Thursday 18 February 2010

An ideal of excellence and Lambeth

I turned up at The Royal Society. It was interesting to arrive and meet a demonstration. They were protesting at the University's involvement in animal testing. I have to say my sympathy is with the protesters. I abhor animal testing and the leaflet showing a dog not unlike my dear hound was troubling.

There to greet the new Vice Chancellor of Oxford. A chemist. He said he was unashamedly in favour of excellence. Just what we want for the third sector! The pursuit of the life of the mind. A noble aim for a third sector CEO as well! The importance and value of our national treasures which Oxford (and Cambridge) represents. He is also a member of The Royal Society and a former Provost of Yale.

He was also unashamedly in support of the broader humanities education against the threat of Government and others who think the only education is in engineering or maths for example. He argued, correctly, that the education of the mind, through philosophy for example, is crucial to development and how idiotic to try and downplay humanities generally. As both Seb (my universally admired Director) and I studied Philosophy it proves the point. But enough of that.

Lambeth Council have unveiled exciting plans for what the Guardian call a "John Lewis" Council. Actually it is much more than this.

ACEVO has set up a Lambeth Commission with the Council and local health authority to look at how the third sector can play a bigger role in developing and running Council services, especially around personalising them.

I have had meetings with Cllr Steve Reed, the visionary Leader of Lambeth, and also fortioutisly my local Councillor, on the role of our sector. At a dinner with other local third sector Leaders from ACEVO we agreed on the need for the Council to take a more strategic approach to the sector. In the past they have simply handed out lots of grants in a relatively uncoordinated way to local voluntary organisations. This needs to change and they want to do this more strategically. They also want a more proactive role for communities and for our third sector organisations to run services and own Council assets.

It's exciting. As are the plans for the handing over of a major Council asset to a local third sector group. The Lilian Baylis School has been unused for over five years. It has been turned over for use by third sector organisations. There are now plans to transfer this asset permanently to a community hub. There is an application in to The Social Investment Business for a loan to facilitate this. This would be the single biggest transfer of a Council asset to a community group in the country if it takes place.

So I dispatch a well deserved congratulations to Steve Reed. ACEVO will be pressing other Councils to follow suit.

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