Wednesday 22 June 2011


I confess I have been a tad lazy of late and failed to blog for a number of days. But having finished the role at DH chairing the future forum work on choice and competition I needed a bit of head room to get used to re-entry into third sector!

Ideally I'd have taken a few days off, but the diary didn't permit. Though I did get to a meeting in Paris on Friday with the big French mutual bank , Credit cooperatif and the head of the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative banks, which meant an overnight in that wonderful city.

The meeting was fascinating. We were exploring links to build potential between the Big Society Bank and the european ethical banking sector. We are also talking about a taskforce to look at how to develop a European wide social finance initiative. Preliminary work is going on for a launch in Krakov in September. Our aim? We want to persuade the EU to set up a Euro social investment fund.

This is an area where the UK has much to offer and the experience of the Social Investment Business in making loans to the third sector will be invaluable.

Thursday had seen me making a dash up from Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park to be quizzed by the Commons Health Select Committee. That was an interesting experience; not least in being given a mighty wadge of briefing materials , complete with yellow tags, by the civil service. The sort of documents you see Ministers with. Containing all sorts of suggested answers to potential questions. All very interesting. I relied on my own brain however.

It was good to be cross examined by Valerie Vaz MP , an old friend from the 80s who therefore kept referring to me as "Sir Steve", which made Steve Field think he had been elevated. She had certainly read my report and kept referring me to pages in it. And just for once I was on top of it all having spent 2 months pouring over every last comma and paragraph of said report. But she was much exercised over whether I had taken independent legal advice on the question of EU competition law. Answer, no.

I was asked about the Alan Milburn "car crash" article. Whilst I thought some of the article was unfair I did agree with his point that messaging is incredibly important in a service that has a top down somewhat old fashioned Stalinist approach to policy and decision making. So if the message is "no change" or "no competition" this may be disastrous to innovation and more involvement of our third sector.

I also raised the thorny issue of how we move to more resources in the community and away from hospitals. This will mean hospital closures. This issue is beginning to get an airing in the press. That is good.

Then it was back to Cumberland Lodge and a brief encounter with Sir Stuart who, he told me, was en route from Lisbon to Brussels. And who knows, perhaps he is now in Athens ....

I was also able to talk to the acevo special interest group of health and social care members on the report yesterday, along with Geoff Alltimes (CEO of Hammersmith and Fulham and one of the leads for the NHS listening exercise). There is an exciting agenda for the sector opening up. I think this is particularly true in work with local government. I shall be meeting with Geoff to follow up!

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