Wednesday 3 February 2010

A Salon and Bankers on "independence"

The French do not do things by half! I am a guest at the annual congress of the French Social Enterprise Congress or "Salon des Entrepreneurs" as they more elegantly call it. This follows the launch of the new movement of social entrepreneurs yesterday. And an amazing 3000 people here - I somehow think this might be more than at the English social enterprise conference which coincidentally is also taking place now; except in Cardiff! Though the advantage of Cardiff is that they probably speak English?

Muhammad Yunis, Nobel Prize winner and founder of micro-credit, is the key note speaker. I am hoping he will agree to speak at our next Social Investment Conference. We had a thousand at our last conference in Central Hall but the French have clearly raised the barrier on numbers.

An interesting report from the Baring Foundation on independence and commissioning is highlights in the press. Now this Foundation has produced some very good reports in the past and has a progressive grants policy, but this report is unfortunate.

They say that current public service Commissioning poses a "formidable threat to independence" because it increases the state's control over service providers, silences dissent and reduces the ability of charities to set their own priorities.

"Organisations are increasingly pressured into adapting to meet the requirements of commissioners, not the needs of the people who use their services," it says.

Plans to personalise public services by giving people individual budgets to spend on care also attracts criticism.

But surely a democratically elected Government or local authority has every right to establish how it wishes to commission Public services, funded by money from us as taxpayers. Elected members are there to establish the priorities and expectations they want from service delivery. And the idea that they are motivated by a mad desire to "silence dissent" is to slander public servants who may sometimes get it wrong but are usually motivated by the same ethos to provide good services as we are.

And why pray should the state not decide how they want public money spent? I though that is why we elected them (as opposed to the trustees of Baring obviously).

I do wonder if the Baring Foundation have reflected on the irony of a body set up by a rich banking family, on the back of their bank profits lecturing the rest of us on independence? And who are they to say that an elected Government does not have the right to commission what they believe they need from public services. As taxpayers I would rather the Government decided how to commission than unelected and unaccountable private Foundations. So their point on independence is simply misplaced and illogical.

As my rather brilliant Head of Policy pointed out the problem is bad commissioning, not commissioning itself. That is the necessary process to determine proper allocation of funds and priorities for public money and the desire to deliver effective services for users.

If they had confined themselves to pointing out the problems of bad commissioning and remedies to improve we might have found this useful, as it is these wild and extravagant claims simply undermine their credibility. In fact the commissioning process overall has had positive effects in increasing user control and community involvement by the much wider use of our sector. Our greater and developing role in determining commissioning policy has likewise helped promote the role of the service user and citizen.

And their attack on personalisation is also unfortunate. Again they have missed the irony that in arguing that commissioning does not reflect the needs of service users they then attack proposals that will significantly increase user control. Fortunately ACEVO has established a Commission, under Matthew Pike, to look at how the sector can respond and promote personalisation. As organisations we want increase user control of our services. That is our mission. And our Commission will get down to the practicalities and leave the preaching to others.

And finally, my Head of Comms sends me the alarming headline from the Independent:

Etherington beating gambling problem’.

The footballer, obviously.

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