Thursday 22 September 2011

Leaving Birmingham

I spoke at the SIB-RSA fringe meeting- very well attended, with the witty Ben Page and frenetic Matthew Taylor and journalist Mary-Anne Seigert . I challenged the delegates on public service reform, pointing out the example of that great liberal William Beverage who regretted how far the third sector was pushed to the margins in the welfare state reforms. I suggested that reform of our public service is a great liberal cause; championing the cause of citizens and communities against the monopolistic state service. I said I was disappointed by the attitude of the Lib-Dems on health service reform and their failure to back the right to challenge. Surely it can't be right to oppose change that increases choice for citizens, and allies with traditional vested interests not communities! I seemed to get some support for this point from the meeting.

Rather disturbing news of the leaks from education about advisors in the Department sending private emails to avoid the terms of the FoI legislation. What was particularly worrying was the revelation that they were looking for ways of avoiding procurement rules in order to give money to the Free Schools Network.

It is good that Government supports the work of charities through funding, but this needs to be transparent and fair. So the strategic partnership programme from OCS was a process open to organisations to bid. This is important in order to avoid the impression of a behind the scenes deal to give state money to a favoured cause. I'm sure this recent press has not helped them.

There are also lessons here for the sector about the need for openess. ACEVO has been consulting its members on the issue of the FoI legislation. Whilst there is no desire for the legislation to be extended; that would be a huge administrative and financial burden , we ought to think about how we comply with the spirit of the law when we are asked about how we have spent public money; whether that is through a grant or a contract. Transparency is important.

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