Monday 22 December 2008

A Chronicle of Zanzibar and The Times

I suppose it must be possible to tire of fresh papaya and mango for breakfast but I have not yet reached that benighted state. But a bitter disappointment was the discovery that my wonderful bottle of prophylactic Bombay Sapphire has emptied. A cruel deception; I thought the kindly Gin fairy kept it topped up.

It took 11 hours by our non air con coach to get to Arusha. We reached there in the dark with a burst tyre en route. Some kindly passengers remarked how lucky we were not to overturn as often happens - apparently the safety record leaves much to be desired. Fortunate indeed: for as I looked around, the glorious African bush stretches for miles with no sign of a human habitation, but undoubtedly animal ones!

Arusha was once known as the capital for safari but now has a grimmer reputation. It is here that the International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda is sitting. I passed the buildings where the grizzly tales of genocide are unfolding and saw a convoy of the prisoners. A creepy moment as it is difficult to imagine the crimes these people stand accused. And remember unspeakable crimes continue in the Congo.

We were staying in a glorious Lodge on a coffee plantation. So glorious I'm afraid it proved impossible to tear ourselves away for safari. I saw all those people in their uncomfortable clothes gearing up for their predawn excursions and thought - actually the pool looks more inviting.

We flew to Zanzibar. As one gets older one doesn't need to indulge in too many backpacking eleven hour coach journeys.

The Dhow Palace Hotel is a marvellous old place. Lots of wooden balconies and boxes and gloomy dark wood furniture that one's Victorian ancestors would have found agreeable. It is just up the road from the old British Consulate: a building of poignant memory. Here are glorious memories of the great explorers; Burton, Speke, Stanley and the incomparable Livingstone. They all stayed here as the memorial plaque attests. Indeed Dr Livingstone's body rested here on its way back to London for burial in The Abbey.

Livingstone in particular deserves our thanks. It was his entreaties, supported by money from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, that persuaded the Omani Sultan to close the slave market. Whilst Wilberforce had campaigned to end the slave trade in the Empire, it went on unabashed in East Africa. Zanzibar was its hub. It was not till 1875 that the slave market was closed. And on the exact spot they built the Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church. The High Altar is the site of the former whipping post. The first Communion was celebrated here on Christmas Day 1877. I shall take my Christmas Communion here 131 years later. It will be evocative. The Crucifix above the pulpit is made from the wood of the tree that Livingstone died under. It may be fashionable to run down the Victorian missionaries but the Cathedral memorial to Livingstone, and all those who gave their lives in a higher service, reminds us how much is owed to those British pioneers who fought for the ending of slavery.

That was true leadership.

A Drum is a symbol of leadership for the Omani Sultans. A particularly intricately carved example is in the national museum. One of the carvings is a verse, I believe from the Koran,which states:

"Ye shall judge a Leader by his actions"

So none of that woolly liberal Western stuff about motivation or inspiration. It's results that count. True. And how ACEVO should be judged. Our achievements in funding, on contract terms, on the OTS and Third Sector Minister, and the role of third sector in service delivery. That was ACEVO. That is real and lasting achievement on behalf of the sector's CEOs.

And on a depressing note I get an email telling me the Charity Commission have launched an inquiry into the Catz Club. Interesting. Pity they don't finish the inquiries they have ongoing. We await the result of the inquiry into The Shaw Trust. It has been months. What is happening? We should know. I suspect this is of more profound importance for the sector. So when shall we expect to know?

And good that ACEVO continues to make the case for the sector in the current recession - great coverage in Saturday's London Times with an article from me and news coverage of ACEVO's case.

To read the article please click here.

Stephen Bubb

Happy Christmas

Christmas is a wonderful time of year . however cynical we get about the commercialisation of this Festivity it is still a marvellous time to share with loved ones , to relax and to forget the work travails. Even Charity Chief executives deserve some fun and frivolity at Christmas.
So enjoy . I shall . I raise a metaphorical glass of champagne to all my readers . Lets look forward to a great 2009 . The third sector rising to challenges , refreshed by a great Christmas break . Happy Christmas .

Tuesday 16 December 2008

On becoming a Millionaire

Unfortunately only in Tanzanian shillings. I am in Tanzania on holiday. Escaping the bustle and commercialism of an English Christmas for the sun and relaxation of Africa. I'm heading out of Dar es Salaam up country towards the Serengeti. On a supposedly deluxe coach which advertised "air con" but which turns out to mean "windows open". But the reward is that tonight I'm staying on a coffee plantation with views out over the bush towards Mount Kilimanjaro.

The last few days have been spent in idleness by a pool, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the discovery of "Gin and Tonic". It was invented as a pleasant way of taking quinine in The Tropics so I regard its consumption here as medicinal. And I came out with a large bottle of Bombay Sapphire and small cans of tonic to ensure protection!

Then at the weekend it's Zanzibar: that magical island of spice and intrigue and a week by the beach. I will celebrate Christmas Day at Mass in the historic Anglican Cathedral in Stone Town. It's built on the site of the old slave market and here they buried Livingstone's heart before shipping his body home for burial in Westminster Abbey.

I have my trusty shortwave radio so I can get both the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's, as well as The HM The Queen's speech, without which no self-respecting Englishman can truly enjoy Christmas - whether on sunny beach or snowy hill.

It's a shame that Dar es Saleem has GPRS. It has meant that my compulsive need to check emails has continued, but I suspect it won't work up country and I can relax. One of the problems I find being a CEO is that it is always difficult to entirely switch off: it is not that I do not have an impressive team at ACEVO to support me, so there is no real need for this compulsion (though amusing to read that Obama also has that problem).

The last month has been pretty hectic by any standards and it is just good to be able to relax now - though the BBC World Service continues to relay the doom and gloom from home!

Last week we celebrated Human Rights Day on the 60th anniversary of the U N Declartion of Human Rights. I was at the reception at Lancaster House and heard the PM's stirring defence of the need for a Human Rights Act. In Africa it's particularly important and Gordon used the example of the genocide in Rwanda to make the point. In countries surrounding here there are daily atrocities of the kind it's hard to imagine. That is why I always find it hard to stomach the idiocy of those who attack our Human Rights Act and make fun of this as "PC". We should be proud of our record in promoting the universal nature of Human Rights. I trust that the Conservatives will think again about the pledge to scrap this Act. It would be setting a bad example worldwide.

I have made contact with the head of the main civil society umbrella body in Tanzania. He is coming out to Zanzibar to spend a day with me so we can talk about growing links with ACEVO.

It's increasingly true that leadership learning cannot be constrained by national borders. ACEVO has been working with the leaders of various African organisations to support the development of leadership of chief executives. We have already helped the establishment of a Nigerian ACEVO and there are links with Uganda and Kenya. The fact is that in Africa a thriving democracy will depend on the leadership of civil society. When governments are so often corrupt we need to ensure that the leaders of civil society are supported. And I believe we can learn from our colleagues here.

But now it's back to enjoying the unfolding countryside as we bump along the potholed roads. It's amazing to think that with the ubiquitous presence of the mobile phone I'm able to blog you from Africa!

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Milton , Cameron and dogs.

" The mind is it's own place, and in it self

can make a Heav'n of Hell , a Hell of Heav'n."

Paradise Lost

As it is the 400th Birthday of John Milton I was determined to quote him , and Paradise Lost is his masterpiece . But somehow it also seemed appropriate to the theme i used at the big Action Planning - ACEVO Funding Conference in Central Hall this morning . I was arguing the recession offers, the sector dangers and opportunities and it is the job of a Leader to make those opportunities , to plan strategically and prepare . So our job to make a Heav'n of Hell? But lets not be too gloomy in celebrating the birth of one of our greatest national poets .

The Annual Roadshow in Central Hall has become a real fixture in the third sector calender , attracting over 600 delegates . I open proceedings with the marvellous David Senior , who compares me with Napoleon . Kevin Brennan MP , our Third Sector Minister whispers in my ear , " well lets hope you are not facing your Winter in Moscow ". A sobering put down ! Kevin speaks after me , then Peter Wanless of the Big Lottery Fund . Peter last appeared tieless in my Blog but was today sporting an excellent Paul Smith which almost outmatched my silver Versace , but mine had the distinction of having been warn by Elton John! I bought it at one of his charity clothes sales, so neatly combining charity and style in a manner I like to emulate.

Public Service Reform remains very much on the Agenda . I go to the launch of the Commission on 2020 Public Services . This is being Chaired by Sir Andrew Foster and a cast of luminaries , including our very own Clare Tickell of Action for Children . They aim to publish in 18th months and to think differently about the way services are delivered . They launch the Commission with a rather alarming survey from Ipsos Mori which reveals that 52% of the general public " now expect more of Government than of God " . Only 26% disagreed . What a shocking reflection on the Godless nature of the British public . All down to taking Milton of the school curriculum one suspects ?

They have a drinks reception but I have a better offer ; David Cameron MP at the Policy Exchange Christmas Party . Both my Chair John Low and I get to have a long talk with Cameron and he quizzes us on the nature of the recession for us . We also talk of the great role we can play delivering services . He has a real interest in the sector and when he makes his speech he mentions the importance of the sector and that there are "eminent representatives of the sector " present . I nudge John .

John and I also have a fascinating chat with the new Director of the Policy Exchange ; we discuss the relationship between dog and cat ownership in a recession and the problems owners face if they can't really afford the bills .Apparently the incidence of pets being put down rises in a recession. This appalling thought propels me to the door and to return to my very own much loved puppy who spends the evening demolishing what remains of my right slipper while I watch that excellent BBC series " The Survivors ".

Monday 8 December 2008

Social Enterprise and celebrations

Its the 10th anniversary of Social Enterprise London . The magnificent Allison Ogden Newton is their CEO and is a real inspiration to the organisation and to the wider .She has been a great support to me as Vice Chair of ACEVO and it was therefore a real pleasure to go to the Anniversary Celebrations at RBS on Thursday evening . The denizens of the social enterprise world and the Third Sector Minster in evidence enjoying the RBS celebratory champagne. It is important to attend events like this ; there is too much noise around social enterprise being somehow different or special . In fact it is a clear and important part of the third sector. Many top charities are strong advocates and practitioners . And the fact is that social enterprise has been a welcome boost to the case for professionalism and business approaches in our sector.

And a added bonus is that I walk home with no less than 2 boxes of gorgeous chocolate from the Divine chocolate company ; a social enterprise that exemplifies the notion that you can run an ethical and top quality business and be totally committed to a third sector approach in putting back profit into the company for the wider good.

It was a 2 lunch Friday . The first with Nick Hurd MP ( the Tory Third Sector spoke ) and a discussion on housing associations at the RSA and then onto our staff Christmas Lunch . The later a really relaxed and convivial occasion , which ended up with a bunch of the staff in a local pub till all hours , the younger lot as you can imagine . I was on the train back to Charlbury and my cocoa !

Its Christmas and the round of receptions has begun . DCMS at the Wallace Collection last week , and tonight the Cabinet Office at Admiralty House . Admiralty House is a very special place; redolent of the glorious maritime history of our Nation . The Cabinet Office Ministers were there and it was good to have a long talk with Liam Byrne MP on public service reform . I know from many years back that Liam is a strong believer in the importance of the reform process and the real value of the third sector in delivering citizen focused services. I think we can be clear that under Liam this agenda will be driven forward strongly . With Ministers like Liam , Hazel and James we can be clear the sector will be playing an increasing role in delivery and that this will grow , not diminish from next year , recession or no .

Thursday 4 December 2008

Charity Heroes

2 interesting charity pioneers have died recently ; Richard Corr - Gomm and George Lee . We can learn from them.

Richard Carr Gomm was the founder of the Abbeyfield Society , a charity and housing association which works with the elderly in housing and in social care . The last Chief Executive Foster Murphy was one of the founders of ACEVO and the current CEO Paul Allen is also a member .

The tale of Richard's life is fascinating .When he came out of the army at the end of the war he resigned his commission and used his gratuity to buy a house in Bermondsey to accommodate some lonely pensioners and where he said he would care for them too . It was a great success and soon other South London Boroughs asked him to set up similar schemes .This grew into the large third sector body that Abbeyfield now is.

He later fell out with the management of the Abbeyfield , as so often happens with Founders , though Paul tells me there was a reconciliation later on .I'm afraid the well known " founders syndrome " is a problem in charities. We have seen a recent example of the problem in the sector . It is often difficult for the great founders and pioneers to know the time to move on and to let others develop and grow . It is often the case that those best suited to begin an organisation are not those to take it through the established " steady state " .

In fact ACEVO had Richard speak at a conference on governance and the relations between Chairs and CEOs . He was fairly frail then but fascinating . And in particular he told us about his great friendship with Lord Willliam Beveridge . He said that Beveridge had regretted later how his radical reforms of welfare had pushed the voluntary sector to the very margins of provision and how he felt voluntary sector service delivery was so important . Indeed as i remind politicians he also wrote a marvellous report on " voluntary action ". I gave Ed Miliband MP my copy of the original Beveridge Report as a reminder of the importance of the role of the third sector in public services !

George Lee was the very first General Secretary of MENCAP. This great charity is now one the top 20 largest charities in the country . In 1957 when George took up his post it was no more than a loose network of volunteers.In those days children with learning disabilities would be isolated in long stay hospitals . The term " mongol " was common . In particular George realised that for the charity to grow they needed patronage and support at top levels and so he got Royal Patronage ( Queen Mother ) and relentlessly pursued top people to become involved and show support. He was also involved in the creation of the concept of the charity Christmas card . He was also strongly involved in developing the policy and campaigning role for MENCAP and argued for reform in the law and changes in people's attitudes to disability. He handed over the reigns to Brian Rix who still remains as their active and energetic Life President . Their new Chief executive has recently taken over from Dame Jo Williams , always a source of support and advice to me as an ACEVO member .

It is always worth us celebrating the lives of these great charity pioneers . It reminds us that this is a sector of talent and innovation , and above all sheer determination to do good but also to change the world for the better.

And these tales are a standing rebuke to those who argue that only small is beautiful for sector organisations. Both of these great people started small scale . But they were determined that the work they do had to scale up . And they both knew that campaigning was a core role for the third sector .

It is also a cheering thought that in a recession we should still remember the power of innovation and determination for a Chief Executive.

We should reflect back on our sector's great history and the lessons of our pioneers .

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Heritage , Queens and Boards

The wisdom of taxi drivers! Coming home tonight I had a savvy Eastender telling me he has been listening to Speaker Martin explaining the Damien Green arrest . He said as he was listening he was reminded of an old Scottish work mate of his who , whenever anything went wrong, would explain, " F all to do with me mate " !

I just cannot imagine a Sector Chief Executive getting away with that one in front of their Board !

I left the office under strict instructions from my staff today . I was on my way to the Wallace Collection ,where the Department of Culture , Media and Sport were holding their annual reception for stakeholders. I was told I had to tell Andy Burnham MP, the Secretary of State ,that acevo members in heritage and arts were upset at the dropping of the Heritage Bill from the Queens Speech today .

And I faithfully did so . I must say I like Andy Burnham , and he said that he too was disappointed that thye could not get the Bill in but it was pressure of time . he did say though that he thought there was cross party support and that it might even get in depending on progress on other Bills. But it is a big bill ; and there has not been a heritage Bill for some time so a lot to sort and tidy . ACEVO has a big membership amongst the arts and heritage industry , and we have an active special interest group for the Chief Executives here . So we are asking Andy to come and meet with us so we can tell him ourselves how important this is . DCMS have a very large and strong group of third sector bodies they work with and we have good relations with the Department .

The Wallace Collection was a very splendid place for a reception . The art collection is very fine , and I stole off from the chit chat to look around. A chance to reflect on the ACEVO Board meeting this morning . We were discussing the arrangements for our new Chair election . One of my Board members said I was looking reflective . And that was true . I have had a very good Chair in John Low , the CEO of the Charities Aid Foundation . He has been a friend and counsellor to me for the last 4 years . In many ways an ideal Chair ,and a figure who has earned mush respect in the sector at large. We now will move onto a new Chair and a new and different relationship next year . I am very confident we will have an excellent new Chair ; the person concerned will be unveiled at our Annual General meeting in the Commons on January 19th. But today marked John's last board meeting . So like many of my members in a similar position ,it has been a time of reflection . At the core of a successful organisation is a good Chair and CEO. So as well as being a time of reflection it is also exciting to be moving into a new relationship and a new beginning . At a personal level I think I have gained a lot by having taken on the role of Chair at Futurebuilders . It has certainly contributed to me having a clearer view of the respective roles of a non executive and an executive ; the strengths of a good relationship and the power that comes from a good partnership at the top.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Compacts and Commons

Walking along the South Bank of the Thames is always a wonderful thing to do . It might be bitterly cold but the views across the river are uplifting . And as a South Londoner I glory in the history and majesty of the views. I even pop into Southwark Cathedral for a quiet moment on my way to the Annual General Meeting of the Compact (being held at the Tate Modern ). Now this meeting , and I have been to many , can be a bit of a "whingefest " as someone described it , but today was actually purposeful and optimistic. This has a lot to do with the indefatigable Bert Massie , the Compact Commissioner and the attractive but tieless Simon Blake , Chair of Compact Voice .

We are finally to get statutory powers for the Compact Commissioner.ACEVO has argued strongly for this reform so we rejoice!This will give the Compact a needed boost . And we also need a revamp and rewriting of the document. The Compact was a huge advance for the sector and all credit to NCVO for having pushed this reform . It is now 10 years old and in need of a refresh . There has been cynicism about the Compact amongst members but giving a statutory base for the Commissioner , with Ombudsman powers may help us give the process clout . We will know when the Compact has real power when we see a local authority CEO being arrested for conspiracy to subvert a public official !

Jeremy Beecham , from the Local Government Association makes a great speech which is both thought provoking and supportive . He used to be my boss when I ran the local government pay negotiations many years back .He has always been an inspirational figure. He said that local councils will want to ;look to the sector to support more efficiency savings though this should not be about a cuts programme . This will be a challenge , but he is right to demand that we are transparent and open over what we do and also that we show we can be efficient . I said to him afterwards that efficiency goes hand in hand with effectiveness and that perhaps the third sector should be bidding to run more council services because we can sometimes do this more effectively . But with local government cutting spending next year there will be real challenges to the third sector. The worst councils will protect their own services whilst seeking to cut support for the sector locally .

But difficult to be gloomy when looking out from the 7th floor of the Tate Gallery and overlooking the marvellous vista of St Paul's Cathedral. Having walked there from London bridge I made my way across the futuristic Millennium Bridge for the tube to Westminster and the ncvo annual Christmas reception. So from one great gathering of sector glitterati to another . Had a good chat with the Big Lottery CEO , who was also tieless ( a habit that appears to be spreading and must be discouraged )and was joking that perhaps I'll end up as his Chair if Mr Blunkett's plans to merge BLF, capacity Builders and FBE come to fruition . He took that remarkably well !

But the Blunkett plan is interesting . Although I think there is much to it we need to examine the case for the merger with BLF more closely . I can see huge logic behind a CB and FBE merger . Indeed I suspect this will happen . But there may be a case for the lottery arm to be as a distinct Foundation . I certainly agree with the Tory line that it must stop being an NDPB and become an independent charitable Foundation;I have argued this for years. But it is good to review all this to see what works for the sector.

To really drive up the sector capacity and infrastructure we need a strong central body to invest and support in development . I have always been a fan of the local government model of an Improvement and Development Agency ( IdEA ). Again , an idea ( forgive the pun ) that ACEVO has supported .

The great Patrick Butler is there ; he has been promoted from Guardian Society Editor to a bigger role across health , third sector etc and Alison Benjamin is the new Editor of our favourite Wednesday reading . The Guardian did us proud on Monday with a full page on the crisis charities face . it is essential we get media coverage ; it helps us push the politicians and move the debate on . So lots of warm words form the politicians about our superb role and our wonderful people . Now give us the money and support to do more .

Monday 1 December 2008

Advent Carols , Recession , World Aids Day

The second day of Advent and my first Carol Concert ; an event laid on by the headhunters Harvey Nash in the glorious St George's Hanover Square. A mixture of Gospel and traditional choral ; and all in the place that was Handel's own parish Church . I am going to be away for Christmas , in Tanzania ,so I shall miss a lot of the festivities so this was a real treat .

And it helped lift the mood from the recession . A report from the accountants PWC is showing a potential £2.6 bn black hole in funding for the sector as donations , sponsorship etc fall. The Guardian gave this report good coverage and highlighted acevo's call for an emergency fund of £500ml to support charities at a time when demand on us grows. I know that the Government have promised an action plan in the new year and we await that with huge anticipation .Today acevo received a response from the Third Sector Minister to ideas we are putting forward for the recession action plan .

We are very clear that we must secure additional funding . The letter points out that the implications of all our proposals add up to £865 ml , as though this sum is outrageous and out of the question . Now if it were "billions" I feel that might be stretching it but frankly this is a small sum in comparison with the sums of money that are being poured into the financial sector , SMEs , the PBR changes on VAT etc . We must be clear any Action Plan that contains no new money or reforms of , for example , gift aid will hardly be worth the name. And I strongly suggest to the civil servants who continue to add into letters to us that they have already found £515m for the sector to pack it up now . The small business sector don't get patronised about how much the Government does for them . So don't do it to us. One assumes the Government put money into the Third Sector because they believe in what we do not as a charitable gift ?

The good part of the response is a clear indication that much of the government's package for small business will apply to the sector . For example ; one of the things members fed back was that if public sector bodies paid their bills within 10 days ( as promised to SMEs )this would be a real help on cash flow. Of course for any ministerial letter one has to read between the lines . And Liam and Kevin now have December to put together the cation plan we deserve . We can expect much because that is what we both need , but also , because as Kevin Brennan MP has pointed out ; we have a joint mission and endeavour to help those who will increasingly suffer the downturn in our economic fortunes. this is crucial ; I spoke today to a CEO who is one of the first victims of the recession in our sector .I'm afraid there will be more ; for their sake I hope this Plan will be a good one .

But I must avoid being too pessimistic . At the weekend conference of Progress Liam Byrne , The Cabinet Office Minister made clear the drive for public service reform continues and that the third sector has a huge role to play in achieving more citizen focused services. this is an area where the sector can expand its role . And a recession will test our mettle in finding new ways of working and innovative ideas .

Today is also World Aids Day ; an event that deserves to be well marked though other events have somewhat pushed it off stage . Back in the 80s a number of us set up a small charity in South London ; Lambeth Aids Action. A small charity but with a big ambition ; to set up the equivalent of the wonderful " Lighthouse " that had been established in North London and which the Princess of Wales had made so famous. We did that and "The Landmark" was opened in Brixton in 1988. I was the first Chair and we even got Diana to do the opening- and that as a pretty memorable day . These 2 centres are now one . The HIV-AIDs sector has been an exemplar of merger and alliances in the face of falling statutory support and the need to continue to provide a focused and relevant service in the light of changes in the virus and its treatment . the Terence Higgins Trust under Nick Partridge ( CEO and acevo member ) is a good model of how a sector can handle change . It shows that merger can be a good response at times of funding challenge.

Advent is a time of hope and expectation of a better time to come . It must be so for us .

Saturday 29 November 2008

India , Green and hope in a recession?

It was a bizarre moment. I was online and in the process of booking flights to Madras when the 10 pm BBC news came on . The atrocities in Bombay were being reported. I thought , perhaps time for reflection on that ; so i did not book . But then in the morning felt ashamed at such wimpish and irrational behaviour and went ahead and booked up . I am going to Madras and Southern India for a holiday next year . I am intending to follow in the footsteps of Great Grandfather x4 , who was a Colonel in the East India Company and fought with Wellington in his Indian campaigns. And the beeches of Tamil Nadia are supposed to be superb . And the British High Commissioner in India was on Today saying no reason not to continue going to India ; and he is right.

The events surrounding the arrest of Damien Green MP are truly shocking. I knew Damien well at Oxford . A good guy ; on the civilised wing of the Tory Party and a dedicated and intelligent MP. The heavy handed behaviour of the police is frightening . All the more reason for us to value our third sector organisations who campaign for our civil liberties and protect the fabric of our civil society . There is something rather sinister here and suspect we have not heard the last of this. The performance of Phil Woolas MP on the Today programme was lamentable . Can one not expect our Labour Government to be on the side of the people against the intrusions of an over mighty State? I have dropped Damien a note wishing him well after his 9 hour ordeal with Inspector Knacker of the Yard.

ACEVO is now working on its ideas from members for the action plan from Government for the sector . I got a feeling from members at our Annual Conference that there is a strong streak of determination that we can use the recession to strengthen organisations . There are opportunities for us to expand our role in tackling rising unemployment and the fall out of a downturn . And the continuing role for an expanded sector service delivery is as strong as ever . So we will need to review those challenges and opportunities . This reinforced my belief that we need to support restructuring through more mergers of charities , more alliances and partnerships , and exploring the scope for partnership with the private sector in delivering services. The downturn ought to encourage Government and local authorities to think what more can be delivered through the third sector . So I expect that in the new year we will see government pushing further on reform and the outsourcing of public services. And as I said at the Conference we have a strong relationship with Government and can expect them to support us . Though it would be nice if they could be prompt about it .

One of our keynote speakers at the Conference was Chris Banks , Chairman of the Learning and Skills council . He announced that they have commissioned ACEVO to undertake a study of Chief executives attitudes to the " Train to Gain " programme .Take up in the sector has been slow . Chief Executives tell me the bureaucracy is problematic , so we will review this and make proposals to the LSC. We have established a small steering group of senior members to guide the review and appointed Nick Carey , a bright young guy form Cambridge ( and who we rescued from a deathly career in accountancy )to handle the work stream .

We all know that upskilling is a vital part of any organisation's response to recession . CEOs need to ensure that the skills of their staff and volunteers is strengthened .It will be an interesting piece of work .

But now I am looking forward to a no nonsense relaxing weekend in Charlbury .The sun is faintly shining . There is a sharp cold in the air but a brisk walk to the magnificent Pub in Finstock , across the fields and woods around the Cornbury Estate will be invigorating . And the pint of Hook Norton Ale refreshing. Sparkles will enjoy the run and the ferreting around in her new coat!

It is my Board meeting next week and we too are looking at how we ensure our organisation , as well as the sector comes through the next decade strengthened.

Friday 28 November 2008

ACEVO's Annual Conference

In Docklands - at the Excel Centre - for our Annual Conference. It's the biggest gathering of third sector CEOs and Chairs in our sector. Our focus is on strategic planning; the top job for a Trustee Board and Chief Executive.

In the way we do things in ACEVO, our conference always marks a publication to provide the background for discussion. "Creating change: Chief Executives on governance". Click here for a link to ACEVO's publications.

The value of the document lies in the examples and tips from Chief Executives themselves on how to do it, rather than giving hand me down plans. Jackie Ballard, the CEO of RNID, was closely involved in putting it together and she gives a keynote speech on how she implemented new strategic plans in RNID. Her top tip from the speech is that any plans have to meet 5 tests; Simple, Clear, Credible, Motivating, Unique.

We had two respondents to Jackie. Harriett Baldwin, who is the Tory spokesperson on Social Enterprise and the Chair of FBE Investment Committee. Harriett was previously Managing Director at JP Morgan and talked from a private sector perspective. Her key point was the need for energy behind the process as well as "buy in". And Stephen Remington, who runs Action for Blind People, made the same point about how there has to be energy and dynamism in the process. And we are a sector who ought to value the loose cannon - or as Stephen said, "for at least 3 days in the week!"

And one of the key lessons from the book; you have to communicate well.

Inevitably our conference turns to the recession. How long? How deep? What effects on us? We have a couple of economists and an insolvency practitioner! Mixed messages. But the key for me is that a Chief Executive has to review any business or strategic plan to take account of the problems a recession throws up, as well of the opportunities. As I said at our annual black tie dinner last night, in introducing Kevin Brennan, the Third Sector Minister: the Chinese character for "crisis" consisted of 2 pictograms - one for danger and one for opportunity.

But the highlight of these events is always the chance to talk to members - to gossip and reflect. And learn from your peers!

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Lets hear it for Large and Good, Crime and Awards

The Guardian Public Sector Awards was a glittering affair . At Billinsgate .I had been a judge for some of these awards . Though I arrive late because I come straight from the futurebuilders Board meeting in Highgate . We have had our meeting at Treehouse ; brilliant charity who provide education and care for autistic kids . Futurebuilders have invested nearly £5 million in helping them put up their brilliant new building . As well as the direct service they provide to autistic kids- from 4 up to 19 - who would otherwise probably be in resident Care , they run national research and support services which draw on their experience with autism . It is great to see the results of an FBE investment . Made under the previous tender so all credit to them for a great decision .

I get a quick tour round by the Chief Executive , who is also an acevo member . It is sometimes good to see the effect that the investments we make and remember that the majority of our investments are brilliant contributions to growing the sector , even though some,times the media want to concentrate on problems . Stephen Cook , you know what I mean!

But it does mean that I arrive having missed the champagne reception and the networking. But not too late to have a word with the great Ed Miliband.Good to see him . And obviously I make up for the missed networking by doing a round of the tables. Good to see some of our members there.

The morning started badly. I see a press report that Ian Duncan Smith has been attacking large charities again ( see Third Sector ). He apparently argues the fact that the larger charities have grown by more than smaller ones is an indication of that bizarre phenomena he calls " tescoisation" . Now this sort of small: good , big :bad approach makes my blood boil. Larger charities have got large and are often growing because they are good at what they do ; productive and efficient, meeting client need and delivering good things . He makes an attack on large charities for campaigning . And this is the nub of the problem I suspect. He appears not to accept that a core purpose for many charities is to campaign for a better life for their beneficiaries. So the great NSPCC was set up in the 1820s to deliver a better deal for abused children and to campaign against child abuse . Thank goodness they still do this . They both provide child protection services as well as fearless campaigns against abuse . We need them against continued evidence that child abuse is present in our society . And it needs a charity with the strength and the scope of a large national organisation. You may disagree with them , but it seems to me just wrong to argue they should not campaign . It is how we secure change . And how we ensure that a vibrant civil society ensures a healthy democracy.

And what is it with this jibe about Tescos? I am old enough to remember the days of the old fashioned High Street . The shops that opened at 9 and closed at 5 as well as an hour for lunch . And you bought your bread at the bakers and meat at the butchers and candles at the candlestick makers. And now we have Tescos. Open at weekends . And in the evenings. I wonder if Mr Duncan Smith shops at Tesco ? Perhaps he is like me and goes there for the wide range of choice ,well priced and decent quality products . A store that aims to deliver what customers want . And because it does that it has grown . And if charities do that is it a problem? And if a great small charity has a service people need and it grows because people want what they have to offer does it turn into a bad charity ?

I know some fantastic small community enterprises and local charities through the work I do as Chair of the Adventure Capital Fund. We invest in small organisations . We invest to help them grow. They want to expand . They want to upscale because they believe in what they do . Other organisations want to stay small . This is a diverse and a rich sector where there are big and small , campaigning and delivery third sector bodies. I know of the tremendous work of the large national charity Chief Executives. Their dedication and professionalism . I hate to see this work attacked in this way because somehow large is held to be bad . I want to see a sector that grows in strength and influence . That means stronger and bigger organisations with the capacity and infrastructure to challenge as well as to deliver to scale what they do best .

Ian Duncan Smith has done some brilliant work on behalf of the sector. He has championed the role we play and his work in the centre for Social Justice and the work he has done with Graham Allen MP on social exclusion is a real advance . He has helped the Tories understand the important role this sector plays . But he lets himself down when he attacks large charities. And I urge him to stop .

A phone call later in the day from David Hanson MP, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice who is handling work on offender management . Our members working in this area have been increasingly upset at the lack of progress in ensuing they can deliver more services in prisons and in probation . The lack of progress in harnessing the talents of the many excellent third sector bodies that work in rehabilitation of offenders is a scandal . The entrenched interest of the prison and probation establishment who have scandalously opposed the sector in their desire to expand their work has meant that opportunities to deliver better services have been stymied and thwarted. David made a statement in the Commons today and was keen to talk me through it .

I had proposed to Jack Straw that we set up a working group to look at the role the third sector could play in dleivering services. It seems our work has borne fruit . Although we had argued for the retention of a national target for outsourcing the new scheme they are planning to open up to competition may well offer better chances for us to compete and win contracts . He tells me they will make further announcements on how the new competition and better value scheme will work . It is clear he has taken on many of the points we have made in our working group . So I feel a quiet sense of satisfaction that an acevo initiative may well have advanced our sector's interest . Of course the entrenched powers in the state service may still fight a rearguard action I think we will see progress . And if that means we get better and more targeted rehabilitation services that is good for the country . We can only reduce crime in the long term through recognising most crime is committed by those who have been in prison. And the third sector has a unique role to play in this great quest .

So the cross mood lifts and I get home in time for The Archers and Coronation Street. The only night in this week so Im allowed a little soap!

Tuesday 25 November 2008

The summit and Action Plans

So the week began early - at 6.00am Monday. Not sure quite why Stuart Etherington called our Recession Summit for a 8.00 am start? To emphasise the serious purpose I guess though Stuart is not normally a man of Puritan streak!

Still - a productive event. I think if I was honest I was hoping for some actual announcements of money but the fact that the PBR was to be later that day made it unlikely. But Kevin Brennan, our Third Sector Minister, came and co-chaired and did announce an action plan for the sector to deal with the recession. This was welcome news and, as I said to Alison Benjamin of The Guardian, no point in them launching an action plan that has no actions.

So I am optimistic. As I said at the Summit, we enter this recession as a much larger and stronger sector. We have a better relationship with Government. We can expect support and we must get that from an action plan. ACEVO has been promoting an action plan and already fed in its ideas. My previous blog sets those out. We asked members what were their priorities for action and they went for:-

- payment by statutory bodies for third sector services within 10 days, as offered by the government to SMEs.

- Reform of VAT, allowing charities to recover more of what is currently irrecoverable VAT. Irrecoverable VAT currently costs the sector £500-600 million a year.

- Reform of Gift Aid. Currently around £700 million goes unclaimed as a result of the flawed system.

- The establishment of a Social Investment Bank to kickstart more investment into the sector

- Support for the difficulties many third sector organisations will have with their pension schemes

- A Thriving Local Third Sector Fund to enable local authorities to invest in securing their National Indicator 7 target of a ‘thriving third sector’.

The contributions at the Summit were good and there was a strong sense of united purpose. A feeling that in trouble we need to pool ideas and get action from Government but that also means us all using our own channels and media outlets to push the message. I did an interview on LBS in the morning just before the Chancellor came on. I made clear the demands we have on him!

I know that members are increasingly saying to me that if Government can act so swiftly for small business, why not for us? It's a fair point. We have called for an emergency package of £500m and it is needed. Small business have been much more successful in demanding, and getting money out of Government. You would have thought we would have more clout than small business. But apparently not.

So we wait and see. And still no news on Icelandic bank deposits. What is going on? I know there are other priorities but we need to know what is being planned.

On the wider front of the sector itself we need to think how we as CEOs plan for recession. Reshaping budgets and business plans and seeking new opportunities. Kevin Brennan, MP, made the point at the Summit that this is a time for innovation. He is right. This is a sector that can be great at innovative ways round problems. But we also need to consider issues like mergers and acquisitions,m alliances and partnerships. So we will also need to look to organisations like Capacity Builders and futurebuilders to grow capacity and. Infrastructure in the sector.

I am on my way to the Board Meeting of FBE. We are looking at ways to support market shaping and helping third sector bodies up scale. Its essential. And the office of the third sector will want to encourage those organisations to help support this process.

We are due to have a joint meeting of the two Boards when the new CEO of Capacity Builders takes up his post. I am meeting him soon to talk about what we can do together - combining the capital funds of FBE with revenue from CB in packages to support merger and partnership.

And to lighter matters. The church Bazaar on Saturday. I was in charge of the book stall and had roped in my nephew Alexander to help. Now in Charlbury we have an eclectic mix of books, ranging from trash to high brow and bizarre. Of course running the stall you get first look! And one of the privileges of volunteering is a unique access to the bric a brac and cakes.

The book pricing policy follows a vague plan. Trash cheap and hardbacks and interesting books more. And I operate a social justice policy so the cut of ones jib is vital in determining prices. Pensioners get their Mills and Boon at knock down. And as someone says to me taking away their large Maeve Binchy "you get a lot of words for 30p". Indeed. I pick up some gems. A 30s book entitled "Foreigners". I think it would not be published nowadays containing as it does outrageous statements about the French, Australians etc. But a period piece from a time when they really knew how to do recession! I missed the letters and journals of Byron - going for an amazing £2 but got a folio edition of the "Father Brown" stories and an old guide to Oxfordshire.

And not forgetting a grand rum pot I intend to use for the fruit in next year's Christmas cake. It was, of course, "Stir up Sunday" - the last Sunday of the church year when traditionally Christmas cakes and puddings are made. I remember the tradition from the distant age that was my youth - I used to stir in the silver sixpences. The term comes from the collect for the day from The Book of Common Prayer which begins "Stir up O Lord".

It's a message to Government methinks as they decide on the action plan.

Monday 17 November 2008

Catz Club , Baby P , Tyra Henry and the lessons to learn?

The decision of Futurebuilders to invest in an innovative child care charity , the Catz club , has been exciting comment in " Third Sector " magazine . I even had a call form a Sunday Times journalist about it . There have been problems with this investment , and it has been frustrating for me as the Chair of FBE because neither I nor my CEO were involved in the original decision , but having said that we have to learn the lessons .

We are having a debate on this at the next FBE Board on the 25th November . We need to ensure that when dealing with public money our decisions are transparent . But there is a strong danger that the sensationalist reporting of the case has the effect of making investors or grant makers more risk averse . The yards of coverage in Third sector , who clearly thought ( wrongly ) they had hit on another Watergate , may make people less likely to invest in innovative or bold projects . If you are working at the edge then you have to take risks . That means there will be failures. It was interesting that at last night's acevo Public Services for the 21st century Lecture , Francis Maude MP made the point that the media seem not to be able to differentiate between failures that are culpable and ones that simply represent a project that in the end did not work out. And in discussion with members after the Lecture a number were saying that it is a huge pity Third Sector have added to the risk averse culture , as well as ignoring the fact that the Catz Club have actually been delivering good child care in the clubs they have managed to establish .

The last of our lectures last night was held at the BT Tower. A brilliant venue and a sparkling evening . Francis gave the lecture and the respondents to his lecture were a brilliant bunch: Tom Flood ( Mr Green Volunteering ), Sir Bert Massie ( Mr Compact )and Harriett Baldwin ( Ms Futurbuilders Investment ). The debate was top class , with great contributions from acevo members and friends . but I was particularly impressed with the contribution by Francis Maude . The conservatives have been showing they have listened to the sector . As I said , there were whole chunks of the lecture I could have lifted and used as a speech to my members. The Lecture ,as with the other 3 , have been filmed and will be available as podcasts on the acevo website.

I get home to hear that , at long last , Haringey Council have issued an apology for the errors they made in the case of Baby P. This is long overdue . They have shown inept handling of this case . Whilst I am sure the Director of Children's Services, Ms Shoesmith , is an excellent professional , she made a serious error in both refusing to apologise , and not immediately having an independent inquiry . And the ruling group of Councillore were negligent in not understanding the deep public revulsion this case caused and immediately ordering an inquiry.

This took me back to the days when I too had to handle the media in the fall out of a similar very tragic case of a child murder ; the case of Tyra Henry , a baby battered to death whilst under the care of Lambeth Council . this was back in 1984 and I was the vice Chair of Social Services and in charge of the children's and care side of the work .It fell to me to handle the response from the Council . I was under a lot of internal pressure to not apologise but " stick up " for the social workers . I remember in particular the threats from NALGO ( now Unison ) not to criticise staff. I had read the case files and believed we had a case to answer . And felt the tragic death of an innocent child deserved an apology from the Council in whose hands that baby was entrusted . So we did apologise . And we established an independent Enquiry , the report of which was one of those that helped develop policy in this area.

But again it is important not to let the media seduce you from doing what is right . It would not be correct for all children in care to be taken away from their families. There is very clear evidence that children in the care system away fro the care of parents or foster-adoptive parents fare badly and show up disproportionately in prisons ,as drug abusers , mental health problems etc . I used to see this from the other side as a Youth Court Magistrate in South London for 20 years up to 2000 when I took on the acevo job. The endless sad procession of kids from care homes who ended up in trouble with the law . Not bad people . But they had lost out and been poorly done by at the hands of the State .

These are difficult decisions . To leave a baby or child with parents or parent , or to remove them . but once a mistake is identified lessons must be learnt and apologies given . The public sector is sometimes so bad at understanding this.

Debating recession action for the sector

In tackling the recession the third sector needs to maximise on its ideas and innovation, our creativity and determination. And so we have been asking our ACEVO members for their ideas and thoughts and now we have put together a 10 point plan which we are launching next week in advance of the sector summit on the 24th November. We need to get buy in from members and the wider sector as well as from our sector colleagues in NCVO etc.

Here it is. We want a debate so we can garner other thoughts and ideas too.

1. £500m emergency cash-flow support
- In times of economic downturn TSOs find themselves with less income which can dramatically affect their cash flow
- Government should provide an emergency £500m fund to support cash flow to enable charities to remain solvent.

2. Thriving Local Third Sector Fund
- Third sector organisations play a vital role in society, and the Government has recognised this by making one of targets (National Indicator 7) for local authorities a ‘thriving third sector’. In a recession the third sector’s role is even more important but the danger is that local authorities will reduce funding to cut costs.
- Government should provide ring-fenced funding to support local authorities in their efforts to encourage a ‘thriving third sector’

3. Guarantee existing CSR programmes from nationalised banks
- Some ACEVO members have reported newly nationalised banks are considering shutting existing corporate social responsibility schemes.
- Newly nationalised Banks should honour commitments made to their communities.

4. Greater bank lending
- third sector organisations have been finding it harder to access funding from banks.
- Government should ensure that third sector organisations have opportunities to access capital as they have done in the past.

5. Public Service Action Plan 2
- third sector organisations have massive un-tapped potential in delivering public services, and despite the progress made under the first Public Service Action Plan (created by the Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office) there are still barriers to be overcome.
- A second Public Service Action Plan should be drafted in consultation with the sector to give another big push to third sector delivery of public services.

6. £250m Creation of a Social Investment Bank
- third sector organisations have historically had difficulties accessing funds from mainstream banks.
- As called for by the Commission on Unclaimed Assets, Government should provide £250m to start up a social investment bank to provide charities with access to capital.

7. Reform Gift Aid
- Currently £700m goes unclaimed.
- The system should switch from the current administratively burdensome system to one where charity’s accounts are used to calculate the amount of Gift Aid they are entitled to.

8. Reform VAT
- A huge cost to third sector organisations comes from irrecoverable VAT
- Government should compensate third sector organisations for all irrecoverable VAT.

9. Charitable Remainder Trusts
- Lack of tax incentives for Charitable Remainder Trusts is inconsistent with the general tax approach towards the third sector, and is resulting in lost funds.
- Government should demonstrate its support for Lifetime Legacies through reforming their tax approach to Charitable Remainder Trust giving.

10. Payment in 10 days from statutory bodies
- Many third sector organisations can be particularly hard hit by late or non-payments to them by statutory bodies.
- Any and all payments from governmental bodies to third sector organisations should be made in 10 days, as offered to Small to Medium-sized Enterprises in the Government’s recently announced SME support package.

11. Free health checks
- Third sector support organisations face a unique combination of falling income, rising costs and rising demands.
- Government should match the offer recently made to SMEs of free health checks from an organisation such as ‘Business Link’.

12. Access to training
- The crucial role third sector organisations will play in the coming months and years will require a motivated and skilled workforce.
- Government must invest in the training of third sector staff and volunteers for the future, mirroring the £350m announced by Government for small to medium-sized enterprises.

13. Icelandic bank deposit guarantee scheme
- Up to £200m could be at risk and some third sector organisations could be forced to cut services to the most vulnerable as a result
- Government should offer 0% interest, unsecured loans to all organisations affected until their money is retrieved from failed banks by the administrators.

14. Double the Grassroots Grants scheme to £260m.
- Smaller third sector organisations could be badly affected by the downturn as donations and funding streams dry up.
- The Grassroots Grants scheme (funded by the Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office) should be doubled, there should be an active campaign for matched corporate funding, and the scheme should be extended beyond 2011.

15. Mainstream third sector organisations into the Government’s response to recession
- Government has announced various measures to support people through the recession (e.g. household energy packages), but the potential for third sector organisations to contribute to that support has not been maximised.
- In a similar vein to the public service action plan, the Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office should work with other government departments to enable charities are able to play their full role in supporting people through the recession.

16. Support for the difficulties that many third sector organisations will have with their pension schemes.
- Numerous third sector organisations face serious difficulties with their pension schemes as a result of the economic downturn
- Government should work with the third sector to address these difficulties.

Our Summit to discuss what action is needed takes place next Monday at NCVO. Monday is also the day of the pre Budget report . So we must be hopeful that the Government will use this as an occassion to announce what it needs to do to support the sector .

In the meantime we also need to be using the current problems in the economy to review our own startegies and opportunities for growth , for example in service delivery or in forming partnerships and alliances with other third sector bodies or with the private zector.

but we are interested in views more widely . this is the time for those with innovative aproaches or ideas to help us develop the sector so we come through a recession strengthened .

Sunday 9 November 2008

The wretched banks

Well , you have to hand it to the Banks . Their public relations has just about hit rock bottom and they are now a classic case study in how not to win friends and influence .

So we read today that at the meeting with the Chancellor they told him they would not be passing on further interest rate cuts becuase , as reported in the Sunday Times , they are " not charities " . This insulting and patronising remark is deeply offensive to the 1.5 million staff who work in chariteis and the many millions who volunteer each year . It is yet another example of how business people look down on charities and assume we are not business like . i would really like to know the name of the wretched Bank Chief executive who made this remark so I can hold him up to public vilification. Or the scoundrel in the media department who thought this was amusing.

An acevo moleskine as a reward for indormation leading to the exposure of this outrage . Fat lot of good banks running corporate social responsibilty programmes if this sort of attitude is prevalent amongst the CEOs of banks.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Barack and Hope for the UK ?

Trevor Phillips has been stirring the pot again. I guess he does this deliberately , though he sounded a bit defensive on the Today programme this morning. I am not sure I agree with him on all his comments on how different the American system is from our own ,and how the Obama election could not happen here. I think it is a bit difficult to imagine a young black person becoming PM for a very long time . That said I think our record on equal opportunities and good race relations puts America , and most of Europe to shame . For example the comment from the wretched Italian PM about Obama being " tinted" shows how far away Europe is from understanding what makes for a strong multi-cultural society .Trevor is giving one of our lectures in the current acevo lecture series on 21st century public services. He will be the third lecturer and this one may well be very interesting! Good pre publicity for it . The last Lecture is Francis Maude MP to spelll out the Tory solutions.

One thing for certain though . Our next general election will be tedious and dull in comparison with the recent American President election . And it is hard to see how either Gordon Brown or David Cameron could possibly arouse the sense of hope and optimism that Obama has . His acceptance speech was a triumph . It was inspiring in a way no politician in this country has achieved for so long, though it did bring back memories of 1997 and the great Blair victory and the hope that inspired.

Good to see there will be a puppy in the White House. I stand ready to give advice on the correct choice . My puppy is now snoozing in front of the fire as I blog from the library . And good also that Obama began his career as a community activist . So I guess that must be the first third sector person in the White House? Acevo has sent congratulations and best wishes to the newly elected President . We all wish him well . it has been exhilarating to see the response world wide to the election . I heard it from a Libyan stall holder who was clearly delighted . I then watched the speech on BBC World . The top moment of my 56th Birthday! A better present than the 2 pairs of slippers methinks.

It was great to see that Nick Hurd MP, the opposition spokesman on the sector got in a question to the Prime Minister on the Icelandic losses. GB hinted that solutions were being examined. That is good .But frankly , this is only one aspect of the current recession problem for charities . The Icelandic losses affect up to 100 charities . The looming recession affects practically all . We need a more comprehensive response from government . I have had various replies to letters from the HMT and now from Gordon himself . I do wish they would stop telling me how much they have done for the sector already . i have always acknowledged this . I have been at the forefront of leaders in the sector to point out the huge achievements of the last decade .I have defended the record from the cynics and the whingers . I made that clear in my Guardian article. But that was then . This is now . I notice that when dealing with small business Peter Mandelson does not hark on about what the Government has done in the past . He outlines what needs to be done now.

We have our sector summit on Nov 25th. We will be watching carefully to see what package of support is offered there . One thing is certain , if we get a repeat of the line about what has happened in the past with nothing for the now then the Government will forfeit much support from our sector .I do hope they don't do that .People are watching and waiting.

To help this along acevo is now consulting members on the type of package that would be of most practical use .For example ,one effect of the recession may be to punch big holes in some charities pension funds . If they are told to rectify these deficits this could have devastating effects on the sustainability of some of the country's biggest and most loved charities . This would be a disaster of a much bigger scale than Icelandic bank losses.

We will be submitting proposals to the Summit . But we have already been clear , we want at the least an emergency fund of £500ml to support those third sector bodies most in need of support to face rising demand and falling income.
So lets take hope and courage from the election of Barak Obama . Time to be bold . Innovative .reaching out to those most in need . And using our sector to its full potential .Liam and Kevin ; time to be decisive not timid . we are counting on it .

Charlbury in the Autumn is a magical place ; the Fall colours of the woods and the smell of the many wood fires . England is a glorious country . And always greatly appreciated when you return from abroad . Yes ,the Sahara is magnificent . But sand is sand. I'm going back for a coffee in front of my wood fire . And catching up on emails.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

postcard from Libya

I'm blogging from Tripoli - on my birthday. I have always thought Guy Fawkes a suitable day to be born . Perhaps explains why I'm fond of the occasional pot shot at authority ! I thought it would be nice to take a week off on holiday to celebrate yet another year . And Libya has always appealed ; though a difficult place to visit . Visas and screening , and you cannot travel independently , and have to have a guide . An English speaking guide , though in my case " sort off " . Full of the most excellent explanations as in : "that's a hospital . school , mosque..." but a little more vague on the details of the historical sites . When was that built? "Oh , that old". Or occasionally ," that very old ". Now I don't want to appear picky , and I didn't want the actual year , but a vague idea of century would have been nice .

But one of the highlights was when I managed to slip out of the hotel in Tripoli and go exploring on my own , trusty Lonely Planet in hand . The souks in the old Medina are fascinating , and I was able to stop and stare at the mosques and pause for a mint tea unaided. I was off in search of the old British Consulate , a major place of pilgrimage for students of colonial exploration . This particular building dates from 1744 and until 1940 was the British consulate and centre for the exploration of the sub Saharan Africa. It was from this building that Major Alexander Laing set off in search of Timbukto , which he found in 1826 . He also married the daughter of the then British Consul Colonel Warrington.The building has been preserved by the Colonel Qaddafi , but it now comes complete with plaque announcing the wicked deeds committed by the colonialists.As it says this is a site of, " so called scientific exploration which were in essence and as a matter of fact intended to be colonial ones to occupy and colonise vital parts of Africa."

So a must see , and when I found it down a dusty and dark street in the heart of the old Medina I found the massive wooden door closed . But a colonialist is not to be deterred and I began to knock loudly . And I was answered. So I was able to get in and look at this historic site ; a rather beautiful shaded courtyard surrounded by elegant 2 story rooms and verandas .

In the evening I went to the early 17th century Turkish baths . Still in their gorgeous old state , marble floors and beautiful Iznik tiled walls. These baths were built in 1604. Just how many backs have been scrubbed , how many joints massaged and manipulated since then; And in such elegance . I emerged tingling and refreshed to the sound of the evening call to prayer echoing out across the Medina.A wonderful evening preparing for my birthday the next day.I wish I could say that was followed by a fabulous meal , but, alas , it was not .

And it is somehow rather appropriate that I am in Libya to hear the election news form America. the first black president of the USA. change has come to America. it was here in Libya , in Leptis Magna , in AD 145 that Septimus Severus was born . he became the first black Emperor of Rome.septimus has sometimes been known as the Grim African . A superb soldier , he died and is buried in York . but visiting Leptis to see the magnificent Roman ruins you get an idea of the grandeur that was Rome .Septimus was generous to his native country when he became Roman Emperor. leptis is one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world . A must see.

And an added bonus ; the country is dry . my liver is pleased !

Wednesday 29 October 2008

pushing the case and Hazel at the Bank

A reasonably productive meeting with Government on the Icelandic charity losses. We certainly made an impressive team in our presentation ; Stuart Etherington, John Low and myself worked well together in pushing our case for support . It is now down to Government to come up with a scheme to support charities who have losses. We have proposed a loan scheme so that charities can access money now whilst the administrator works on the wind up and payments back to creditors.I relate to the HMT official that the last big bank collapse , that of BCCI ,took 20 years to finally wind up . We have not got a 20 year window of waiting . Stuart makes a presentation on the losses and John shows great mastery of the brief in the discussions . Kevin is listening and I think understands the real problems these charities face.

The HMT are obviously worried about precedent . So if they agree a scheme for charities will they have to offer the same terms to local councils? i think the precedent argument is over-rated . After all , if the Minister was to stand up and tell the Commons that they are refusing to support the Naoimi Hospice who face a cash crisis because they would then also have to help Kent County Council this would not go down well with the public. After all , Harriet Harman , on Any Questions a few weeks back said the Government would act to support charities like Naoimi Hospice.

I feel sure the Government will want to come up with a scheme . We hope we will not be disappointed. But we stressed very strongly that time is of the essence. We expect to hear back from Kevin Brennan soon . I am sure that our new Minister is up for the challenge of delivering for the sector.

In fact I had 2 meetings with the Third sector Minister yesterday . The first was wearing my Chair of Futurebuilders hat . We had a briefing session to talk about our current performance and our future plans . That was very productive ; I had 2 of my Board colleagues with me ; Kevin Carey ( third sector activist and Vice Chair of RNIB ) and Rupert Evenett ( former investment banker and current Chair of BTCV )as well as our dynamic Chief executive Johnathan Lewis. We spent some time talking about how we can help shape the market for service delivery by the third sector by supporting organisations to scale up , to form consortia and to form alliances and mergers. we will be putting more of our investment money behind this . Our tender fund , which supports organisations wanting to increase capacity to bid , has been hugely successful . And we made the point that in a recession we want to help third sector bodies to re plan their strategies and to consider new opportunities in service delivery .

Futurebuilders is moving from being a largely reactive organisation that merely receives applications , to a progressive investor , seeking out opportunities to invest and helping shape the market and support greater capacity in TSOs to deliver. It was a good meeting . I said to Kevin that Futurebuilders is a great success story for the Government . We need to build on that by pressing ahead with establishing a Social Investment Bank so that more capital can be deployed in the sector. i warned Kevin that the banks were seeking to wriggle out of their commitment that they will cough up £400ml in unclaimed assets and said that the real estimate on what is in dormant accounts may actually be nearer to £2 billion . So the banks got a good deal . They should not be allowed to renege . It's our money , not theirs.

But obviously HMT will be able to use its new power over our Banks to insist they come up with the goods. Won't they?

The rest of the evening was a pleasant dinner to say thank you to Fred Worth , one of the trustees of the Adventure Capital Fund ,who played a crucial role in getting and setting up Futurebuilders in the early stages . He is the author of a comprehensive and thorough Governance handbook for FBE. It rounded off a rather testing day with aplomb . Arrived home exhausted and determined not to go to the breakfast round tablein my diary for Wednesday morning but have a lie in . Every good boy deserves a treat , as they say ( and that applies to Chief Executives too ) . I walked 2 tube stops on the way in as well . The autumnal leaves on the trees in Kennington Park look magnificent. I love Kennnigton . And remember that this is the site of the biggest gathering of Chartists demanding the vote for the people in 1848. They then marched on Westminster to hand in their mass petition demanding the vote for males over 21 , annual parliaments and salaried MPs. Denounced at the time as lunatic or revolutionary ! Kennnigton has always been the site for popular and democratic demonstrations .I am thinking of this as I ponder the meetings of yesterday ; a good place to rally to demand action for charities if the Government fail to give us what we need . But that won't be needed I'm sure.

Lunch at the Commonwealth Club to determine the Charity Champion Awards . This is an award scheme which finds charity champions amongst Parliamentarians.A group of distinguished panelists meets to detrmine a shortlist of 3 which then goes to a vote amongst the Paliamnetarians themsleves. So Esther Ranzen , Brian Rix , Alf Morris and Julia Neuberger debate the merite os a range of people over the sea bream . Me and Stuart are the voice of the sector. Our voice is heard! Tempting to reveal titbits of the names but No , that would be improper.

Tonight was our second in the series of ACEVO Lectures on 21st century public services. It was held in the splendid offices of the Bank of America over in Canary Wharf. Space , marble and ART . No sign of the credit crunch here then. Our lecturer was the feisty and energetic Hazel Blears MP , one of my favourite Cabinet Ministers . It was a good Lecture . She directly addressed the challenge of recession for the sector. She has a strong commitment to the sector and understands the power of communities to make lasting change . She also used the lecture to announce the guidance for the new 7.5ml empowerment fund. She talked about how we need to support the sector but how this is also a time for the sector to show the determination and the innovation for which we are renowned. She made a strong point about how this is the time the sector can be arguing for shaping new services and changes in the way the state delivers at a time of recession . She argued at this time state bodies may be moor prepared to contemplate change ;it is a good point. It is taken up by various members in the audience . Indeed the quality of the comments and issues raised by the audience make me proud that the sector is showing off its best side. Hazel also makes the point that the sector itself must rise to its own challenges ; becoming more professional in its approach . We are at our best when we rise to a crisis by finding new solutions , by providing flexible , responsive and rooted services. It is a truly excellent speech by a real champion for our sector. It was a good opportunity for me to ram home the messages I have been getting from members about the need for support for us to work with Government tackling the economic and social fallout from recession .

Tuesday 28 October 2008

what do we want and when will we get it?

Monday and a letter from Angela Eagle MP, one of the Treasury Ministers. I had written to the Chancellor calling for action to support the sector as we face the challenge of recession, and in particular an emergency fund of £500ml and action on Gift Aid. Clearly the sector does not rate a reply from the Chancellor himself.

The reply is, frankly, disappointing (and I am being charitable here). It tells me nothing and promises me less. In response to our call for an emergency fund to support charities facing rising demand and falling income I am told that "the Government is already investing £515ml across the third sector over the course of the Comprehensive Spending Review ".

I could, of course, point out that the Government were also providing support to small business before the recession hit, but this has not stopped them from finding a rescue package of up to £12billion. Yes, that is billions not millions. As one of my members said to me last night, "I am sick of hearing about Government support for small business. I am a small business but they are not supporting me."

So the letter promises nothing. The message is that we have had all we are getting. This is simply not good enough.

We know the government are providing support to the sector. But that was then.This is now. We face the challenge of a recession. Do the Government wish to help us support the victims of recession by support to third sector or not? Do they want to ensure that charities do not go under during this crisis?

And as for my suggestions of radical action on Gift Aid, well, this is all very "complex", they require "better understanding" and a full assessment of the risks and this will not be a quick process. Aren't we lucky that this was not the response they took when the banks were collapsing.

I know a brush off when I see it. It is not good enough and this response merely ensures I will be even more energised to fight our case .

A meeting this morning with Stuart Etherington and John Low has agreed a common line for us to take at the meeting we have this afternoon with Kevin Brennan, the Third Sector Minister, on securing a guarantee on the lost Icelandic assets. It will be a test of government resolve to support our sector.

Friday 24 October 2008

Leeds and points North

Hearing that great national treasure, Alan Bennett, on Today this morning was apposite as I was about to jump on the train for Leeds and our ACEVO North office.

We are having the ACEVO North office opening - complete with opera singers and old friend Hilary Benn MP. This is the second launch event. Last week we opened in the North East with a jam packed event in Newcastle. Indeed the Newcastle launch was carried on regional radio and media outlets including a great piece in the Newcastle Journal - and 20 new members joined on the day so I guess the combined effect of Hilary Armstrong and the inimitable Dr Kyle worked their charms. Incidentally you don't need to be called Hilary just to speak at an ACEVO event!

But why opera singers at Leeds? Well we all know of the great Opera North. The Director is one of ACEVO's members. As I blogged yesterday we have a growing membership in the arts and heritage field and so I have taken advantage of the link to add a bit of glamour to our launch. And the bonus is that I am going to the Opera North production of the Bellini opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi. In August I stood at the grave of the Maestro Giovanni Bellini in the Cathedral of Catania, Sicily, his home town.

I am going with Sir Rodney Brooke, Chair of the Social Care Council, and then staying with him in Brooke towers in Ilkley overnight. Rodney has the distinction (or burden) of having been my boss when I worked at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities in the 90s. We have stayed in touch, united by a love of Local Government, good wine, culture and high level gossip. He also has a huge interest in the sector and has recently been appointed to Capacity Builders Board. (I met the new CEO of Capacity Builders recently - Matt Leach - who seems a good guy.)

The mood at the launch is great, even if our CEOs are apprehensive about the recession. Though I love opera I resist the temptation to sing, even though, as I remind Jenny, our North Director, I was head choir boy at my local Parish church.

I stress that in crisis the qualities of leadership become ever more important. A CEO has to plan for the worst, hope for the best and continue to provide drive and energy for the troops.

And for ACEVO the leadership role means working closely with our colleagues in NCVO and other key sector organisations so we present a strong front to Government. I have been in touch today with the Community Sector Alliance to share thoughts on how the recession affects us. I talked to the FT yesterday and said I was getting increasingly frustrated at the lack of attention from Government to our challenges. Hardly a day goes by without yet further talk about how we will help small business. The fact that the third sector is an important part of the economy, as well as crucial to tackling the social consequences of recession, is not getting through. A great Editorial from Stephen Cook in Third Sector makes exactly this point. Is Government listening? Or do I have to turn up the volume?

Thursday 23 October 2008

The Shaw Trust

Chairing a session at the Social Enterprise London conference on Wednesday I am collared by a member who says thank you for being such a staunch defender of Ian Charlesworth , the CEO of the Shaw Trust , who was removed by the trustees of that charity despite having led the organisation to such great success . She says it is important that trustees know that when they act to remove CEOs then that may well have consequences and therefore trustees generally must act fully in line with good governance . I agree with her. That is one reason why acevo has been clear in its defence of Ian .

And then today I get a phone call from a former employee of the Trust who tells me how , in his words , he was "shabbily treated" when he was removed from his post . Indeed this is the second such cold call I have had from a former employee who wanted me to khow how he had been treated . I have already passed on the previous call to the Charity Commission .

This ongoing problem needs resolution , not least for the benefit of the staff and the beneficiaries of the charity . Good governance requires , in my opinion , a clear line to be drawn between the executive and non executive function . In this case there appears to be confusion between the role of the Director General , occupied by the person who founded the Charity , and the actual Chief Executive . In this case I understand that some staff report to the DG post although most report to the CEO position . The roles vis a vis the trustee board therefore appear unclear .

This is not a model I know of in any other acevo member charity , though you never know! it is not one I would recommend .

The trustees will need to review this whatever happens with the position of Ian who remains as the existing CEO , even if they have put him on what they charmingly describe as " gardening leave " . At many functions I go to people ask me about Ian . He is clearly well liked and respected . One person tells me that she thinks it is unbelievable that the Trust could think of removing one of the country's most successful CEOs.

The Charity Commission are reviewing . I trust this will conclude soon. In the meantime the FD has resigned . I wonder if the Trsut will be publishing her resignation letter ? We should be told I think? Perhaps the new PR firm that have been hired to represent the Trust will be letting us know. They are specialists in brand management I read in Third Sector. We must hope that the charity's money is being spent wisely in such matters and I am sure the expenditure will be fully recorded in their annual report ; indeed along with the legal costs also being spent at the moment .Transparency requires such disclosure so a view can be taken and I hope this is also under review by the Charity Commission .Clearly charities must make arrangements in these areas . What must be open to debate however is whether this is proportionate and whether a resolution of the problem is better than spending money in this way ? I shall be very happy to publish the details here as with any response from said PR company. Lets ensure we have the full picture so proper judgments can be made.

We must all hope that the situation here will be resolved quickly and that Ian's position is sorted in the best interests on him and the charity. The wider lessons need to be learnt . It should be very difficult for any Trustee board to remove a CEO , unless of course there is serious negligence or gross misconduct . Good governance should mean an effective executive and non executive relationship , where the respective roles are understood and respected . I also think the role of the Charity Commission may need reviewing in respect of powers of direction . We shall see what happens in this case .Overall it leaves me feeling , and not for the first time , that our governance needs review and strengthening.

Select Committees, Tories ,Members and well being

Shocking story on "Today" this morning . Apparently " blogging is so 2004 " . Its going to go out of fashion . Typical , just as I get into it , the fashion moves on . But I refuse to believe this and will continue unabated;the sector needs its bloggers.

I was looking for bankers and cardboard boxes on Monday . It was the Third Sector Charity Awards in Canary Wharf and as far as I could see no visible signs of distress . Indeed I got soaked by a passing Aston Martin as I made my way to Barclays Bank . Hope he was on the way to the receivers , I uncharitably thought.

The Awards was a fun event . Barclays were rolling out the champagne and I have to admit I drank more than perhaps was advisable for a Monday evening . But it was a triumph for acevo members. I had made 3 nominations ; Clare Tickell for most admired CEO, Bob Reitemier for most admired charity ( the Children's Society ) and Matthew Thompson ( London recycling )for most innovative charity . They are all top class third sector leaders . And they all won . As they should . So there was lots to celebrate . Nick Hurd MP ; the new Tory third sector spokesman turned up so I took advantage and introduced him to a range of acevo members . I travelled back on the tube in a merry mood with the chair of the Charity Commission , the charming Dame Suzi . I think we had put the sector to rights by the time I changed to the Northern Line.

Sticking to the Tory theme, Nick came to speak at one of our splendid acevo dinners at RBS on Wednesday. RBS are very generous hosts and we dine in one of their Board room dining suites. Hard times may be upon us but standards are maintained . The white Meursault Premier Cru is magnificent . Nick turns up late as he was voting at the Commons and by the time he had arrived the 30 or so acevo Chief Executives were in fine fettle ,mellow and expansive and thoroughly relaxed . Nick gave a great speech about his priorities and thoughts on the sector's role .It went down very well indeed . As I have blogged before , this guy is going far and you read it here first! I had also been chatting to George Eustace , the Tory's Director of External Affairs in the lunch break at the annual confernece of Social Enterprise London ( I was chairing a Panel session) . It is clear that the Conservatives do see a major role for the third sector if they win the election . How this will change with the trappings of power remains to be seen , but the intentions seem firm and it is our role to encourage them . Now the new Third Sector Minister Kevin Brennan must show his mettle by delivering a deal on Icelandic deposits and a package of support for the sector to face the crisis . Stuart Etherington , John Low and I will be seeing him next week to ram home this message .I agreed our general line with Stuart on Monday . We will both be pushing hard on behalf of the sector.

I also met the administrator for the Icelandic Kaupthing Bank (from Ernst and Young) this week . It is clear from my discussions with him that the process of liquidation of the Icelandic banks will be lengthy and protracted .it is also not possible for them to give a particular priority for charities. This adds urgency to our demand of Government that a guarantee is given . I would argue that we should get priority above local councils as they wont go bust , but our charities need theitr reserves . I have written to the Local Government Association asking for a meeting . Local Councils have a clear duty to protect the sector at a local level . In the past , when times are hard , they cut grants to the sector. This must not happen now . We talk about this with Nick Hurd ;he completely understands the need for Tory councils to set an example for what a Conservative Government might do . Their actions could undermine their good intentions to us , so he is thinking about how we can work together on this . We talk about how we might discuss this further. Members would very much welcome that so we will do so .

Arts and Heritage are very much needed at the present . Our country is much improved by the presence of so much world class creative industry . ACEVO has a good number of Chief Executives from arts and heritage organisations . They are a fantastic bunch and we have a special interest group where the CEOs get together .I go to meet them on Tuesday and we have an interesting discussion about how much this sector contributes to "well being " . So we must resist the temptation to cut back on our arts spending in a recession . A few years back ACEVO produced a pamphlet on happiness and well being by the brainy Nick Aldridge , former Deputy here at acevo and now CEO of Mission Fish , the ebay charity.

To purchase our Wellbeing, happiness and third sector leadership publication click here

And I shall end with my appearance in front of the august Commons Select Committee for Work and Pensions . They are reviewing the DWP commissioning strategy . I am giving evidence on behalf of the Third Sector . This is the third time I have appeared before a Select Committee . It was somewhat nerve racking and i woke up in the night thinking of my lines. In fact it went rather well and I soon got into the swing of things . I think they liked my description of DWP as an old fashioned state monopoly run on Stalinist lines , though as one of the MPs quipped Stalin had a rather good record on cutting unemployment . I lavished praise on James Pyrnell and the Right to Bid . I pointed out that Full Cost recovery , the DWP Code of Practice were ACEVO invention and that James had launched his Right to Bid guidance at an ACEVO lecture. I suggested that the problem with the implementation of the new scheme will lie in the difficulty of marrying the notion of innovation to an anally retentive , risk averse bureaucracy .

And at the end the Chair ,Terry Rooney MP, said that " the record would certainly show you advocated well for the Third sector".

Saturday 18 October 2008

Keble College in the sun ; Gloom on recession

Keble is a very glorious High Victorian building by my favourite architect William Butterfield. His chapel; and grand Dining Hall are particularly splendid. The buildings positively glowed in the autumnal sun as I waited in the Lodge for my nephew Julian to appear ( this is my hearty nephew rather than the poet , though I did note books of Rilke and Shelley on hearty's bookshelves, so perhaps a closet poet ? ). Julian is in his second year at Keble,reading History and German , but is now also Captain of Boats so he is the guardian of the Keble College's reputation on rowing . This apparently means getting up at 6 every day ! As I recall the only time I saw 6am when I was at Oxford was on returning from a party! Times change clearly.

Julian has asked me to dine in Hall . We sit appropriately enough under a portrait of Cardinal Newman . He was a very fine Anglican cleric , but converted to Rome . Now the Romans were aiming to disinter him for reburial in birmingham Cathedral . Their plans were thwarted when they discovered the body had completely decomposed . All that was left were a few items which , undeterred , they put in the newly constructed marble sarcophagus ;it is poetic justice for Newman as he had instructed that he be buried with his close friend and so they were violating his wishes by trying to disinter him .

It was curry in Hall , washed down with a passable Montepulchiano. It meant a somewhat slow start to Saturday. And now I need to settle down and think through our strategy for coping with a recession . It appears that the recession may be deep and long . This will change the plans for most charities . They will need to review and probably change their strategic direction . We need to think of the challenge of growing unemployment and what this means , not just to the economy but to society . there is a great article by Polly Toynbee in today's Guardian and a good interview with James Purnell ( this lad is a star ) . We cannot yet know the full extent of the problem . but we need to plan for the worst and hope for the best . And I want ACEVO to be there helping that process.

And we are also looking at this from the perspective of Futurebuilders , which I chair . How can we support third sector bodies in rising to the challenge of service delivery through help to upscale , to merge and to develop partnerships. We must look at bridge financing and loans to organisations to help surmount challenging financial times . With banks retrenching from loans the work of Futurebuilders becomes even moor important in providing capital for the sector. And we need to make progress with setting up a Social Investment Bank using unclaimed assets . The capacity of the sector must be strengthened . i talk to David Freud about our tactics on this and how we can get capital to flow to support more delivery .

We will also need to work with the Office of the Third Sector on plans they are drawing up and I text Campbell to set up a discussion . We are also in touch with Government departments and with the Local Government Association . the last thing we need in a recession is to see local councils cutting back on grants and support for front line charities and community organisations. They have done this before and we need to stop then doing it again . I have written to the new Chair of the LGA to ask for joint talks on how we can prevent this.

A heavy week ahead . But the suns shines brightly .

Friday 17 October 2008

Global and local; James and my tie

Our Third Global Leaders Forum takes place at RBS Bank London HQ . Somehow appropriate in the middle of a global financial crisis that has serious ramifications for the third sector internationally . We are looking at the lessons to be learnt across borders on how different countries tackle service delivery reform and the use of the Third Sector . It also marks the publication of a new book by acevo on this . the book causes much comment . Prof Murdoch from South bank University seems ecstatic , in a very academic sort of way ,and is promising to get it reviewed in various international journals. the speakers at the Forum are drawn from across the globe to reflect on different experiences of delivery through the sector. It is clear the UK has a strong leadership role in the way the Government is explicitly promoting our sector's role in delivery.

To order the Global Learning Forum publication click here.

I slip out of the conference to head off to the Commons ; tea in the Pugin Room with Nick Hurd , the Tory lead on the third sector. over 3 decades I have met many many MPs ; indifferent or useless , inspiring and visionary , achingly careerist or just plain great . Hurd is in the later category . He is headed for a Tory Cabinet . He is charming with a strong intellect and a real fee Flor our sector. Indeed he tells me he had once considered a career as a charity CEO. He would have been a good one ! He has already the strong distinction of having been one of the main MPs behind the passage of the Sustainable Communities Act. We run through where acevo is on the current crisis and I ask him to do what he can to highlight the problems and the need for Government action . He agrees this is essential . And we talk through his take on the job and how we can support that . He is also doing one of acevo's dinners next week , again with our friends RBS ( hope the Government have not closed down their wine cellar ! )

Back to the Conference where we have a euclid Board meeting to review the spread of our European network .Membership is growing , but its a slow job building the network and the infrastructure. But the idea of a cross Europe network for sector leaders has to be a good one and it will catch on . Already the EU is giving it strong backing.

My Chair John Low and I have to leave our European colleagues as we have the first of the ACEVO lecture series on public services in a 21st century .Held at Schroders so maintaining the international capitalist theme of the day! . James Purnell is our first lecturer . I'm afraid that when I was choosing ties to wear for the day I managed to go for something a little less than than the usual highly stylish . And he notices ; " boring tie" are his first words as I great him in the sumptuous foyer of a great investment is a great contribution . James now clearly knows his brief. He is a master at the detail when he answers questions from members. But what is particularly important is that he announces the introduction of a " Right to Bid " . This is an important further step towards more delivery by third sector organisations. But in my contribution I make the point that with growing unemployment the work of the sector grows and becomes even more important . Yet we face rising costs , rising demand and falling income . That is not a recipe for sustainability. I repeat the message that Government need to act to support the sector.

To order the Lecture Series publication click here.

The recession has been the leitmotif of the week . My team in acevo have been at work on our plans to support members . We will be launching a number of initiatives next week . This is the time when sector CEOs will expect their membership body to get stuck in and argue and cajole Government to act for them . They will also want us to look at what support we can give . But as I say at the Lecture , more opportunity to deliver citizen responsive public services is a chance to buck recessionary trends.

At least our constant bashing away at the issue is getting through . More and more MPs are raising questions and wanting action . We have now been able to make our case with Purnell and Smith as well as our own sector Ministers.I know the Office of the Third sector are working on the problem and a Government response . We are also making contacts in government departments who are also working on departmental responses . The next few months will be testing for us . But in the face of the unfolding crisis for our members we need to redouble our effort . And we will .

For full details of our lecture series on the sector's role in Public Service Reform visit our website here.