Guardian Editorial yesterday says.

So just as we should look to the recession as a stimulus for rethinking Government, we should do so for the private sector? More social enterprise and mutuals. More effective corporate social responsibility. Government reform in the City. And yes, attention to governance reform in our own sector. Time to revisit pay for trustees. For different governance methods and for us all to ensure effective service delivery - Suzi's point about complaints procedures is a warning call to us not to be complacent.


alex stobart said...

Love reading the blog

Couple of points

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman recently procured a complaints handling system. Perhaps they can give you some tips, as their intention is to use it across a range of service providers as a shared service.

Chairs v. Chief Executives - I recall reading about one of your members where this was a real issue. Is there any update.

Timothy Gibbons said...

The story didn't even need a long explanation to remind readers the criticism was levelled at early management.

Charity Finance magazine managed it easily just with two words in the first paragraph -