Sir Stephen Bubb

Sir Stephen Bubb

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.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

"Plus energy"

A great conference laid on by the British Council on social enterprise for key policy makers and decision takers in government. There were 3 of us from the UK to share experience and views , myself, Allison and Simon Tucker of the Young Foundation.

It is clear the new Government is serious about expanding social enterprise and the general role of the third sector. The PM Hatoyama has apparently explicitly said they want to invest in the sector. They are looking to develop a Compact, have set targets for the numbers of social entreprenurs they expect to develop , set up a forum to bring together key players, investing in capacity building and even considering an OTS. One speaker said that they were specifically looking at the UK experience to learn rather than the US or Europe.

Again there was great interest in Full Cost Recovery- to the point that I feared they would want a detailed explanation of the FCR template at which point I would have had to do my CEO " I do strategy not detail speech" ! But it is a live issue here and we will work with JACEVO to translate the template. There is clearly a market here.

I began my speech with a talk about Will Adams, the first Englishman in Japan- arriving here 460 years ago on april 12th 1600! Will was born in Gillingham , Kent just as I was. I used to pass his Memorial on the way to school. This little anecdote seemed to go down well though I had some difficulty in tying it to a speech on social enterprise .

I talked about the work of the Social Investment Business and the exciting possibility of a Social Investment Bank. I said that in fact we needed a World SIB and made clear I was available to Chair it... this also seemed to go down well , especially with Allison who started tweeting furiously...

After a full on 6 hours it was off to the Embassy for a reception: greeted by the Ambassador with the news he had already read my Blog about my lunch trip on Sunday! Such is the power of the Blog! And we had a special guest , Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado. She spoke fluent English and was rather charming. In fact she gave a highly coherent speech about the need for a different approach to human advancment and the role of social movements and the growing interest in working for something more than just profit. She talked about the value of "energy plus" which people bring to social enterprise- a rather splendid expression instead of the mundane use of "value added". She used the analogy of how a tide flows more swiftly and powerfully when the waters flow together in the same direction and not colliding and competing .

We had an interesting chat and I told her about ACEVO and the new Japanese organisation JACEVO. In as far as one can tell with a royal she seemed interested. But then we moved on to a fascinating discussion on netsuke. She has one of the largest collections of contemporary netsuke in the world and has published a book on it. I'm afraid my own collection of 7 hardly counts!














Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado





The Better Banking campaign ( housed at ACEVO) has just launched a new movement – it’s called Move Your Money. If you think it’s only fair that in return for the privilege of a banking license, banks should meet the needs of everyone in society fairly, then you can send them a message to do something about it.

Click here to go to the Move Your Money page on Facebook.

By becoming a fan, you take the Move Your Money pledge. If you aren’t happy about the way banks are behaving, then the pledge is a way of telling them that you’re prepared to move your money to an alternative provider if things don’t improve. The Facebook page includes some guidance on choosing an ethical bank.

The government have clearly indicated they want to make the banks behave better; by insisting they make a bank account available to all citizens. This is a way that individuals can also make their voice heard.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Full cost recovery and the Singapore Seafood Republic...

Something slightly odd to be eating dinner when my ACEVO staff have not even had their lunch! Allison and I were being entertained by the British Council at the exotic seafood Republic, where one's dinner arrives claw clad and with various instruments of torture to crack and unpick the food. You even get a bib (as modeled below)





I have to say this sort of thing makes one think that vegetarianism has its place. And as I am feeling distinctly odd with jet lag and funny tummy I make a polite attempt at a crab claw and then give up. Still , the G+T was pleasant ( and medicinal).

I had spent the day talking " Full cost Recovery ". Indeed one and a half hours worth. And there were detailed questions from the JACEVO audience. I had to pause every few minutes for my pearls of wisdom to be translated into Japanese, but it always seems to take so much longer for her to translate than I had spoken in English and I began to wonder if she was adding her own commentary ; as in " well this englishman says he has done this but I reckon it's all a joke ". But I was assured that the Japanese translation is simply a lot longer and more elaborate.

It is clear that the issue of recovery of costs in contracts and grants is a very live issue here. It is being debated with Government and funders and they were keen to explore the ACEVO FCR business model. Indeed we even had an accountancy professor from one of the major Tokyo Universities who ran thorough the ACEVO FCR template. We are talking to JACEVO about having the system translated for them to use. How cool is that! And as I speak there is an active twitterer at the back busy sending on my comments to a young social venture partners network.

At dinner we had an interesting guest who will open the Council conference tomorrow;Prof Kaneko Ikuyo who heads the research Institute at Keio University but more interestingly is a friend of the current Prime Miniter form the days when they studied at Stanford together. The new PM is very interested in the third sector and how to use it to create social enterprises and deliver more public services. Prof Ikuyo holds a bi monthly " public forum " for the PM when he brings together people from the sector and others to talk about issues that affect people and government. It is clear that they see the UK model as very applicable to their own development. I shall talk tomorrow about how ACEVO has helped develop the strong relationship that we have with government in the UK and how our economic , as well as social power has forced more attention to be paid to what we can achieve. So although the sector here is small , it is growing. It is a lesson that many countries are discovering and the professionalism and power of the UK model has many admirers around the world.

But we can also always learn from others and one of the fascinating parts of the day was an informal lunch with some of the members of JACEVO when they talked about their own organisations and what they do and what their challenges are. It's one of the core purposes of ACEVO that we bring CEOs together to share experiences, talk though problems and learn. JACEVO is following this networking model too. I wish them well as they too grow in power and influence.

"Famous in Japan!"



Blogging from Japan. As you do! I'm here to speak at a British Council conference on social enterprise , and also to run a JACEVO ( our Japanese sister organisation ) event on Full Cost Recovery. I'm here with my vice chair, Allison Ogden - Newton , who is keeping an eye on me....see her here in a photo outside the Imperial Palace.

Allison had already arranged to meet with a contact; Professor Ichiro , the Chair of the department of management at the Meiji University and I gate- crashed their dinner date. But on being introduced he exclaimed , " ah, Bubb , but you are famous in Japan" he said in that lovely mix of Japanese flattery and overstatement! And a great dinner of sushi awaited. The jet lag was kept at bay with a number of G+Ts!

Palm Sunday was celebrated at the Anglican Cathedral, complete with Palm Procession, as seen below



It turns out that the Ambassador's wife is there: she whisks me off for lunch at the Embassy. We met when I was last here. David Warren , our man in Tokyo , is an old friend from Oxford. A useful update on Japanese politics with the lovely salmon . When I was here for the launch of JACEVO they had just had their General Election and a new Government was taking over; more interested in reforming public services and using the third sector here , which is growing in size , as is their interest in expanding social enterprise. The government is running into trouble and there is a major battle between the Politicians and the civil service. They were partly elected to take on the power and might of the Bureaucracy which plays , what some see, as a too strong role in running the country.

It is the time of the Cherry Blossom; a great time of festivity throughout the country. The blossom is out and in a few days will be at its finest , at which point families emerge with their blankets and picnic hampers to celebrate the glory of the blossom under the trees. So let me bring you on the cherry trees from the grounds of the Imperial Palace:

Friday, 26 March 2010

Total Place: now for Total Communities!

The results of the Total Place pilots were launched today by John Denham MP, Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities. We were lucky to have the person who directed the project (Irene Lucas) from DCLG speaking at our Spring Conference today.

We are in discussion with HMT and DCLG on how we can build on the Total Place project to look at " Total Communites". In other words, local authorities, PCTS and other agencies have indentified the savings that come from working together, now they should look at how the sector might deliver the joined up and cost effective solution to better delivery. We want to explore a number of pilots on this. It should build into the Comprehensive Spending Review in the Autumn.


Stories are flooding into ACEVO and Euclid about the horro of applying for EU funding. Euclid has been involved in consultations with the Commission on reform. It is needed.

This is just one example of a reply from a member:


" We were glad to see the back of EU Objective 1 funding because we reckon every pound we got from this grant for projects cost us about £1.07p to deliver and claim. (!!!) "


She then goes on to tell the awful story;

" We have to keep original paper copies of all documentation that could be evidence of the work done and the outputs claimed - not just financial info, but everything - records of attendance at consultation events, questionnaires completed by residents etc - for an indefinite amount of time. This timescale is defined by the final date of payment of the last grant paid under this programme - and given the number of disputed cases, clawbacks etc this hasn't even started the clock ticking yet. We will then have to store all this paperwork for years and years (I think its 40 years!) in case it should ever be needed. We are leasing storage space to comply with this. "


How completely absurd. Euclid have been telling the Commission this has to stop. We know that many members now will have nothing to do with EU funding because of this ridiculous palaver. This defeats the purpose of the funding streams. It makes a mockery of the EU attempts to support civil society working in deprived communities! Reform is essential. It is needed now.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Neutered

A great result! Ring the bells! Put out the flags! ACEVO has achieved a neutering of Burnham's "preferred provider" policy. Guidance for commissioners published today makes clear that competition has won the day over discrimination against third sector providers.

Now we can welcome the fact that the Government have listened to third sector concerns on Department of Health procurement policy.

So we have welcomed the guidance documents published today by the Department of Health, which make clear that commissioners should not favour or discriminate against providers from any one sector, thereby effectively neutering Andy Burnham's "preferred provider" policy.

The guidance is the final nail in the coffin for the 'preferred provider' policy, which has been well and truly neutered.

The Department of Health has today explicitly told NHS commissioners that they must not prefer providers from any one sector, and should instead be non-discriminatory and seek to remove barriers to third sector participation.

The fact is that the third sector has a huge amount to offer NHS patients, and we want to work in partnership with the NHS to deliver better services. Now we can get back to working with the NHS to do just that.

It may also rescue the "right to request" policy which allowed groups of NHS staff to become social enterprises free from the bureaucracy of the health service.

The Department has published three pieces of guidance today: the revised Principles and Rules for Cooperation and Competition, the revised PCT Procurement Guide, and Commercial Skills for the NHS. I wouldn't recommend a read unless you are very short of books but the key point we can all note is that effective lobbying can defeat even a mighty power like a Secretary of State.

I have also received a really strong reassurance from the Prime minister replying to my letter on preferred provider.

He says "I would like to reassure you ...we are committed to supporting a growing role for the voluntary and private sectors in the provision of health and social care .....voluntary and third sector providers in particluar have a huge amount to offer the NHS through new and innovative ways of working."

I had also written to the PM about DH's decision to scupper our complaint against Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT which we put to their competition panel. Interestingly he relpied ,

"I was interested in your suggestion of more formal independence for the DH compettion and cooperation panel and we will consider this further.... We keep under active consideration areas of NHS governnence that might benefit from more formal independence".


I shall be telling members to vigorously pursue their PCTs to ensure the policy is carried out. Any hint of unfair competition; like we saw with the PCT in Great Yarmouth and we will be all over it like a rash!

It's been a classic and powerful example of lobbying and advocacy. A deft and skillful mixture of threats and bluster, use of the media and behind the scenes and secret discussions. It has been ACEVO at its best. There are few organisations in or outside the sector that could have pulled this off. And a particular tribute to the skilled duo of the 2 musketeers Kyle and Michell.

As Francis Maude MP said to us : "feel compelled to hold our feet to the fire". We do that to governments that try to diss our sector.

Monday, 22 March 2010

What role the Third Sector?

An interesting article on the next Labour Manifesto in the Sunday Observer; promising a radical agenda. We have now seen a strong pitch from the Conservatives for a growing sector role and Labour seem to be much clearer on the limits of state delivery, hence their call for more cooperative and mutual ownership (mirroring the "Red Tory" agenda of Philip Blond.)

The Lib Dems seem to have a less clearly thought through agenda on the sector (we are seeing Vince Cable tomorrow so we shall check that out) so if there is a Hung Parliament I'm not sure how that will affect us.

What is not clear is how the fine words will translate into action whoever forms the next Government. But to some extent the continues rise of the sector will continue regardless of what Government decrees. It is clear across Europe that State responses are increasingly seen as inadequate in dealing with the complex societies of the 21st century. Civil Society will continue to grow inexorably and the question is more how Governments choose to interact, not whether.

This is not just about delivery but also, crucially, about "voice". The fact that communities and interests are expressed through third sector organisations rather than political parties has been an interesting phenomena of the last two decades. Hence again the interest by the political parties in London Citizens, for example.

But there is a danger. Communities are not always force for progress. Witness the way many people with learning difficulties face in their local communities. And pressure groups may not be either democratic or representative. It is clear that as our sector grows the demand for us to show how accountable we are will grow. We may criticise politicians, but they have a democratic mandate. Where exactly do our third sector trustees come from? Is it transparent? Accountable?

This is the mirror image of the call for us to demonstrate Impact.

George Osborne last week was right to challenge us to show our professionalism. The role of ACEVO and our sister organisations will become ever more important in supporting this noble aim.

Good news on Friday; my nephew, Oliver, and his school team from Dulwich College have won the Bank of England - Times Interest Rate Challenge. They took home a cheque for £10,000 for their school.



And another glorious weekend in Charlbury. How gorgeous to have the sun for a change. Here's a photo of Lord Rotherwick's sheep at Cornbury Park, unmolested by Hound!

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Summit

It turned out well. No, actually it turned out brilliantly. The Summit with the Conservatives that is. And amazing to reflect that for a day we had five shadow Cabinet members, five front bench spokesmen and even one Shadow Minister sitting in the audience!

We held the event in Millbank. As George Osborne MP said, an iconic room, as it was the room which Labour used as their campaign HQ in '97 and now where the Tories will hold their 2010 campaign. And as I said, also home to our very own Charity Commission!

The event was packed out with members from the various partner organisations; NAVCA, the Community Alliance and the Social Enterprise Coalition and we had put together a panel of speakers through the day to reflect the diversity of our sector; from local and national, community and social enterprise. And though we can sometimes have our arguments about the relative merits of small or large we put on a united front to talk to the Conservatives.

The theme was around "The Big Offer"; our sector offer to the political parties of cost effective public service , closer to the Citizen and Communities. I spelt out the economic value of our offer in front of the Shadow Chancellor (a slight mistake which George spotted quickly was when I described him as "Chancellor" but don't tell Alistair who I saw on the same theme two weeks ago!).

I used three examples of proven impact; from Tomorrow's People, St Giles Trust and Age Concern, South Staffs. But I was also keen to challenge the Conservatives on their policies for the sector where I think they need to think more. These are;

"Rhetoric or reality"

I used a quote from my local MP (David Cameron) to illustrate the love bombing of our sector (from all of the parties, not just the Conservatives). The issue is not whether they want to expand our role, it is HOW they will do it.

Gearing up.

I had used as a counterpoint to the St Giles Trust rehabilitation programmes the fact that only 2% of the MoJ budget is spent on commissioning third sector services. So if they want to realise three massive savings that could come from a bigger third sector delivery role they will have to gear up. It's a step change required. HOW will they do that?

Local v national

I posed to them what I see as their dilemma in arguing for more localism and bigging up small charities (sometimes with snide comments on Tescoisation) and the need to achieve scale in delivery.

I also talked of the need to ensure access to capital - bonds, the Social Investment Bank etc.

And finally, as a comforting thought for George Osborne I used a quote from J K Galbrait:

"The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”

Osborne's response was good. He picked up on some of these issues and particularly on the need for reform of commissioning. He said to me that our "Big Offer" was one that they would accept! A good speech. And showed the value of the day; we were able to showcase to a potential future Chancellor the economic as well as the social impact we can make.

What I have been keen to do with Government and with the main Parties is to make them think differently about our Sector and its true potential. I think one of ACEVO's real triumphs over the last 10 years has been to influence the debate on public sector reform to the point where the Parties, in their various ways now all talk of expanding sector delivery.

I have always argued that our role is not just at the margins. Not just as "innovators". But also as mainstream. And this was strongly echoed by Andrew Lansley when he spoke. There was also quite a theme running through the day in what they want to do with cutting re-offending. They seriously "get" the need to use the sector to cut our disgraceful record of 66% back in prison in two years.

Finally, two thoughts that I left delegates with.

Francis Maude MP said that if they win we should "feel compelled to hold their feet to the fire". We shall! As I said that's our duty to our members and their beneficiaries.

George Osborne MP

He challenged our sector to think about how we respond. He said we need to think how we "scale up" and above all show that we are "professional". He is absolutely right. And that is a challenge that ACEVO accepts with alacrity.

Incredible feedback on the day from our delegates. One of the features of the event was to use twitter and text for questions - which then appeared on screen. This cut our all the fuss and palaver of question sessions where naughty people use it to advertise their organisation and make crude funding pleas! A great success. And we used Simon Fanshawe, broadcaster and media guru, to facilitate the sessions which he did with brilliance, flair and elan. He even quickly stopped one of the Tories from getting in election mode by telling them not to make party political points (and I have to say the Tory speakers were actually very good at not trying to make cheap political points but treating it as a dialogue with the sector.

Just some feedback:

"It was lovely to see you yesterday at your finest. All very impressive. I loved the questions through twittering/texting. It made the whole proceedings much more engaging"

"Congratulations on a highly successful event yesterday – my Head of Policy and Public Affairs said it was one of the best events she’s attended and I agree! The venue and format worked very well and the Conservatives and members were well prepared and there was a very constructive and joined up debate. It was inspirational asking Simon to facilitate."

"I felt proud of ACEVO (and you) yesterday!""

"Aside from the encouraging rhetoric, what came across loud and clear was the opportunity - both for third sector and Government - for us to lead on establishing solutions/outcome focused commissioning (and let us set the outcome/impact definitions, before others try to..)"

And so the day ended with a wine tasting with my dear friend and old boss, Sir Rodney Brooke, followed by dinner at the Atheneum. And now a day off!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The stage is set!


Getting ready for kick off - the Tory Summit

Get your questions in now. Osborne speaks at 10. 15 am.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Our Impact!

I suspect now more than ever, there needs to be a sharper focus on the impact we achieve.

Our friends in New Philanthropy Capital - Martin Brookes ACEVO member - have produced a social impact manifesto. Click here

The recommendations could help Government to invest in what works and also save money they argue. One scheme NPC put forward, for example, has the potential not only to save Government £150m per year, but also to reduce the current reporting burden on charities.

The manifesto has six recommendations:

1. Government should introduce an Impact Fund to help charities measure their own impact.

2. Spending Departments should coordinate the development of standardised frameworks for impact measurement.

3. Government should publish the evidence it collects from charities in the same way that it publishes other public services performance data.

4. Government should support the provision of good quality information to help philanthropists focus on effectiveness.

5. Government should promote the development and take up of good quality philanthropy advice.

6. Government should build sustainable partnerships with philanthropists.

Now all this is focused on what Government should do. But what do we need to do? It's crucial we start developing ways to measure, and the shout about, how we add value through our work.

And a brilliant example of this is provided by the St Giles Trust, Rob Owen, ACEVO member, is the exemplar CEO. They commissioned Frontier Economics to research impact. Their report, launched Monday, has been heavily peer reviewed by some very senior economists c/o Pro Bono Economics, both public and private. It is now so battled hardened and bomb proof it's unreal. But uniquely credible for it.

The findings are staggering for a such a pilot done, for the first time, at scale.

So St Giles' work demonstrates re-offending rates drop by a whopping 40%.

The savings to the state are equally dramatic. For ever £1 invested within one to two years the real and direct savings equate to a return of between £10 - £34.

Our third sector has a genuine solution to the country's re-offending £12 billion pound problem. But at the moment MoJ spend just 2% of their budget on commissioning services from the third sector. I shall pose this issue to George Osborne on Thursday.

Rob is a member of the Social Investment Board and so I saw him to congratulate him tonight. We had a good Board. Some knotty problems, both in terms of some investments and wider issues of governance, but against a background of real achievement. Jonathan reported on an employee engagement survey which reports strong satisfaction levels among staff.

And finally, a quote courtesy of Sunday's Observer:

"Champagne makes you feel like it's Sunday and better days are around the corner"

Marlene Dietrich

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

How to tell the Tories what you think!

You may have noticed the sector - Tory Summit is coming up. On Thursday. Do you want to take part?

If so you can!

If you've questions you would like to put to George Osborne MP, or any of the participating Shadow Ministers, at Thursday’s Summit there are several ways you can feed in and keep up to speed on the action:

1. email events@acevo.org.uk by Wednesday at the latest;

2. You can text questions to 60777- type in ACEVO followed by your question;

3. Present or not twitterers can participate in the discussions using the hashtag #tssummit;

4. You can view the summit in real time on ACEVO’s homepage. Click here Log on at 10.30am for the opening remarks.

So there you go.

And we see Vince Cable on March 23rd. If you want me to raise issues with him then comment here!

Cool ACEVO

A welcome day off on Monday and I found myself listening to Gordon Brown on Woman's hour! A good performance I thought, though he still goes in for those lists and mind numbing statistics. He was good on the issue of adult social care. Whilst there is criticism of the proposals I do think that at long last we are getting a debate on a crucial aspect of public policy which has been long neglected. His instinct, that we must support elderly people at home for as long as possible, is the right one. It's something Age charities have been demanding for years, and of course a wide range of brilliant charities make this happen. This is where the combination of caring volunteers and professional staff come to the fore; organisations like Age UK (if that is what they finally call the merged Age concern and Help the Aged) and WRVS have for decades been pointing the way to a better form of care, but have lacked the resources to really expand to meet the need.

And it is worth noting that the majority of people who will vote in the election are 60+. Politicians have been slow to wake up to the politics of age. Too much attention is paid to "youth" and not enough to age. But with us baby boomers fast approaching our free bus pass this will change!!

Well, only two days to the Tory Summit. You can follow it - if that's what you like -with one of those twitter hash tag things. I feel sure my colleague Robin Bogg will be well in evidence!

Its;

#tssummit

It has long been known that ACEVO is the coolest place to work in the third sector. We attract the best and the brightest, which is why the names of Elsworth, Kyle, Michell and Berry are so often in the media spotlight. What other umbrella has quite so much seriously stunning talent, he asks proudly! Who could disagree that with 41 staff we punch a mega welly above our weight It's a fun and dynamic office and we always have queues of people wanting to work for us.

So it is no surprise that our latest intern recruit is a TV star; David Wickenden, of 4 Poofs and a Piano; as seen every Friday on Jonathan Ross. He studied dance in Paris and his training also incorporated singing and acting. His most prestigious work included a year at the famous Moulin Rouge in Paris followed by a further three years in exclusive Spanish and Portuguese Casinos. This is his first foray into the third sector and he is doing a stint with Euclid, our splendid European Leaders Network. A great addition to the staff, though there is little room for dancing in the teaming ACEVO office and certainly no piano!

And whilst mentioning TV stars those watching BBC2 on Friday will have seen Holly Berry, daughter of our very own Jenny Berry, the fabulous ACEVO North Director. She was weaving, as part of the BBC2 craft season. Real charisma and talent. I am commissioning a scarf!

And finally; the early potatoes are in! I've given in to Allison Ogden-Newton's advice, though my brother is hanging on in there for a few more weeks of sun and no frost. And the garlic, shallots and onions are in, and I've started a new asparagus bed. A productive day off!

Monday, 15 March 2010

David, me and the cheese.

I was buying a gorgeous organic Cotswolds blue brie when I realised my neighbour at the stall was our local MP and his wife Samantha. The first time I have met Samantha , though I feel I knew her well from the morning papers! " You've certainly been shopping well " , he said looking at my 5 bags laden with booty from our marvellous Charlbury Farmers Market.

Always useful to have David Cameron as your MP and we talked about our upcoming ACEVO- Tory Summit on Thursday. He said jocularly, " I'm glad you've got our top team " as I mentioned the star cast for the day led by George Osborne MP.

But a historic occasion ; this is the first time David Cameron has met the Hound. And the Hound approved. I think a Tory supporter as she enthusiastically greeted the Camerons ! Though she would probably lick Gordon too!

Charlbury was resplendent in its early spring glory. Just feast on the photos taken in our Churchyard. And you have to just love the Cameron blessed Hound in the aconites!






Another Sunday hike to the rustic glory of the Plough Inn at Finstock. This time the Hound did without the deer hunting, and I managed to steer her away from Lord Rotherwick's prize sheep ( she had a lamb bone on Saturday and another would be excessive). Pints of Adnams broadside and Old Codgers and I positively salied home; just in time for R3 choral evensong from Kings.

The general election seems to be shaping up well for a more than usually interesting contest. Good that we will have a real fight and contest of ideas. This is the time when we can really influence the parties on the third sector. I have been keen in ACEVO to demonstrate what we can offer, not what we demand. When we all know that public spending must fall then it is foolish to present manifestos that demand more spending without showing what we can achieve for the country .

This week will be action packed for our sector. On St Patrick's day we have our debate with the 3 parties on the joint manifesto produced jointly by ACEVO , the Social Enterprise Coalition and the Community Alliance. We have meetings between Euclid Network and the Tories and a couple of round tables, on volunteering and on commissioning and the historic launch of the first ever social impact bond by the MoJ. All that and our Summit and a Board meeting of the Social Investment Business where we debate expansion.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Is Victory in our grasp?

Another day in Malborough House and an interesting discussion on the future of the Commonwealth. At the last Heads of Government Meeting it was agreed to look at potential reforms and a so called "Eminent Persons" group is being established to look at this. We discussed how civil society organisations play into these reform discussions. The Royal Commonwealth Society have published the results of a major survey on what people think of the institution. It shows the time is ripe for radical change.

It looks like the Burnham third sector second policy is unravelling. Our behind the scenes lobbying, and our up front, in your face, aggressive use of the Competition Panel is paying off.

The Health Service Journal reports that a recent Cabinet Meeting had exposed Burnham to criticism from colleagues. The Cabinet agreed Mr Burnham would have to get detailed involvement and sign-off for his new procurement guidance from other Ministers, including those at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and the Office of Government Commerce as well as the Treasury. ACEVO has been lobbying for this as well as being involved in detailed discussions on this guidance.

HSJ went on to report,

"Another indication of unease with Mr Burnham's position is Prime Minister Gordon Brown's letter to ACEVO in January - seen by HSJ - which directs ACEVO to Mr Brown's senior policy adviser on health Greg Beales, not Mr Burnham."

The letter says: "I have asked Greg Beales [to] ensure you are fully involved in the development of these detailed proposals."

The revised procurement guidance is now expected next week. Mr Michell said many Ministers involved in its drafting had told ACEVO they were "minded to not let it go with any reference to preferred provider".

He said the latest draft seen by ACEVO had included only scant reference, but said unions were pushing for these to be increased."

Credit where it is due; I give all the credit to this developing victory to the magnificent duo of Michell and Kyle. Their expert maneuvering of Government Ministers and officials, as well as the use of media and superb handling tactics are an object lesson in effective lobbying. It was their prompt action in exposing the policy u-turn that ensured this policy was heading for the knackers yard. Our last meeting with health members was highly appreciative of their work. It proves the value of ACEVO's work on behalf of all its members. If the third sector had the equivalent of the Order of the British Empire, Kyle and Michell would be knighted!

Let that be a warning to all that wish to diss with our sector: ACEVO is ready for the fight!

And now to professional development; one of the new ACEVO Professional Development offerings will be free online CEO Tool Kits for our members. These "Tool Kits" will provide ‘just in time’ and ‘bite sized learning.' As needs arise, members can log on and access tips, techniques, strategies, models, checklists and a list of further resources on various topics for managing their organisation successfully. The tool kits will help keep members up to date with current thinking and resources in leadership/management topics. Our first topic has already been written by James Barrett on Proactively Managing the CEO and Chair Relationship in times of Crisis.

So if you are an ACEVO member reading this have a look at the first one

If you are not privileged to be an ACEVO member yet and you are a CEO you better join.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

At Malborough House, and dining with Ming!

Marlborough House was built for Sarah, first Duchess of Marlborough as her London home,whilst her husband was building Blenheim Palace - which abuts my wonderful Charlbury. Hawskmoor designed Blenheim, whilst Wren did the House!

The place is oozing history - the home of Edward V11 when he was Prince of Wales, and then of George V and Queen Mary. But now it's the home of The Commonwealth Secretariat and Foundation and that's why I am here (in case you're wondering!)

I have been a member of The Commonwealth's Civil Society Committee for two years now and this week we have our three day annual meeting. Part of our role is to help plan the civil society input to the Commonwealth's Heads of Government meeting; next one November 2011 in Perth. Mark Collins, the CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, is a valued member of ACEVO, as is the CEO of the Royal Commonwealth Club (ACEVO members get a reduced rate at this brilliant London Club (just off Trafalgar Square).

One of the fascinating things about the Committee for me is the insight and learning from the other members who are drawn from around the Commonwealth. There is a superb Chair; Phiroshaw Camay, who runs the co-operative for research and education in South Africa and is a top civil society Leader there.

And it's always humbling to be reminded that whatever the problems we might have with Government here at least we are not in Zimbabwe for example, where civil society organisations face challenges of a very different order. Or Uganda which includes political leaders who want to have homosexuals put to death.

Indeed a number of Commonwealth Leaders deeply resent NGOs who often get funding because their Governments cannot be trusted not to divert funding into non-charitable ends: like their own families! We had a fascinating debate on the subject of fragile Governments or fragile societies.

In the afternoon we got onto the subject of communications and, surprise, surprise, my Blog came up. I suggested they include a link to said famous Blog on their website! And I even mentioned Robin Bogg, the anon writer who spoofs me with his witty piss takes.

Last night was dinner at the Liberal Club! Part of our concerted effort to ensure all the political parties know our third sector offer. One of my Board members, the indefatigable Leila Ferguson, who runs the West Berksire Mencap and her husband were entertaining me and my partner. A superb evening.it was the "Orpington Dinner" , held to celebrate the famous 1962 Orpington by-election, which I'm delighted to say I remember... Lord Avebury, the victor, now in his 80s was there.

I met Baroness Ros Scott, who is President of the Lib Dems, and we had a good discussion about the role of the third sector. She had an extremely sound view of our sector and I was pleased to say did not trot out the usual platitudes about wonderful volunteers and community groups. Indeed she had a thoroughly sensible approach to the important role played by national charities and how their scale and reach is so essential to a thriving sector. Such a change to those who witter on about how small is so beautiful.

There were various speeches. Ming Campbell gave a superb critique of the Chilcot Enquiry and a forensic undermining of the raison d'etre of the Blair decision to go to war, on a false prospectus and in an illegal way, in breach of the UN Charter. As he said it has done huge damage to our international standing,and I had to agree that too little attention is paid to the huge cost in lives of the Iraqi people themselves of this conflict.

David Steel and Lord Avebury both spoke and then it was to the Bar for G+T s. Leila did me proud (as her husband said; she is related to hosts of distinguished former Liberals!). Crucial for us to be selling our message across all three Parties.

And in between times I was trying to get a doctor's appointment. You have to give two weeks notice that you are going to be ill to get to see a Doctor in Charlbury. So I tried one of these new "Walk in Centres", only to discover after an hour's wait I have to go to A+E!! What's the point of them then? So that will be a journey early tomorrow. What a waste of NHS resources. But never fear; without going into details too delicate for a Blog I just need a high dose of iron to pep me up for the Tories next week!! And the NHS is the preferred supplier eh!

So not had time to put in my early potatoes, as recommended by Allison Ogden- Newton on her superb Blog! I'm not sure the frosts wouldn't get them though? My grandfather always waited for Good Friday to plant his!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

A bas l' ideologues!

So while I was in Reading and Cardiff meeting members my esteemed Deputy, Dr Kyle, was meeting the Prime Minister.

He was at the opening of the new offices of the trade union Community. Their General Secretary is an ACEVO member and we are doing work with them on third sector and union support in community development. Gordon greeted him warmly, he tells me. But when I enquired whether he had he asked him when he was ditching the Burnham disastrous "preferred provider" he went strangely silent!

Incidentally, this policy was being "lambasted" in the Lords yesterday (if one can say that about their Noble Lordships!). As one of them said to the Health Minister, one Glenys Thornton, erstwhile Chair of the Social Enterprise Coalition;

"Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, how do we know that the NHS is providing the best service possible if there is no competitive tendering? "

And;

"Baroness Barker: My Lords, services provided by the NHS need be put out to tender only when there has been a failure to meet standards twice, while services provided by the independent and voluntary sectors have to be put out to tender automatically even if they are very good. What is the rationale for that unequal treatment?"

The Hansard was a sorry read for Glenys defending the indefensible. Of course she knows the policy is insane.

But Peter tells me the Community event was superb. It's good to be able to work with the unions, as opposed to having to defend our members from disgraceful attacks on them by unions like Unite, who seem to see the third sector as an inferior place to work and attack our role in delivering citizen focused services.

The two BIG ASKS in Reading and Cardiff went superbly. It was particularly good to meet our superb band of Welsh members. It was incredibly useful to me to catch up on devolution politics and developments in the Welsh Assembly. But our members were very clear that they join ACEVO so that they can support our work in influencing the UK government in areas that crucially affect the sector and our beneficiaries in Wales.

It seems the various Welsh umbrella bodies are increasingly only interested in the Assembly and matters Welsh and are not playing a wider role in disseminating broader information or sharing leadership learning.

There was also praise for our professional development events.

And in Reading there was an interesting discussion on the need for "one voice" for the sector. A voice that promotes and lobbies for what we do and what we achieve.

We talked about this at the recent ACEVO Board, as it has come up elsewhere. I have just penned an article for the Caritas magazine on exactly this, as has Stuart. I suspect as the next 10 years unfolds we will see more movement to a united front for the third sector, however that might look! A CBI for the third sector, as one member put it. To do this though we need to focus more on what we achieve than labels. We should not be promoting social enterprise at the expense of other parts of our sector. We should not be arguing small is best (or the converse), or that local is better than national (or the converse). Our "Offer" to Government and to the nation as a whole is so much more than the sum of our parts. As we continue to grow as a sector I suspect the current divisions in what we do as umbrella bodies will start to become less and less important.

There was also a great debate on how we should work with the private sector and look for more partnership and consortia working. I suspect also that the next 10 years will see a blossoming on such joint work, joint ventures, bids etc. The smart money will be on those CEOs who seek out those alliances at a time when the public sector contracts. For too long we have been mesmerised by the public sector and what it does and what it wants. Are we moving to a post public sector age when our main work and focus will be with the private sector. I can hear the rumbles already. But the strong third sector CEO is always ahead of the pack. The boundaries between business, the public and third sectors are already blurred. They will become more so. Ideology needs to play second fiddle to the pragmatic pursuit of what is good for our beneficiaries. Statists are so very last Century!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Next stop; Reading and Cardiff!

On train to next stages of BIG ASK gig. First stop Reading!

I had a revitalising weekend in Charlbury in the gorgeous March sun, and a long walk over to Finstock with the hound for Sunday lunch in my favourite local Inn; the Plough! The walk back was enlivened by a spot of deer hunting; the Hound had spotted a grazing deer and decided to play. Fortunately the deer outstripped her; quite a feat as The Hound can outrun most dogs (clearly a third sector hound!).

Yesterday we had Phillip Blond from Respublica to lunch at ACEVO to talk to my team on what we might do together to influence policy making in Government, particularly amongst the Tories. We talked about the Better Banking Coalition (which is housed at ACEVO) it turns our Philip is a fan of the States Community Reinvestment Act, which we believe can play a role here in encouraging better banking practise in communities often excluded by banks. Peter gave the example of Thamesmead where in a substantial estate of some 10,000 there are only three cash points and only one of these is free. So effectively a banking tax on the poor.

What the banks in the States have discovered is that banking to third sector organisations or community groups is not necessarily more risky. Indeed the example of the Social Investment Business here is that so called "unbankable" loans turn out to be no more risky than those the banks want to make. Our default rate in SIB is low, so far.

As we pointed out to Phillip what the Futurebuilders' and Communitybuilders' funds have demonstrated, par excellence, is;

 there is strong demand in our sector for loans

 these loans show that our sector is bankable

 loans are a brilliant way of revitalising the sector with the loans repaid being re-used to capitalise more organisations.

My PA had laid on a splendid lunch - Blond was much taken with her avocado and tomato salad - and we have agreed three potential work streams.

The morning had seen us laying on an "employee engagement" seminar at BIS to look at the recent report form Nita Clarke and David Macleod on how to ramp up emloyee engagement to drive innovation and efficiency. A fascinating morning and I returned to ACEVO for a staff meeting where we have agreed to use Nita to work up an engagement strategy for our own staff. I was taken by a presentation form BT where they have used an engagement survey to good effect. We shall do the same. But it was interesting to note the comment from one of the presenters that it is often obvious where a workforce is engaged just by visiting and seeing whether there is a buzz and dynamism about the place.

It brought to mind a comment a couple of recent visitors to the ACEVO office had made on just that point. They had said it was so obvious that we had a really talented staff group at ACEVO from the "buzz" and palpable sense of fun and dynamism you got walking though the office. Others have said the same. Its a great tribute at a time when we have just hired our 41st member of staff !

Friday, 5 March 2010

Gerrymandering, Cable and Foot

To say members are unhappy would be an understatement. There is huge anger amongst ACEVO'S health membership over the DH gerrymandering of the Competition Panel.

I have now written to the PM asking that the Panel's papers and their preliminary report are made public. We are backing this with FoI claims.

I am also asking for a meeting with him and a group of our health members to discuss the difficulty we are in with Andy Burnham's third sector is not our "preferred provider" policy. It is also affecting the "right to request" process. Why would any group of staff want to step outside the NHS and establish a social enterprise when they know they will not be commissioned?

There has been a lot of press now and the Opposition have taken this up. Dr Kyle, the doughty ACEVO DCEO, is hot on the trail and has been in the FT two days running. And the marvellous "M", my Head of Policy goes for gold with his quote that the DH have "snatched confusion from the jaws of clarity".

Cable

We have a hat trick. On top of our meeting with The Chancellor and the important Tory summit coming up on March 18th (bookings going fast as you can imagine!) We now have a session with Vince Cable, the legendary Lib Dem shadow Chancellor! March 25th. Will be good to meet and discuss our sector offer with him!

And now, something for the weekend!

A photo of the late and great Michael Foot. At The Oxford Union. And the splendid youth sitting at his right hand is none other than a glamorous 20 year old Bubb!! (Somewhat less hair these days!)

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Tory Summit

Sitting in my hotel room in Newcastle I'm trying to pull together the details for our Tory Summit on March 18th.

We’re now less than three weeks away from this important cross sector Summit with the Conservatives. Planning this has been a challenge. Not least the cost! I was determined we put on a good face for our sector; professional and dynamic. So we have booked the Millbank conference Centre - at a not inconsiderable price.

But if we are to be taken seriously we need to show our power and our entrepreneurial spirit. We want the Tories to see us a real alternative economic force, as well as a catalyst for social cohesion.

We heard last week that Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne MP, will be making an important Policy Statement at the Summit. Exciting to be at the centre of developments.

I have been pressing palms and milking contacts to get sponsorship to cover the costs. So what could be more agreeable than to get a call, as I stand on Newcastle station, from the splendid Andrew Barnett, CEO of the Gulbenkian Foundation, to say they will be one of the sponsors. Gulbenkian, a forward looking Foundation who want to be engaged in the development of public policy.

An impressive line up is confirmed for the day comprising most senior Conservative figures.

Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne MP, will be making an important Policy Statement.

The front bench representatives will be making keynote speeches and taking part in public 'roundtable' discussions with third sector chief executives, who have been harvesting ideas and case studies with ACEVO’s policy team to present and debate.

This is a key opportunity to really get under the hood and into the detail of Conservative thinking in the run up to the Election and to present our sector offer to them.

This is set to be the most significant event for third sector leaders this year. I am pleased to be hosting this alongside our partners the Community Alliance,bassac, Social Enterprise Coalition, NCVO and NAVCA. We have to present a united voice. This shows the set are working together.

Demand will be high and it is strictly first come first booked. You better book now. Click here.

Speakers will include:

George Osborne MP, Shadow Chancellor
Andrew Lansley MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health
Philip Hammond MP, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, Chairman of the Policy Review and of the Conservative Research Department
Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Nick Hurd MP, Shadow Minister, Charities, Social Enterprise and Volunteering
Alan Duncan MP, Shadow Minister for Prisons
Nick Gibb MP, Shadow Minister for Schools
Andrew Selous MP, Shadow Minister for Work & Pensions

I'm now on the "Flying Scotsman" back to London and dinner with Liam Byrne MP (chance to lay into his colleague Andy Burnham and his appalling behaviour on preferred provider!)

What value Politician's pledges? Breaking Promises


It was one of those moments; the Big Ask in Newcastle and I announced I was handing over to my Chair "Anne-Marie" and it was not until the giggles had subsided I realised that it was in fact Lesley-Anne sitting at my side. Still, she took it in good part, not mentioning my appraisal and wishing me a cherry, "farewell Jonathan" but an excellent Big Ask; one of the best; friendly and good humoured and relentlessly optimistic.

I had started my speech with appalling news; the gerrymandering by the Department of Health of our complaint against Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT of anti - competitive behaviour. The DH competition Panel were to announce the results of our case - and frankly it was clear cut but the DH have intervened to prevent the competition Panel hearing it further by cancelling the whole commissioning process in East of England. They want the competition re-run. A disgusting example of political manipulation. Has Andy Burnham intervened to stop an embarrassing row over his craven reversal of health policy trying to curry favour with the unions? We are now submitting FoI requests to track this through. We believe the Panel was about to announce a result in our favour.

Ever since Burnham's announcement that the third sector is no longer a preferred provider to the NHS and that competition is to favour state provision we have heard countless stories from our members about how their relationships with commissioners have deteriorated.

And it is affecting the "right to request" process where staff can ask to be allowed to set up as social enterprises. In London I am told there were seventeen bids in process; after the Burnham announcement this dropped to just two.

Andy Burnham was elected to a Government that had a firm Manifesto commitment "to treat the third sector on equal terms". He has shamelessly broken that manifesto pledge. Can we trust him not to break others?

We often complain that there is a "rhetoric - reality" gap in Government. This is a disgraceful example of how politicians talk big and then fail to deliver. But in this case we are being deliberately excluded. Shame on you Andy.



Gateshead Parish Church from the Sage - as pictured above

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Not Gloating but Training

I'm not gloating. Well, not much. So we have the report on expenses.

As Third Sector reports:

"Independent Expert Group on Expenses says compulsory disclosure 'could damage public trust'

Charities should not be required to publish the expenses of their staff or individual trustees, the Independent Expert Group on Expenses has recommended."


ACEVO's evidence made exactly the points picked up in the Report. And I am pleased that ACEVO resisted the Gaderene like rush to disclosure when Charity Finance were demanding we reveal our expenses. My Board was clear on where its accountability lay and so we took a stand that we would account to our members but were not joining in a press frenzy. Now the dust has settled my Chair and I feel some justification in making the case that accountability does not lie in publishing the expenses of staff but in ensuring good governance.

And now for a short commercial break:

Our Members often need to find consultants to do pieces of work. Experience of these exotic breed is variable. Get the right one and it can do you wonders. The wrong one and it can be expensive and frustrating. Which is why I’m sure, as chief executives, many of us are often quick to overlook the merits of using them. But might we be missing a trick here?

This is why we have just launched a new service at ACEVO, to help make the process of hunting for and hiring the right consultant easier. We’ve met all the consultants in our ‘pool’ at length and we can help shortlist the ones who might "fit the bill".

We have developed this particular service as a free one and it is available to all third sector senior managers not just ACEVO members.

Click here to visit the website to find out more.

I'm on the "Flying Scotsman" off to Newcastle. The Social Investment Business has an office there and I am going to talk to staff and visit one of the organisations we have invested in "Norcare".

This is a fantastic organisation, working with vulnerable people in the North East. Its been around for 26 years and is ably led by Susan Bickerton, an active ACEVO member and on our ACEVO North Board. We have a very active membership in the North East and a blossoming relationship with the regional infrastructure body VONNE where we do joint work.

They have an investment from Social Investment business; a £216k loan and a capital grant of £45k. They are putting this toward the refurbishment of a house to form the basis of a home and support centre for veterans.

They have discovered a serious unmet need for support for veterans who have not got a job on leaving the army or are suffering post traumatic stress. The usual stress and counselling support from the NHS is not specialised enough and the army centre, which handle PTS, is in Ayr and can only handle 24 people. It was fascinating hearing about how they intend to work with the veterans. They will have room for five, but already have identified need for seventeen. They are going to bring their extensive experience of providing support, counselling and housing and day centre care to this, but coupled with the specialist care needed for a particular vulnerable group.

They reckon that something like 10% of those in prison are ex servicemen but this is an unrecognised client group! They said they had found the SIB process a good one - and are now working on their next loan application! As I told them I'm not on the Investment Committee so don't make the decision! Back to SIB's Newcastle office to talk to staff. A great bunch.

Then later today I'm on the next stage of the BIG ASK. Seeing what our members in the NE want from Government and the sector.

I like Newcastle a lot. Indeed my great grandfather, William Daglish, was born here! I like to mention this in my speeches!! This makes me 1: Eight (or is it sixteenth?) Geordie I reckon!

I was sad to hear about the death of Michael Foot; a superb Parliamentarian. I met him first in 1975 when Benazir Bhutto and I went to pick him up at Oxford station in her yellow MG. He was to give the Nye Bevan Memorial Lecture which I was chairing. I well remember how we had to fit him into the MG - Michael was a tall man! But he gave a stunning Lecture: full of power and erudition. A magnificent orator. A great man.

Special interest and Boris

A lunch meeting in the office with all the Chairs of our Special Interest Groups. We cover a great range in these thirteen different groups; from crime to health, women's and black and Asian groups, culture and heritage to faith, sustainability, young CEOs and more. These are largely member driven (with a supporting staff member) and are partly a network, partly lobbying and policy development.

We have a good discussion on how to develop this part of ACEVO's work. There is a great feeling of camaraderie in the group as well as a commitment to do more to develop what I see as one of ACEVO's "hidden treasures".

During the day there is much to-ing and fro-ing on our campaign to end the disgraceful Burnham policy of the "NHS as preferred provider". We have been exerting much pressure behind the scenes to get this policy scrapped or seriously modified. We have had some success. But yesterday we were supposed to hear a decision from the DH Competition Panel on our complaint against the discriminatory practice of one PCT who ditched a tender process so stopping bids from the third sector. They have delayed the decision "in the light of new information" we are told. Something fishy going on is my immediate response.

It's essential that the sector has an organisation like ACEVO able to fight a Government when it tries to undermine the sector. And when others preach about independence, usually from a comfortable armchair on the sidelines, ACEVO gets stuck in and proves we are!

Indeed it is clear that without the doughty action of ACEVO and the NHS Partners Network this policy u-turn would have gone unnoticed and unchannelled. I know that our health members, who have been furious about this, are giving us 100% backing to challenge this every inch of the way to the ballot box. And beyond.

So mobile phone hot from calls I arrive at The Mansion House to celebrate 100 years of the London Voluntary Service Council. It is brillliantly led by ACEVO member Peter Lewis (an old and valued friend). He appears sans tie, but as I comment at least he isn't in sandals! Stuart is there and admires my tie which he thinks is an off cut of my curtain material. And Wanless Big Boss appears in a tie that is so undistinguished he might not have bothered (even though he insisted on showing me the "Cardin" label).

It's a grand occasion and the champagne is dispensed in flutes so large they must have accommodated at least a third of a bottle! City largesse! Get it while you can! Great to see so many of my members. And great to chat to Boris.

A good friend of mine, Matthew Leeming is an old Oxford friend of Boris. Indeed they set up a tile company together. My Charlbury kitchen is adorned with said tiles! Matthew is also the greatest authority on tourism in Afghanistan and has written the most up to date guide on the country. Some information gathered whilst enveloped in a burka. So we swap stories of Matthew before I depart. Boris gives, as always, an amusing and trenchant speech.

Home to tackle emails. Goodness I feel whacked. But for a great cause!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Promoting the sector

I had a well deserved morning off! The sun shining on the just emerged crocusi in the garden in Brixton, and my good friend and Brixton neighbour, Matthew Thomson (CEO of London Community Recycling Network), popped by with some pain au chocolat.

But it was a but brief respite as I had to do a conference call to settle our recommendations on the appointment of the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses. Then off to HMT to see Ian Pearson MP, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

A useful discussion on the role investment can play in our sector. I stressed how much demand there was for loans from the Social Investment Business and the intermediary role we can play between the banking sector and third sector organisations. There are some potentially big deals in the offing that we are working on that will bring in capital. And we are looking at European support - an area that particularly interests Ian.

From there it was off to the Commons to see Alan Duncan MP, the Tory Prisons Minister. Alan may have had some unfortunate publicity but I have known him since Oxford so rather like him. I spoke warmly about the growing role of our sector in developing services for rehabilitation, but also our vital work in prisons and the exciting new contracts with the commercial sector to help run prisons in a more progressive way.

As I reminded him, our sector has been involved in running prisons ever since we have had prisons. Before they were nationalised by Benjamin Disraeli in 1878, our County and town prisons were run by the local magistracy and voluntary groups. For example, in the 18th century, the Quakers were strongly involved in supporting and helping prisoners. And I reminded him that we invented and ran probation for decades.

And it is a false notion that our sector has never been involved in punishment. For example Borstals, which were run by local Borstal associations, used to set the release date for the young people in their institutions. We also used to run most of the remand homes and approved schools.

Of course we have moved on in how we tackle crime and so our role has evolved and changed. Often for the better - in the context of some remand homes that's for sure. And our role has focused more strongly on rehabilitation. But that work has to start in prison. So our increasing role inside and outside prisons, reclaiming our historic role in the justice system, will continue and expand.

A quick meeting with my colleagues on the Adventure Capital Fund, Steve Wyler (of the DTA ) and Mike Baker (of Social Enterprise Loan Fund) at the Cinnamon Club. Then home.