Thursday 24 January 2013

Musings on charity and independence

Roger Singleton has written to me with his Report on the state of “independence" and the sector. An important piece of work highlighting the need for our sector to retain its ability to speak truth to power and to articulate, without fear, the needs and demands of our beneficiaries. It’s core to our mission and our ability to deliver effectively.

In ACEVO I have always taken seriously the need to speak out on behalf of members. A great example of independence in action was ACEVO's recent letter to the PM setting out our frustrations and concerns. We did this despite the funding we receive from the State. And we were keen to ensure this was publicised widely. So Government takes notice. But we couple this with working with Government and Departments to ensure legislation and policies are well tuned to helping us deliver.

Funding from the State often facilitates our ability to speak out. This is not a picture of good and evil.

The Report points to some disgraceful examples of bad behaviour by the state - the gagging clauses in the Work Programme, for example.

However it is somewhat one sided. Over-dependence on a major source of funding can trammel independence but this applies just as much to an individual donor, a Foundation or a company. The Report does not tackle this so I have suggested to Roger he looks at this in his next report.

One thing is clear though. As we get closer to the election we will find more pressure on us to keep quiet. ACEVO will resist this and we hope others will too.

I had not previously noticed Jeremy Lefroy MP but I know from members of his great work in international development and in Africa He has sprung on the scene demanding that charities have their status removed if they have the temerity to pay Directors more than 100k.

Of course we do occasionally get these demands from the backbenches in the Commons, and indeed it reflects a certain strand of thinking about charity that was more common in the 19th century than the 21st.

I dub it the “Downton Abbey charity approach". Did you watch that splendid series (I got the box set from Santa!). There a marvellous scene with Maggie Smith aka the Dowager Countess telling Lady Sybil (the unmarried daughter of the Earl) that she needs to occupy herself “do some charity work ".

Fortunately our sector has moved on and we believe that our beneficiaries deserve top class professional services. That means finding top leaders who we need to pay effectively. I'm afraid the Lady Sybil’s of this world are not the answer.

I've just come from another breakfast meeting. This time on the role of social finance in driving the rehabilitation revolution. Then off to the Caledonian Club for a speech on personal health budgets. My report on choice and competition recommended that everyone who could benefit from such a budget should have one in 5 years. We are 2 years on. DH is far from achieving that target.

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