Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Merry Christmas

In 1941, Walt Disney wrote “One reason the Christmas season appeals to me is that it makes us suspend business-as-usual routines and lets our mind soar for a while.  It is a time when the imagination is more sprightly than at other periods of the year; Christmas seems to release even the most solemn of us from the Scrooge realism that occasionally besets all of us”. 

I know from some of my CEO colleagues that the scrooge mentality is already stalking the Council corridors in some parts, with big cuts to third sector funding on the way and more challenges to philanthropy and giving. But there are always opportunities.  That is why I have always been such a passionate advocate of more third sector service delivery.

How stupid it is that the NHS are not looking for a major push by the voluntary sector to help out with demand on A+E. We all know older people stay in hospital too long and we know many A+E visits are preventable with intervention at home. We know many older people get admitted to hospital not because of a medical condition but because of social conditions or simply lack of transport to get them home. The third sector should be mobilised to support the NHS. But as usual the system seems incapable of thinking more broadly about how to use us to solve problems. Still, one day they will get it! In the meantime I continue to bang the drum, and key ACEVO members make the case through their everyday work with older people at home and in the community.

2015 will be soon upon us. In the meantime its good to relax and enjoy the peace and goodwill of Christmas. I'm blogging from a peaceful Charlbury where the hound is currently snoozing in front of the log fire.

Have a very Merry Christmas. 

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Charity Commission and Oxfam

The Charity Commission have issued their long-awaited opinion on Oxfam. Two issues were investigated: Oxfam's work in Palestine, and their ‘Perfect Storm’ Twitter campaign about poverty in the UK.

On the first point, Oxfam were exonerated completely. On the latter, I think, things got silly. The Commission concluded that “the tweet could have affected the views of those who received it and could be misconstrued by some as party political campaigning”.

Clearly, charities must stick to the rules. The public trust and value charities as independent organisations. The Charity Commission issues clear guidelines - its document ‘CC9’. They say charities may campaign politically, so long as they are not party political. This can be demonstrated by good governance and a transparent approach to decision making. So far, so good.

But there’s a serious problem when regulators start trying to rein in Twitter. 140 characters isn’t usually enough to make your meaning totally clear, even if there’s a picture attached. Hostages to fortune are commonplace. You have only to look at Emily Thornberry MP’s recent fate to see what harm can result. 

In most such controversies on Twitter, much of the meaning is in the eye of the beholder. It’s anachronistic and unworkable for a regulator to control every Tweet people make. We’ve been here before when the Electoral Commission suggested the Lobbying Act should apply to Twitter, earlier in the Autumn.

The Charity Commission’s comments on Oxfam simply won’t work on a practical level. It is all very well to argue, as they do, that Tweets need proper context. But let’s be realistic about what is possible in our world of instant messaging. Its impact is quick and charities are rightly seizing this new medium as a way to reach supporters, spread their messages and carry out campaigns - to ignore it would be to neglect their duty. Its nature means we can’t “ensure there is written authorisation and sign-off procedures”, as the Commission propose. Twitter is too quick and non-hierarchical for that to work.

So what lessons for the future? It’s increasingly clear that 20th-century regulation and 21st-century campaigning very often don’t match. The best campaigning is often provocative and derives its power from shocking people from their complacency. This drives social change, and draws attention to charities’ work for their beneficiaries. It would be irresponsible to try to smother it, under a new layer of bureaucracy. As ACEVO’s General Election Manifesto says, we need a ‘free society’ where social organisations are free to speak truth to power.

The General Election ‘long campaign' started yesterday and it’s a good time to debate the future of our ‘Free Society’. ACEVO’s Commission on Civil Society Regulation, chaired by lawyer Lord Low of Dalston, will consider how government can help secure charities’ and voluntary organisations’ place in the 21st century through good regulation. It’ll report in early March, and advise charities and government on a new generation of legal oversight.

But in the immediate future, let’s be robust in defending charities’ right to speak out. They have a duty to follow their mission. That may mean being ‘political’. They aren’t being ‘partisan’, even if politicians disagree with them and accuse them of taking sides.

I’m tempted to ask what the general public would rather see. On the one hand, a lively online democracy with charities campaigning to draw attention to neglected causes, bringing to bear the weight of their expertise and evidence-gathering. And on the other, a heavily-policed, hierarchically-controlled Twitter space, with all institutional voices too timid to speak their minds for fear of prosecution. We already have the former, and in my mind it works very well. Charities are an independent, non-party, political force, unafraid to speak the truth to power. Long may that last.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Leadership of Biblical proportions!

Last night's Carols at the Royal Albert Hall proved as spectacular as always. Trumpets. A crowd of thousands and a brilliant choir and orchestra.

With Christmas holidays almost here, charity leaders and our organisations are thinking about 2015. Whichever way you view it, it's going to be a specially eventful year. Events in Russia this week might prove even more dramatic that what a British General Election can offer, but we're facing our own profound disruption and uncertainty in politics at home. Two elections perhaps. And all alongside further funding cuts that guarantee a hard time for the third sector - our country's other social safety net. But despite the many problems for charity leaders, there are perhaps some opportunities to hit the 'reset button' on our relationships across Westminster.

If these times are to be turned into an opportunity that will demand great leadership. Of biblical 
proportions, one might say.

So I was grateful for some wise words from that wondeful ACEVO member Paul Martin, who leads the Lesbian and Gay Foundation in Manchester. Thought I'd share them with you!

  • Leaders understand their role is to create the time and space for good people to do great things
  • Leaders encourage contributions from everyone and realise; every day, front-line staff wrestle with organisational boundaries, absurdities, approvals, duplication, pomposity, clunky systems, bureaucracy and waste. They know more than you do.
  • Leaders keep their group's energy level high; celebrate every success, no matter how minor. Organisational dynamicists talk of the aggregation of minor gains. Leaders know that means; every little helps.
  • Leaders set clear objectives that everyone can recognise and be part of.
  • Leaders are always doing an up-sum; 'this is where I think we are... what do you think?'
  • Leaders can step back and become detached in times of difficulty.
  • Leaders encourage openness; 'let's put all our cards on the table'.
  • Leaders are loyal to their people no matter what goes wrong; the trick is to encourage openness; know about it, fix it and learn from it.
  • Leaders recognise success and failure is only an expression of what works and what doesn't.
  • Leaders recruit people who are better than them, step back and take the credit. They know the alternative is to recruit the rest and step forward and take the blame.

The leader's role is about Imagination not Administration, Vision not Supervision. 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Good with Money and Carols

Well, another Carol Concert, this time at the House of St Barnabas, that wonderful charity in Soho which helps young people into training and jobs. The House is an elegant Soho Georgian townhouse which used to provide hostel accommodation for young girls. It was established in the 19th century by a religious order, so it comes complete with Chapel; an ideal place for a carol concert. Sandra Schembri, the CEO, is a valued ACEVO member and I like to show support. The house had to stop providing hostel accommodation because it became unsuitable, so Sandra came up with the great idea of turning the House in to a social leaders club, for which it is eminently suitable. It provides both  training and job placement for the young people they help. The Club generates revenue to support the charity. A brilliant place. Worth joining! 

Afterwards a lovely Christmas dinner at L'Escargot with my partner. 

Yesterday also saw the launch of the final report of the ACEVO Commission on Ethical and Responsible Investment and the role of charities. It’s a comprehensive guide for charity leaders, to help them ensure any reserves are invested in line with their organisations' missions. Last December's BBC Panorama programme showed the potential risks for charity leaders and trustees who delegate control over their investment portfolios. We had a lively debate to launch the report, with contributions from Investment managers, the Shadow Minister Chi Onwurah MP, chair of the ACEVO Commission Martin Clarke, and Catherine Howarth of ShareAction. As I wrote to ACEVO members yesterday, the report contains a wealth of information and I hope all charity leaders will read it and pass it on to their boards!

And so tonight, inevitably, off to another Carol Concert. This time its the annual Bubb Clan gathering at the Royal Albert Hall where the Royal Choral Society are performing in a marvellous show of carols and readings, complete with trumpeters from The Guards Brigade. My sister Lucy is in the RCS and will be singing; so family all there to show support. And have jolly Christmas fun! And that's the last Carols for a while, till the beautiful 9 Lessons and Carols in the small Norman Church in Shorthampton on Sunday.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Christmas carols and faith charities

I had 2 possibly competing events Wednesday - but they were united in one theme: the value and role of charity.

In the morning I was at a breakfast meeting ACEVO had organised for the leaders of Muslim charities. Many of our CEO colleagues talked about the challenges they face, in their work, dealing with the hostile environment of islamophobia. It was good to see Dianne Abbott MP who talked about the problems Islamic faith charities are facing in Hackney. We also had two senior staff from the Charity Commission, who made a really helpful contribution to the discussion. But the Commission still have many questions to answer, as I said at my appearance before the joint Commons and Lords Committee on the draft Protection of Charities Bill on Tuesday.

Then in the evening it was off to a carol concert at St Stephen's Walbrook, in the City. Organised by the London Air Ambulance, that great charity, and starring that great Prelate, Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London. Graham Hodgkin, the charity's CEO (and an ACEVO member), told me afterwards that the Bishop had remarked, "ah , I see you have The Bubb here". Fame indeed when one becomes a noun with a definite article! And the carol "Good King Wenceslas" was rather apposite in the wake of the Parliamentary report on hunger in the UK. After all, the carol is all about feeding the homeless and poor - the good King was a walking food bank. Many great points in this report, which was powerfully advocated by His Grace of Canterbury.

As politicians contemplate yet more spending cuts, we need to ensure the vital work that charities like the food banks perform is not harmed. I fear it will be. The feedback from ACEVO's CEO members at our regional forums is worrying in this regard.

We are constantly hearing yet more disturbing news from our members, at the moment, about cuts to services from local authorities. Leeds CC and Rotherham are cutting by £40m next year. These have been confirmed as all external cuts, since these authorities have already made all the cuts they can internally. It is apparent that the first services to go will be those up for renewal next year. This may be the simplest course of action, but it will badly hurt front line services. I heard from one ACEVO member that they will have £3.8 million of contracts cut next year. That's equivalent to one third of their income, and they cannot get the local authority to talk with them about this. As well as the impact to beneficiaries, this also affects the core of the charity and other services they provide. As they said, there's 'a huge car crash about to happen'.

We heard similar examples from members in Manchester forum this week. It's disturbing.

This will be a major debate on spending cuts in the next few months before the election. Despite the insistence of some - like UKIP and the Lib Dems - that there's little difference between Labour and Tories, we're starting to get more clarity about their different fiscal approaches. In all this coming debate, the charity voice must be heard. We can't just rely on the random generosity of  "good king Wenceslas" and his modern ilk.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Where will the cuts fall?

Yesterday’s Autumn Statement has completely dominated today’s news. Not a surprise.

But what is unclear about yesterday's Statement from the Chancellor is where cuts will be made in public spending after 2015. This morning’s FT makes clear that “renewed activity is failing to fill the Treasury’s coffers.” The situation is dismal: we have a surprising shortfall in future tax revenues, and the chancellor still aims to cut down the size of the public sector.

So cuts will continue, with few big tax rises in the offing. The BBC's head of statistics Anthony Reuben said public spending as a proportion of GDP would fall to its lowest level since the 1930s. Office for Budget Responsibility chairman Robert Chote called it a “very sharp squeeze”, of which around 60% is forecast to come in the next Parliament.

These cuts will have a profound effect on society, particularly the most vulnerable like the unemployed and people with disabilities. That in turn puts pressure on the third sector.

So what does this mean for us?  There are 2 major effects. First, with spending protected in health and schools the brunt will fall on welfare and local councils. This will inevitably mean further cuts to support for charities, especially at local level. It also means further strains on the welfare system , with charities having to pick up the pieces. Increasingly, as ACEVO points out in our recently published ‘Free Society’ Manifesto, our sector has become ‘the other safety net’ for people and communities. But you can't  increase your support for the vulnerable with less money. The system is already creaking and in desperate need of funding, as food banks and many disability charities will tell you.

We urgently need to know exactly where cuts will fall, and how the Government plans to protect the third sector. It’s not enough to delay the details until closer to the election, or even after next May. For now, we know the third sector will always be there in support and in defence of society’s most vulnerable. But without a modicum of political support, this situation cannot last for ever.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

George Osborne bearing gifts?

Well, there not much about the Autumn Statement that had not already been announced. Underlying the Statement is the fact that over the next Parliament we face more massive retrenchment of public spending, against a darkening fundraising environment. Yes there are opportunities, but the money continues to be tight. And getting tighter.

The Chancellor has made some promising noises but he is guilty of one fatal error. He neglects the vital role of the third sector to building a healthy society and economy. His announcements on national infrastructure said nothing about local, community or third sector infrastructure. In his drive for a budget surplus, we are concerned that he will jeopardise already-decimated local services further. This will harm not only our nation’s sense of togetherness but our economic productivity as well.

As we stated in our 2015 General Election Manifesto, ‘Free Society’, charities are the nation’s ‘other social safety net’. The next government must recognise us as key allies in reform, not as an afterthought.

m delighted with the VAT announcement. I have been arguing this case for yonks, along with ACEVOs membership and much of the rest of the sector, so we welcome the promise to refund VAT on hospices, search and rescue and air ambulance organisations. We argued for this in our submissions to the Department of Health, and it is good to see the Chancellor is listening. If the Government is serious about giving us the NHS we deserve, it has to offer patients the choice of being looked after in their community, whatever stage of life they are at.

m also pleased that the Chancellor agrees that fines from crooked banks should continue to go to society. ACEVO articulated that principle in our ‘Free Society’ manifesto and we are pleased that the Chancellor agrees. We believe he should go further; the shame to our nation caused by these fraudulent acts should be washed away with good.

Charities give so much to the high street each and every day. The Government needs to support the work they do to make our public spaces that much more giving and caring. Charity leaders must play a central part of this review. You can be sure I will be robust in making this case as this debate unfolds. We will not allow changes in business rates to affect the charity shop. I
m a fan. They touch our reliefs at their peril!  

Tuesday, 2 December 2014


After the frenzy, the scuffles and injuries of ‘Black Friday’, a more benign American import hits today: ‘Giving Tuesday’. It's is an antidote to the excesses of pre-Christmas consumerism. It encourages people, charities and businesses to give time and money to help others, or to speak out for a good cause. ‎A chance to show the real spirit of Christmas - not shopping but giving.

The Charities Aid Foundation says we’re the sixth most generous country in the world. Our magnificent charitable tradition is one of our greatest unsung exports to the world. And CAF are to be congratulated for bringing this tradition here to the UK. ACEVO is proud to be one of the founding partners. 

Giving Tuesday was created in 2012 to help promote charities and their work. The idea is spreading around the world – to countries as far apart as Canada, Australia, Mexico, Israel and Singapore. In the UK more than 750 businesses, charities and organisations have signed up as partners. 

The day is an opportunity to make a donation, volunteer or join a charity campaign for a better world. People are even giving blood, or donating belongings to their local charity shop. Remember especially my favourites; Helen and Douglas  House Hospice!  Charity supporters are taking to Twitter to post #unselfie pictures using the #GivingTuesday hashtag to show support for their favourite causes.

Volunteering has for centuries been at the heart of Britain’s free society. It has sustained us through different ages of change. In the nineteenth century voluntary action abolished the slave trade and gave us such institutions as the NSPCC and the RSPCA.

Today, giving and volunteering support vital services like St John Ambulance, our lifeboats and our air ambulances.In the last few months the Disasters Emergency Committee has depended on the public’s generosity to combat Ebola. This Christmas, Crisis are looking for 9,000 volunteers to support  residential centres over 9 days, that help rough sleepers in need. Volunteering for charities like Crisis will help ensure the season of goodwill extends some of our society’s most vulnerable.

 ACEVO, brings together the leaders of some of our biggest charities and social enterprises. We are using the season to campaign for improvements to a national institution: the NHS. Well-led, professionally run charities and social enterprises are vital to relieving the acute pressure that cold weather puts on Accident and Emergency departments around the country. And as part of Giving Tuesday ACEVO is giving away some of its most widely used leadership tools online for free. 

Giving is about living a better life and creating a more generous, less individualistic culture. Voluntary action binds society together. Community groups, churches and mosques build community cohesion and inspire good works like food banks. All major world religions are great drivers of charity and volunteering. One of the five pillars of Islam is ‘zakat’, or almsgiving. Britain’s Muslim charities are under considerable pressure at the moment over their work on the ground in Syria. Up and down the UK we should use Giving Tuesday to rally round to support them. They do our country proud.

Indeed, I couldn’t put it better than St Paul’s first epistle to Timothy: “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate.”

So what should you do today, to join in this national celebration? A small act of kindness is all it takes (though a larger one is even better). 

Or give to a local charity. Say yes to a charity fundraiser if they ask you on the street. An act of kindness to a stranger would be an excellent  example to set to others!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Winterbourne View - Time for Change

Today, the report of the steering group I chaired looking at how to implement radical change to care and support for people with learning disabilities is published. You can download a copy from the ACEVO website or from NHS England.

The Winterbourne view scandal, exposed by the BBC’s Panorama programme, shocked the nation. It led to the Government pledge to move all people with learning disabilities and/or autism inappropriately placed in such institutions into community care by June this year. Not only has there been a failure to achieve that movement there are still more people being admitted to such institutions than are being discharged. This has caused anger and frustration.

In the light of the need to achieve progress Simon Stevens, the CEO of NHS England, asked me to consider how we might implement a new national framework, locally delivered, to achieve the growth of community provision needed to move people out of inappropriate institutional care.

Only by a big expansion of community provision can we achieve a move from institution to community. So we need a mandatory national commissioning framework that delivers that expansion as well as pooled budgets, and that focus on the individual’s needs not the system boundaries. The role of the many voluntary and community organisations that both advocate for and provide services with people with learning disabilities and/or autism is crucial to that aim, as are the clinicians, managers  and professionals across this service in health and in local councils, who need to work together to achieve a dramatic turn around.

In tackling this challenge it  became clear to me that we need both a major expansion of community delivery; driven by co-commissioning  but also, crucially, the empowerment of people with learning disabilities. That means a clear and robust Charter of Rights and an effective “Right to Challenge”, backed by strong advocacy and support, that enables citizens to demand change. We also propose that community based providers have the right to propose alternatives to inpatient care from commissioners. We also support a major expansion of the right to request a personal budget; again we believe this underpins an empowerment of the individual citizen to have care and support appropriate to them.

In other words we need to drive change from the top through better commissioning and from the bottom up through  empowering people and families to challenge the system.

Underpinning a shift to community provision and away from inappropriate institutional care are exciting proposals for workforce development and a new social finance fund. In developing community provision we need social finance to support capital development so we propose a “life in the community social investment fund” which will support the provision of working capital, a payment for outcomes fund and an investment readiness partnership fund. This is a new proposal but we recognised that developing community provision needs the funding that social finance can provide and I urge Government and NHS England to push ahead with funding to make this happen promptly.

The steering group I chaired was made up of people with learning disabilities, families, clinicians, charity leaders and professionals. They were clear about the crucial importance of workforce and skills development. This must happen alongside developing community facilities. We were particularly impressed with the momentum around the idea of the Academy set out on this Report. We must ensure that momentum for change is built on by all those involved.

And finally, as well as a mandatory national framework for commissioning that is locally delivered we must have active decommissioning of inappropriate institutional care and closures of such institutions. The timetable and process requires further discussion but a 21st-century approach to the care and support of people with learning disabilities cannot be based on long term care in an institution.

In putting together this report I relied on all my colleagues on the steering group, and  all those I have met or spoken to, and to those who submitted many comments and documents. Even when  critical we recognised this came about through the anger of those who have seen a system fail them.

In 1851,  the American physician and philanthropist Samuel Gridley Howe wrote  about the “evils” of institutional care. He wrote, “all such institutions are unnatural, undesirable and very liable to abuse. We should have as few of them as possible, and those few should be kept as small as possible .The human family is the unit of society.”

That essential truth underpins our proposals for change and we know they have widespread support . We recognised that as a nation when we closed the old mental health asylums and we must recognise it again here.

I have recommended to the CEO of NHS England that my steering group be brought together again in 6 months to review progress on our recommendations and that we have a formal stock take of actions taken in 12 months time. We can act as a driver for change but clearly it is the institutions themselves that must deliver these recommendations. And deliver them they must.

Over the past few years people with learning disabilities and/or autism and their families have heard much talk but seen too little action. This forms the backdrop to our recommendations and our desire to see urgent action taken now to make a reality of the Winterbourne pledge. They deserve better and this Report provides recommendations on that essential road map for change.

Now it is over to the Government and to NHS England to crack on and implement these recommendations. I believe we may be at a tipping point where action will now ensure we can close institutions and ramp up community provision. My report is no magic wand. Unless these recommendations are implemented we will still be looking at a system that fails some of our most vulnerable citizens. From my discussions with the Care Minister and with Simon Stevens I feel confident we will see progress. But one thing is for sure; if we don’t see change, I shall be there to hold them to account.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

At the Daily Mail and ACEVO's Annual Conference

It isn't often that I'm seen in the offices of the Daily Mail! But I was there this morning, talking to "London Live" - the new TV channel for Londoners. I was there to talk about the new ACEVO Manifesto for the 2015 Election, which is launched today at our Annual Conference. A taster appeared in today's Times, from Whitehall Editor Jill Sherman.

Last night we held our Annual Dinner at the Millennium Hotel in Gloucester Road. We had the pleasure of Rob Wilson as our guest speaker, the relatively new Civil Society Minister. Rob praised our new Manifesto (or at least the bits he liked, which seemed to be a lot). 

"Free Society" sets out a costed and implementable 36 point plan for change. As the subtitle says, its policies are designed to "realise the nation's potential through the third sector". We argue the case for entrenching the right of civil society to campaign in legislation. In a new bill of rights for example. We make the case for reforming public services through a Citizens Charter of Community Rights and the need for a preferred provider policy across public services - that provider being the third sector, not the State. And we argue for fines made through the fraudulent actions of bankers to go into the charity sector in a new £470m Community Sustainability Fund, as the Independent on Sunday reported last weekend.

Today we've been at the QE2 centre in Westminster for our Annual Conference of charity and social enterprise Leaders - the country's biggest such gathering

Speakers have ranged from Will Hutton (Chair of our "Remaking the State" Commission), Tim Smit of the Eden Project and  Stella Manzie CBE, one of the UK's most senior and experienced local government officials . Next up is Paula Sussex, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission. 

So now, back to the Conference floor. I'll have more on all of this tomorrow.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Charity Commission: openness, not 'zero tolerance' machismo

This morning’s Times carried my letter responding to Monday’s story about the Charity Commission and Muslim charities. A frankly terrifying piece that seemed to frame an independent report criticising the Commission’s effectiveness into a news story impugning the integrity of Muslim Charities themselves.

Whilst we can’t rule out the theoretical risk of charity funds ending up in the hands of ‘Islamic extremism’– and indeed some Muslim charities referred themselves to the Charity Commission to help audit some of their on-the-ground spending on aid in Syria – it is dangerous and counterproductive to continue attacking Muslim charities as a whole. My letter explains that on the contrary, the UK must make the most of our excellent Islamic charities as our best vehicles for building a common national identity and fostering leadership and purpose in Muslim communities to help combat the risk of marginalisation and radicalisation. Here it is:

Sir, I recently met a delegation of Islamic charities, large and small, that help vulnerable people in this country and abroad (“Charities suspected of Muslim extremist links”, Nov 17). Their work is a positive example to people everywhere, whatever their faith. If they are tainted by perception and association, their work is compromised. Ironically, such groups are our best opportunity to create a common sense of belonging and purpose that prevents radicalisation and extremism.

We require openness and sensitivity on these issues, not “zero tolerance” machismo. The Charity Commission must be transparent about how it has reached these decisions and the processes it has undertaken. Trust in charities is important, and that must be complemented by trust in the charity’s regulator. Otherwise we must consider other arrangements.

Sir Stephen Bubb
Chief Executive, ACEVO

Friday, 14 November 2014

Aaronovitch, Leeds and Winterbourne

Another great ACEVO leadership lunch yesterday, this time with Dave Aaronovitch – the well known broadcaster, journalist and Chair of Index on Censorship. I say ‘Dave’ – as I knew him when he was one. But as he said when he got to 28 it became David so he always knows if someone calls him Dave it’s a very old acquaintance. As I said to him, the same applies to me. Only very old friends call me ‘Steve’ (‘Tony calls me Steve’ as a famous Guardian profile of me headlined).

But I digress. We had a fascinating discussion on the state of the electorate and likely outcomes in May. As he had said in his Times opinion article that morning, pace Alice in Wonderland, ‘none shall have prizes’ next May. And perhaps the parties don’t even want to win. Very interesting also to hear from Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC and author of the recent inquiry into historic child abuse records at the Home Office. He had been on the BBC the day before having to contradict the PM who had said his report showed there was no cover up. ‘He's wrong’ he said trenchantly. Good for Peter – a fine example of a third sector leader speaking truth to power.

Earlier in the week I was at the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board for an ACEVO regional forum; a chance for our Chief Executives to get together to network and share. As is so often the case, thoughts were much around problems on governance and money. Interesting to speak to Liz Bradbury who runs a superb outfit that supports young and old with practical companionship and a raft of services, as well as running a service for people with learning disabilities. We had a chat about my recent work on the Winterbourne report. Indeed another member there talked to me about how they are setting up a new community facility, with social finance support, to enable people to move out of hospital and back into the community.

The report of my steering group on Winterbourne is now finished. Our last meeting has taken place, and the report is off to the printers. It will be launched later in the month. We will have to wait to see the recommendations published  and how they are then received. And then the real work begins in implementing what we say.

I get a strong sense of consensus around what we are saying but we will see. And after all a report is only as good as what people do with it. After 3 years of failure to deliver on the pledge to move people from inpatient institutions there is cynicism around whether there will be action. But I’m optimistic. From what I have heard from all those who have taken part and been involved there is a strong sense that we can now move forward on an action plan for change. We shall see.

But before we get to that launch its the ACEVO Annual Dinner and Annual Conference next week. We will have a rather splendid document to launch.... but I'm not saying on what. And our guest speaker will be old friend Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities of Government. And we are overflowing with guests like Francis Maude MP, Simon Stevens, Will Hutton, Lady Smith, Lord Wood, and our Minister Rob Wilson MP. But the stars will of course be the charity and social enterprise CEOs!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

NHS and charities!

Two weeks ago Simon Stevens published the NHS Five Year Forward View, a high-level strategy document on the future of the NHS. A couple of days later Andy Burnham reiterated his stance that the NHS should be the ‘preferred provider’ of health services, in an interview with HSJ.
Both positions mention the voluntary sector and profess its value. But theres little hard policy to say how exactly we’ll establish good partnerships with heath commissioners. Enter ACEVO and our new ‘Working in Partnership’ report, published with the Central Southern Commissioning Support Unit.
Our report sets out seven principles to break down the barriers to partnership working between health and social care commissioners and the voluntary sector:
1. Sustainability - Organisations should seek to build partnerships through jointly committing leadership time and resource to understanding each other’s operating environments and contexts.
2. Transparency - Organisations should be open with each other and clear about the purpose and benefits of the partnership for partners, patients and the public.
3. Joint Vision - Organisations should share their vision and plans as early as possible so that they can identify synergies and opportunities to develop a joint partnership vision.
4. Joint Capability - Organisations should seek to enhance each other’s capability through, for example, knowledge transfer or the joint provision of services.
5. Proportionality - Both partners should be equal in the partnership but should be proportionate in their requirements of each other.
6. Innovation and improvement - Organisations should seek to share, develop and implement innovative solutions.
7. Accountability and governance - Be clear about how decisions are taken within each organisation and within the partnership. Agree how you will hold each other to account.
This is excellent progress. Now we need health commissioning units across the country to take these principles on board. ACEVOs 2015 Election Manifesto - which we publish very shortly - devotes much attention to this area and will give the political parties food for thought. Ill have more on this next week...

Monday, 10 November 2014

Helen and Douglas House, Cecily and doomed youth

So Saturday was the annual charity Christmas card sale in Charlbury and the Hound and I popped in to help our favourite local charity; Helen and Douglas House, the very first children's hospice based in Oxford. It has a link with my favourite London church , All Saints, Margaret St and the head of the Sisters of All Saints was the founder. They have since moved from Margaret St and set  the mother house in Oxford and the hospice was developed in the extensive grounds of the nuns place there. I'm a great fan of charity shops in general but my favourite has to be their shop in Chipping Norton. Practically all of my curtains come from there; probably Jeremy Clarkson's cast offs, and its always a treasure trove of interesting gifts. So it was a pleasure to support them.

And while on the subject let me mention another very local charity, Cecily's Fund,set up in Stonesfield, the next village South of Charlbury and now based in Witney. It was established in 1995 in memory of Cecily Eastwood who died tragically in a road accident in Zambia whilst working with children orphaned by AIDS. The charity now supports over 8000 orphaned kids and helps them to attend school and to train as teachers and health educators.  


The weekend was rounded off by the events of Remembrance Sunday. I went to the Royal Albert Hall for a memorial performance of Britten's War Requiem. The singing was magnificent; as you would expect form the Royal Choral Society with my sister Lucy prominent among them. As I mentioned to Peter Ainsworth, the Chair of the Big Lottery Fund who was also there that it's rather good having a sister with a superb voice, slightly better than mine indeed and useful at Bubb weddings, funerals etc.
Britten's work is set around the Latin Mass and the poems of Wilfred Owen: "Doomed youth" sums up the dreadful slaughter of youth in the Great War, my great Uncle Vivian included.

Caption. Can you spot sister Lucy?  All the proceeds from the concert are going to Veterans Aid, who are ACEVO members! And that it's being broadcast on Classic FM 8pm on Tuesday 11th November!

And finally a visit to see the poppies in the moat at the Tower. A quite extraordinary sight.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Its 62 and going strong

I've always thought that today's big fireworks shows are in honour of my birthday today but Guy Fawkes usually steals the show. I wonder if his example of upsetting the establishment has influenced my career? 

Of course 62 is no age these days. As my team reminded me Disraeli became PM at 70 and Gladstone formed his 4th administration at 84. So you will be seeing much more of Bubb in his 6th decade. Joy!

I usually take the day off for my birthday but this year its not exactly worked out that way. We are finalising the Winterbourne report so it can be launched at end November ( it needs first to be put in easy read) and I have various meetings on social finance and our new leadership programme.

But don't feel too sorry for me. Its lunch at the Ivy and dinner at the Shard. Reaching 62 needs to be celebrated in style. 

Friday, 31 October 2014

European Networks

In Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, for the biannual conference of the European network " Future for religious Heritage".  It's a network of organisations dedicated to preserving and using the great heritage of religious buildings across Europe. ACEVO member Crispin Truman, who runs the Churches Conservation Trust is a leading member and he asked me to make the keynote address to the conference wearing my double angled hat ( tricorn perhaps?) of Euclid and ACEVO.

We were meeting at the Francke Foundation, established over 300 years ago by a famous theologian August Francke as a home and school for orphans.  At it's peak it was home to some 2600 children and the massive complex and impressive ancient buildings are still standing today.  Halle is the birthplace of Georg Freidrich Handel.  There is an interesting link because Handel knew and liked the work of the foundation and became close friends in London with Thomas Coram giving him much of the money to establish the Foundling Hospital.  An orphanage we now know as Cora; a charity still going strong to this day and partly funded through the generosity of Handel and the manuscripts and copyrights he gave them.  He was clearly inspired by the example of the Halle orphanage, which had become famous across Germany.

The Fraancke Fondation, though suffering at the hands of the Communists of East Germany, is still a major force in civil society; a hub for academe, schools and homes for old people and offices for many civil society organisations.  As it says in its mission, it wants to provide people from all walks of life with a rounded education and the ability to become social actors.

So it was a neat venue for the subject of my address; the role of civil society in communities and nation, life and the importance of a living heritage, where historic buildings are used as centres for community action.  I followed on from the German Minister of Culture. He stayed to listen and I feel sure he was edified by my denunciation of political systems and parties for ignoring the role of civil society. I was stressing the dual role of civil society leaders to both work to deliver much needed services and also to campaign. I didn't talk about knitting- I wasn't sure it would translate.

You can be sure I made reference to the historic link with Handel (not to mention the Hanoverian 300 year anniversary) and so it was incumbent on me to visit the house where he was born. 

I also popped into the Church where he was baptised and later learnt to play the organ.  That self same organ is still there and in use today.  Indeed when I went in, it was playing Handel, obviously as there is an active Handel society in Halle. 

Meanwhile back in Blighty we have had the results of the transforming rehabilitation programme. A mixed message. 

We are pleased to see that the Ministry of Justice recognises the central role of charities and social enterprises can play in delivering services, especially their expertise in prevention.

However, their are still flaw in this commissioning model.  The contracts needed to be more locally based, and the barriers to entry for charities to take prime contracts were too high.  Whilst it is good news that we play a large role in sub-contracting, we wanted to see charities and social enterprises in the driving seat of the primes, which has not happened.

As we saw in the Work Programme, when large private companies sub-contract to charities or social enterprises, this can often overload smaller charitable organisations with risk and cause financial strain. Government must continue to learn from past mistakes and look to innovative ways of ensuring charities can work in partnerships to contribute quality outcomes.  

The third sector must never be subservient to the interest of private companies, rather then the communities we serve.

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Result of the Charity Commission’s Consultation on the Annual Return for 2015

This is a significant victory for ACEVO and the wider charity sector in our mission to ensure that charities remain free to campaign. We are pleased to see that our message has been heard and our consistent pressure has paid off. The Charity Commission has listened and we welcome that.

Declaring spending on campaigns has nothing to do with transparency and everything to do with pandering to a meaningless and infantilised debate that suggests charities should ‘put up and shut up.’ Our view is clear: it would be a dereliction of duty for any charity to see injustice or poverty and not speak up about it – and a dereliction of duty for the regulator to encourage it.

We hope this will bring this nonsense to an end, and we’ll continue to work closely with the Commission and to monitor events carefully.

Friday, 17 October 2014

A new Chair and Vice-Chair

Some good news for a Friday afternoon. Very good news even. This week I was pleased to confirm and announce that ACEVO's Board have elected our new Chair and Vice-Chair, to replace Lesley-Anne Alexander and Virginia Beardshaw from January.

Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, will be our next chair. Sharon Allen, CEO of Skills For Care, will be our Vice-Chair. Like their precedessors they are both highly distinguished chief executives, and will bring a wealth of experience and wisdom to our board and to the whole of ACEVO.

You have only to look back at all of the coverage Paul secured for Mind at the recent party conferences, for example, to see that he is a chief executive at the top of his game. He really has put his organisation at the top of the national political agenda. Sharon likewise leads one of the social care sector's foremost organisations, and speaks from deep experience of this vitally important part of our society - which employs no less than 1.5 million people.

So, welcome to Paul and to Sharon! And whilst we'll have a proper celebration in January to say our thanks, thank you Lesley-Anne and Virginia for your sterling leadership and advice over the last six years. We'll be sad to see you leave the board!

Monday, 13 October 2014

What are the Charity Commission up to now?

Had anyone noticed – before last week – that the Charity Commission this year produced a new ‎‘Statement of Regulatory Practice’?‎ Certainly it hadn’t been much discussed. It appeared in its 2013-14 Annual Report, published in July, and was mentioned by Paula Sussex in a speech last Tuesday. Stephen Cook’s excellent editorial in Third Sector on Friday was timely in drawing attention to it and the surrounding debate. At ACEVO we’ve been investigating the new statement for a few weeks; it is important and concerning.

The new Statement of Regulatory Practice has added an interesting regulatory area that seems not to have appeared before in this form; the regulation of ‘‎improper politicisation’. No mention is made of this point in previous reports.

The full statement reads:

‘We will be alert in particular to fraud, terrorist activities, the abuse of vulnerable beneficiaries and to improper politicisation.’

The closest equivalent line in the previous Annual Report instead focuses on:

‘Issues of fraud, financial abuse, terrorism and concerns about the safeguarding of vulnerable beneficiaries are among the most serious of abuses and we will continue to concentrate on tackling these problems.’

No word on ‘politicisation’ there.

Of course charities need to avoid being partisan and party political. The Commission has the job, as regulator, to enforce the law on this matter. But how exactly will the Commission – whose role is explicitly non-political and in fact quasi-judicial – properly determine what is ‘politicisation’ let alone when it might be deemed ‘improper’? The Commission’s own guidance document CC9 states specifically that ‘campaigning and political activity can be legitimate and valuable activities for charities to undertake’. Indeed if you invert the phrase this would mean that ‘proper’ politicisation is fine. What does all this mean in practice? And who is to judge?

This might all be discarded as merely a clarification of existing practice as set out in CC9 (in its latest post-2008 version). But given the tone the Commission has set over the past year or so charities might be right to wonder whether the definition of what political work is deemed ‘proper’ might vary according to political whim. Either the Commission is subject to political influence and so it shouldn’t be allowed to make judgments like this, or it is indeed a quasi-judicial body and thus the independence of its regulatory activity should be closely guarded.

Further down in the Statement of Regulatory Practice comes an assurance that ‘we will respect and protect charities’ independence’. How do these two statements add together?

I’m concerned that in the current debate around charities’ duty to speak out and to campaign, the focus on preventing ‘politicisation’ might curb our right to independent voice as long established in law – and as is laid out in CC9. In the recent debate about the Oxfam ‘perfect storm’ advert it would have been good to see the Commission more clearly defending our right of free speech from the outset. I’m sure they will be clear in their views that the advert fell well within their Guidance and will protect our independence from political attack. 

At worst this addition to the regulatory list may signal the Commission is prey to ideological winds, as exemplified by the recent choice of Frank Prochaska to speak at their Annual Public Meeting, comments from its Chairman or the failure of the Commission to argue for charity exemption from the Lobbying Act. If, as Stephen Cook suggests, a wider review of CC9 and charity campaigning guidance will soon be afoot, if not before the election then later in 2015 or 2016, it would be worrying to begin the review with the Commission already having set out a clear, hostile view that says charity campaigning and political activity should be curtailed.

We saw in our Red, Blue and Yellow Books of the Voluntary Sector that the big political parties are all thinking seriously about charities, the regulator and civil society’s relationship with politics. Let’s hope that the run-up to the General Election gives us a serious debate on this issue, and that MPs take their seats next May better informed about charity political activity and ready to carefully defend us against any efforts to curb our campaigning. Our independent speech must be protected!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Tales from Glasgow

Well it was an enjoyable end to party conference season at a rather quiet Glasgow SECC with the Lib Dems. This conference has less of the manic atmosphere of Labour and the Tories. It leaves more time to speak to other charity leaders, politicians and journalists.

Tuesday morning started very early with our third Social Investment Summit, held in partnership with Big Society Capital and the Social Investment Business. I chaired and we got off to a good start with speeches from Nick O’Donohoe (Big Society Capital), Howard Sinclair (St. Mungo's Broadway), Sandra Schembri (House of St Barnabas), Norman Lamb MP and Jemima Bland (PPC for East Worthing and Shoreham).

Later on we launched the third of our hotly-anticipated essay collections, The Yellow Book of the Voluntary Sector - which has a brilliant foreword by Nick Clegg. You can find a PDF of it hereHaving been shown the excellent diary story based on my opening speech at last week's Blue Book launch, I opened with a less harvest-festival based speech that did express hope that the Lib Dems would go back to their roots and embrace our sector's potential. Here's a few pictures from the evening, with our speakers Baroness Jolly, Ibrahim Taguri PPC, Jemima Bland PPC, Ben Nicholls PPC and Kelly-Marie Blundell PPC.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Championing charities in Birmingham!

So the Tory Conference has drawn to a close. Last night's ACEVO/CAF civil society rally was a triumph. We launched our Blue Book of the Voluntary Sector, part of our series of essay collections looking at the major parties and their future relationship with the voluntary sector. You can read the full book here.

There was a positive debate on how civil society is central to Conservative thinking and a very good humoured and purposeful discussion. Even when the dreaded Lobbying Act was mentioned, our Blue Book authors were keen to stress their support for charities rights to campaign. I gave them a tub-thumping speech on our dual role to provide support and advocacy, linking this improbably with the harvet festival lesson on ‘righteousness’. I suggested that’s what charities do! And once again our new Minister Rob Wilson came along to speak. A good few words on how he wants to work with the sector over the next few months.

Of course, running fringes is only part of what we do at these conferences. Much of the value lies in the conversations and chats that go on around the conference halls and rooms. So I was able to catch up with the Prime Minister (who also happens to be my MP) as well as key Cabinet Ministers like IDS, Nicky Morgan and Francis Maude. I caught up with old friends like David Willetts, Greg Clark and Damian Green and I did a couple of dinners where I spoke about health and public service reform. And I even had an enjoyable chat with the journalist Christopher Hope, the chap on the Telegraph who wrote the charity CEO stories. We had a good discussion about transparency in charities, which we intend to continue over lunch.

Although conference season is a draining 3 weeks it is essential that the third sector flag is seen flying high. One of my core roles as the charity CEO leader is to be here. We argue our sector’s corner, keep ourselves visible, and make the connections and networks we need to promote our cause.

So roll on Sunday; Glasgow and the Lib Dems and the launch of the Yellow Book!

Here are a few photos from last night taken by my policy officer George Bangham.

My opening speech:

New Civil Society Minister Rob Wilson MP speaks:

Dominic Raab MP talks about his essay:

Penny Mordaunt MP discussing her work:

John Glen MP challenging Clement Attlee's vision of charities and public services:

Our packed audience:

Monday, 29 September 2014

Social Investment Summit - photos!

Well we had a fantastic fringe meeting with our new Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson. A great chance to welcome Rob to his new brief and to hear a lively debate between David Gauke (Financial Secretary to the Treasury), Clare Pelham (Leonard Cheshire), Caroline Mason (Esmée Fairbairn Foundation) and Nick O'Donohoe (Big Society Capital).

Here's a few photos...

David Gauke, Rob Wilson and me.

David Gauke speaking.

Nick O'Donohoe answers a question.

(Part of) the audience.

Events, dear boy, events...

.... Macmillan once laconically observed.

And so it was this last weekend. So we now have a new Civil Society minister, Rob Wilson and I'm glad to say I will be meeting him at lunchtime when he comes to the Acevo fringe on social investment (supported by our good friends SIB and BSC).

I'm proud  that we have a top quality fringe programme here at Conservative Party Conference. Tomorrow we launch our "Blue Book", the second in our series of conversations with key politicians and opinion formers on their views of the role of the third sector (in association with our friends at CAF). The Blue book has contributions from a range of tory thinkers; the launch of its counterpart The Red Book was the 'must-attend' event at Labour; we're expecting similar things here.

Tomorrow we have a stellar line up of the Blue Book authors. All, that is, apart from the person who contributed the Foreword, our former Minister. Even without that curiosity it's very much worth getting a copy, as events aside, there is a lot we need to be doing to reset the relationship between the sector and politics. I'd delighted that this ACEVO-CAF project has led the way.

I shall Blog more on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Labour, Ed and the Red Book

As usual, Labour Conference this year has been fascinating and tiring in equal measure. Unlike recent years though we're doing a bumper programme of ACEVO fringe events - the largest in many years.

We started well on Sunday night by launching The Red Book of the Voluntary Sector with our friends at CAF. Do read the book - it's available here. And I do have to note my preference for 'third sector' over 'voluntary sector'.

It was a brilliant event. We had 11 speakers in an hour and many Parliamentarians dropping in and out during their first night of conference schedules.

As Ed Miliband says in his introduction to the book (and referring to his time as the first third sector minister): ‘This collection of essays shows the depth and vibrancy of thinking across the Labour movement on this important issue and makes a vital contribution to the debate in the run-up to the next election.’

Speeches ranged from Dianne Hayter's outline of Labour's historic relationship with civil society to Will Straw counting the costs of austerity in his prospective parliamentary seat of Rossendale and Darwen.

Overall, the event gave me hope that Labour is listening and engaging with our sector. Like the equivalent Blue Book and Yellow Book that we're launching in the next couple of weeks, we'll push hard to convert this willingness to listen that the three big parliamentary parties have shown into a willingness to engage with our sector when the next government is formed after the 2015 election.

I'll blog further about our other conference events but thanks to everyone who came to our events and please do read the Red Book!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Devolution isn't off the menu, Prime Minister!

It was a relief frankly when the final vote came in. We remain a United Kingdom. I was worried at the implications for the many ACEVO members who run UK-wide charities, or indeed have UK in their titles, not to mention ACEVO itself which is a UK body with members throughout the country.

What we do now know is that there will be further devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. What will be the implications for civil society? 

Look back first to the Localism Act debates in 2010-11, when the government introduced more power for localities. David Cameron was clear that the Government were giving more powers to local councils, and that in return they expected those councils to give more power to citizens and communities. Hence the establishment of a community 'right to challenge’ the current delivery model of public services, and the right to acquire community assets, among other powers that were opened up to community groups and charities.

The challenge in designing all these new rights is to find institutional structures that can make them a reality. The 84% turnout in the referendum shows that communities throughout the country will rise up and engage with political issues when the issues matter and when people have meaningful power. But what is essential is that the full potential of existing charities, community groups and social enterprises is used to give a structure to new community rights of challenge and ownership. The risk otherwise is that knee-jerk ‘devolution’ ends up, as I said earlier this year, ‘replacing public sector monopolies with private sector oligopolies’.

That means that the new Devolution Commission, announced by the Prime Minister from Downing Street this morning, must hear from existing civil society institutions. Charities and voluntary groups need a voice at the table so that new devolved powers don’t just entrench the role of the State at a local level but truly expand the potential of citizens to associate through civil society groups, in communities both of place and of interest.

Our existing public services increasingly face the challenges of demographic change and increasingly complex needs. Change is needed and charities, community groups and social enterprises can help by expanding their delivery while combining it with our unique role as advocate for our beneficiaries.

As the details of Lord Smith’s Commission begin to take shape I hope this important ingredient is included in the mix. 

Lord Smith, William Hague and everyone else: you need us.