Wednesday 31 March 2010

" Poorly Run"? A Big Society Bank and support for service delivery

I think politicians who announce that organisations are "poorly run", as David Cameron did about Futurebuilders should surely check their facts?

The same day the independent evaluation report of Sheffield Hallam University into Futurebuilders was published. Far from proving evidence for this claim it actually shows in droves how well run Futurebuilders has been. The report provides fact after fact to demonstrate Futurebuilders has been a howling success.

For example the Cabinet Office set a target for contracts won of 120 last year. Futurebuilders achieved 369; a tripling of the target set. Is that poorly run?

In the last year Futurebuilders reduced the turnaround time from agreement to making the loan from 448 days to 125 days. Is that poorly run?

It is also suggested that money should be channelled away from these social investment schemes into community organisations and social enterprises. Yet nearly 15% of all the loans went to organisations with a turnover of less than £100,000 - to exactly those community organisations. The difference is that a loan helps groups set up for the future and the money that comes back can be re-invested again and again so creating a circle of growth that truly empowers communities.

Of course it is important that there are grant schemes that support capacity development in communities. One cannot criticise that objective of the Tory announcement and the community grants programme is to be welcomed. But should it be at the expense of loan repayments that could be reinvested into communities?

After all, one of the core schemes run by Futurebuilders is the Communitybuilders scheme - a mix of grant and loan that has been utilised to build community anchors, which is all about achieving the community empowerment and Big Society that DC wants. So I hope we can persuade second thoughts on this.

But there is much else to praise in the announcements by the Tories today. The commitments on the Social Investment Bank for example. As Nick Hurd MP emailed me to say:

"We really do get the potential of the (independent and wholesale) SIB to grow the social investment market and make it easier for social entrepreneurs to connect with the strategic capital they need. I gave you a sense of our ambition on the phone."

I like the notion of calling it "Big Society Bank" and also having a Big Society Day. As Stuart Etherington said, "We are pleased that they will establish an annual Big Society Day, to celebrate the work of community groups, as well as their commitment to make volunteering part of the culture of the civil service."

Many of the ideas and notions, like on commissioning and building strong communities came across at our recent Summit with the Tories and George Osborne took up the challenge of our "Big Offer".

Nick Hurd also wrote that, "I think this agenda is an opportunity for the Third Sector. It is about mobilising people – and this is something the TS does very well. You can help us build the Bigger Society – as well as deliver better public services ".

I certainly agree that sentiment!

The key for our sector will be to see if these ideas will move from rhetoric to reality, and we will need to subject all of the ideas we get from the political parties over the next month to that test.

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