Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Leeds and Loans

Our ACEVO North office is thriving and I'm there to talk with members about the prospects for the sector in the recession and against the background of looming public spending cuts. My lecture is provocatively entitled "Leasing Recovery, welcoming cuts".

It goes well- in as far as I can tell. The questions and debate are superb. I always find that when we get CEOs together we have a purposeful and positive discussion. Its such a change from wider third sector debates that can so often descend into a whingefest. And the CEOs there demonstrate the vitality and drive of our third sector. A real buzz I enjoyed the session. And it was fantastic that CEOs had come from Manchester and Gateshead, Durham and Tyneside as well as from Yorks and Humber.

This year we will do 120 events outside London so we really are showing our commitment to members not to run everything in London. And we are the only national organisation that runs its major CapacityBuilders programme from Leeds rather than from London. So I'll have no comments on how our presence in a Leeds office is only tokenistic. We take our regional profile incredibly seriously.

Good also to know there are members out there reading my Blog!

My main purpose is to warn against being defeatist and oppositional, but rather grasping the potential of significant cuts to argue the third sector delivery case. As one of the members says we have to move on from our clients chaining themselves to the Town Hall rails protesting, to a dialogue.

We know there will be spending cuts and grants programmes will be particularly vulnerable. That is why I warn against the ill thought out campaign to promote grants and not contracts. Many of our sector organisations have become grant dependent in a time when money has been flowing into the sector. But grants are a form of patronage. Nice to have but subject to the vagaries and whims of the grant maker. Easy to withdraw when times get bad.
In contrast contracts are legally binding obligations on both parties. For me they represent a more mature relationship between the parties. Of course there is, and always will be, a strong case for strategic grants, grants that help start up and support groups with great but whacky ideas to go and do stuff and see if it works.

In contrast there are contracts that have poor terms for the sector. But with a contract there is a clear decision to be made whether to accept those terms. So much of ACEVO's work with members is to help support better commissioning and sensible contracting. It is why we invented the concept of "Full Cost Recovery" and devised a template to calculate it and a Full Cost Business Planner.

ACEVO also relentlessly pushes the case for the third sector's unique role in delivering citizen focused public services and our role in advocacy for citizens and communities.

We also strongly back the case for more access to capital. As we grow we need to be able to borrow. The private sector grows through capital loans but traditionally our sector has been excluded so we have topfundraise for our capital growth. And that is slow and painful. So I make no apologies for banging on about the case for a Social Investment Bank!

The Adventure Capital Fund have now announced the details of their new loan scheme

"Community builders", aimed at developing stronger communities through the third sector. One of our criteria is that organisations must have plans to become less dependent on grants. It's a positive way we can support the sector in becoming more self reliant and enterprising.

The £70m Communitybuilders fund will open for applications on 7 September. See the Adventure Capital Fund <

The Communitybuilders fund is to provide loans to help community-based organisations in England that boost interest in local democracy and improve community cohesion.
The funding criteria say organisations must have plans to become less dependent on grant finance, be controlled by local people and or groups and have a track record of working in the communities they are based in.

It's an exciting project and already there have been 400 organisations expressing interest. It shows there is demand in our sector for loans. It makes a powerful case for more access to capital!

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