Thursday 27 May 2010

Listening to IDS

At Caxton House. Listening to a speech by the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, otherwise known as IDS.

Trailed heavily in the media and with a Guardian article which describes our welfare system as broke. A bold statement. And let's hope we can sort it. I say "we" as the third sector is a crucial part of the reform answer.

I'm sitting in the front row in a phalanx of the third sector: Clare Tickell of Action for children, Martin Narey, Barnados, and Kate Davies of the Notting Hill Housing Trust. And we have the "Red Tory" Phillip Blond next to us!

IDS speech is impressive in his clear determination to tackle poverty and put DWP at the forefront of this battle. And he is right to pinpoint the despair of those stuck in a system unable to secure a job. There is a cycle of dependency that those of us in the third sector know so well and try to tackle.

He said that one of the key tests for all their programmes is "does it deliver a positive social return on the investment". He wants programmes to help those at most disadvantage. Work is the best route out of poverty, as he said.

It was great to have such a strong commitment to working with the third sector. And yes, he said "third sector". Good for Iain.

As you would expect I asked a question, though also making clear we know that he is committed at a personal level to work with the third sector. I said that we need both goodwill as well as a framework in order to secure change. I asked if we can expect reform of the commissioning process to ensure a key role for the sector in delivery. This question was also followed by a colleague from CVS who raised the issue of prime contracting.

The response was interesting. First of all IDS said he wants to talk to us about this and "his door is open". He asked officials to sort this out so he can hear from us about. I shall be on to this today!

Chris Grayling, Employment Minister, said that they were absolutely committed to ensuring small voluntary and community organisations can play a part in contracting. He said they are determined to do this. He said they know the problems with prime contracting and were determined that small organisations are not cut out. Both he and IDS said they need to ensure that large and small work together in this and how we achieve scale that is inclusive.

A very positive response to questions from all the third sector people here. I reckon 90% of questions came from us.

And IDS revealed that he as been asked to Chair a Cabinet Committee on social justice. At the end I wished him well in this task.

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