Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Jobs, funding and attacks

We have seen the actions Obama is taking to create jobs in the States as unemployment rockets. He is clear, the State must provide funding to create jobs.

The UK unemployment figures for March are bound to show unemployment shooting up here too. It's time for action. It's time to gear up our sector. This cannot wait.

I see that The Big Lottery Fund have just announced the conclusion of round two of their " BASIS" funding. This was a great scheme, set up to support the development of capacity in the sector. 119 projects supported. Worth £50m. They are to be applauded.

As a funder of our sector they have often been at the forefront - introducing Full Cost Recovery before many other funders for example.

They also realised that for our sector to grow we need capacity support. So often funders are seduced by a glossy project that appeals to some trustee and forget that the boring day in, day out, task of paying the rent and the cleaner that need support too.

So let's make sure they continue to keep the funding pledge: that 70% of their lottery money goes to our independent third sector. Not as a Ministerial piggy bank, or to propping up Parish Councils. And let's hope the Tories too keep the pledge on the funding side and not reduce our share as worryingly seems to be the net effect of their proposals.

Though one idea the Tories must implement, and that is to remove the BLF from its imprisonment as a non departmental public body and set it up as an independent charitable foundation.

I may be in Albania but news reaches me of an unpleasant attack on Futurebuilders by Triodos and Charity Banks. Complaining of the FBE winning the DH tender to run the Social Enterprise Fund. They say the decision is "questionable at best".

Now what exactly is the problem? Is the suggestion that the Department of Health have done something improper? Government tendering is held to very strict rules and subject to rigorous audit. The process can be challenged through established procedures. Is there is suggestion that an error or mistake, or worse, has been made? It is a very serious allegation to say the decision is questionable and it is therefore proper to ask those banks to justify this statement. What aspects of the process exactly are they questioning? Are they saying the DH did not award the tender to the best bid?

Or is the suggestion that the Department should not award the tender to the best bid? Whatever happened to old fashioned courtesy: as in "congratulations on your win - it must have been a terrific bid".

Or am I naive; surely if the best bid wins this is also a win for our sector? One of the less pleasant aspects of our sector is a sometime inability to celebrate success. Far better to have a good old whinge.

Now to be clear, no organisation is immune from improvement and can always learn. But what I object to is that the two Banks made no attempt to contact me as Chair of FBE, or our CEO, to raise any issues. The first we know about it is the press release.

And I note the unsubtle smear about us being a "Government funder". Actually we are not; FBE is an independent organisation, with independently appointed Directors and the Chair is hardly a lickspittle! Indeed as the CEO of Charity Bank knows, one of his Trustees sits on the Investment Committee of FBE.

They also claim we are "unaccountable". Exactly how may I ask? I am again very open to discussion about how we can improve our processes and our accountability. If there are lessons we can learn from how Charity bank and Triodos work by all means let's talk, but first of all we need to hear what the issue is?

In a recession what third sector organisations need is for us all to pull together. Not divisions. We need to ramp up investment to third sector organisations. We must work together to do that. So if the CEOs of Triodos and Charity Bank would care to pick up the phone, I'm sure a dialogue is preferable to press releases?

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