Friday 30 May 2008

Building our sector's strength

Had lunch with the dynamic and vivacious acting Chief Executive of Capacity Builders , Catherine Johnston ( and her charming side kick Jon Fox ) yesterday. Capacity Builders was established by the Government to help develop the infrastructure of the third sector ; through building strength in areas like leadership , IT , strategic planning ,performance and the like. It has a large endowment from Government and is currently supporting a range of bodies like acevo in promoting professionalism in our sector. They have had a chequered history. The "hub" experiment was not a success. We will need to work hard to ensure its successor , the national support services, works well. acevo is delivering the income generation service with our partners and we are in collaboration with NCVO and Community Matters on Leadership and Governance.
But our discussion is mainly about how Capacity Builders and Future Builders can work more closely together. We have a common interest in helping third sector organisations compete for , and win more public service delivery for citizen focused third sector bodies.

So we discuss work on developing a common scheme between us to support organisations in preparing tenders and being commissioning ready. They have the support for developing capacity in organisations and we have investment funds . There is an obvious overlap . We agree to see if there is scope to run a joint scheme. So we will need to see if we can get support for it.
There is a need for much more collaborative working in our sector . I am working on an article for Third Sector. Stephen Cook , the Editor reminds me I was supposed to get it to him today ; but I never got the original email so now will have to devote the weekend to finishing and delivering it . So less time for the weeding . The garden in the cottage has gone berserk in the last 2 weeks ; the roses are magnificent , but the weeds are in too full health and they must go.

I also interviewed for the final place on the Future Builders Board on Thursday . Kevin Carey is currently Vice Chair of RNIB , and I suspect a future Chair! He also runs a small charity and worked for Sight Savers , a magnificent international ngo , run by a fantastic acevo member. Kevin is a great figure ; looking rather like an Old Testament prophet, he tells me he has been working on a sermon whilst waiting to see me . He has both a great sense of "vision" and a down to earth no nonsense approach . He will be a great foil to some of the top international investment bankers and venture capitalists we also have on the Board . He is blind and we talk about the support we will give him to ensure he can play a full role as a non exec on the Board. I am delighted he wants to join us . We now have a well balanced and diverse board . Good sector people from small and large charities , and from social enterprise as well as some really top people from the City. But it is clear I am going to have a hard task in Chairing a group as talented and dynamic as we now have . I expect clashes of ideas and egos . Still , I would not want it any other way. A challenging and involved Board is essential to good governance. Watch out for the press release next week with all the details.

My poor staff . Keeping up with their CEO . Or sometimes trying to control him . My effective and talented Head of Policy Seb Elsworth has to keep checking my blog to ensure no howlers , indiscretions or other outrages . But he can only do it in retrospect . The other day he came into my office ;

" You're blogging aren't you ",

" How do you know ? " ( Chief executive asks querulously )

" Because it's been very quiet for the last half hour ! "

Thursday 29 May 2008

a campainging third sector

Mary Whitehouse.Did you see the programme on BBC2 last night . It was fantastic, and not just because the brilliant Julie Walters was starring. I nearly did not watch this on principle. i was a teenager in the 60s ! To be precise i became a teenager in 1965. And I was well into the sixties. the loon pants and the tie die T-Shirt , ( kindly supplied by my indulgent parents ) and the smelly Afghan coat and the bead necklace I bought in the Kings Rd. What a sight that must have been !
So Iobviously thoroughly disapproved of Mrs Whitehouse.
But what was fascinating about the programme was how it charted the growth of a campaigning third sector body ; starting off with a charismatic leader ( love her or hate her ), a few like minded friends and the kitchen table . the postal orders rolling in ( do they still have postal orders ; my aunts used to send me them for birthdays ! ) and the driving ambition and determination against the odds. I know of lots of such third sector bodies . In many ways this sums up the brilliance of our " civil society " where people come together to fight and campaign for change. Think of Dame Cecily Saunders , despairing of the bad treatment of people who were dying on the wards at St Thomas's and so founding the remarkable Hospice movement.
Or Jo Mitty setting up the first Oxfam shop who said he was driven by , as he said, " rage and passion ; rage because of the inequality and injustice in the world and a passion to do something about it ."
of course I still think Mrs Whitehouse was wrong overall , but maybe she had a point on the violence issue ?

There is also a brilliant vignette in the programme about the Chair and Chief Executive relationship . Sir Hugh Greene , CEO of the BBC does not get on with his new Chair . The Chair instructs him to drop a programme . The CEO refuses to listen . He goes.Oh dear.

Another of our dinners for key players and Chief Executives from the sector to talk about the role of FutureBuilders. A great evening with the likes of Fiona Blacke of the National Youth Agency , Jon Bland from Social Enterprise , Cliff Prior of UnLtd and others. fantastic people doing fantastic things. One of the interesting points to emerge from the discussion was that we really need to be upping our game and persuading state bodies to commission things they don't yet know they need from the sector.Being proactive about where we see services we know we can provide better , rather than merely being the inactive recipients of tenders.

On the way to the dinner I bump into (literally ) the Chair of the Labour Party ; one Dianne Hayter . She is one of the founders of acevo and has had a range of Chief Executive jobs in the third sector. A feisty and bubbly individual who has done great things in our sector . Whether she can pull the labour Part's fortunes around is another matter. She is on her way to the Cuban Embassy ; as you do , and is lost . Obviously I know exactly where the Embassy is ; as I would .i direct her there.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

governance and professionalism

Off the plane from Cork late. So late home and dragged myself into work for our weekly Director's Group ; where we chew the cud , discuss strategy and what to do about the coffee and tea supplies. Its management accounts time ; often depressing as you contemplate how tight a financial position you are in as a third sector organisation. acevo is lucky as we are in a good position , and have had great success in winning contracts and bids . But you can never relax if you are a Third Sector Chief Exec. As Mr Micawber said ;

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure 19 pound, 19 and sixpence , result happiness.
Annual income 20 pounds,annual expenditure 20 pounds and sixpence , misery."

We have an interesting discussion on our position on the Sector's Code of Good Governance . This was one of the key recommendation's of the acevo groundbreaking Enquiry into the governance of the Third Sector . It was clear from that Enquiry that the Sector needed to professionalise its governance . The Code is core to that movement .It is supported by the Code's founding partners , acevo , ncvo and the charity trustee network .The Charity Commission now send a copy of the Code to all sector organisations and we are expected to report against it in our annual reports. This is good . But we need to move further. As a sector we have not yet fully appreciated the need for accountability. It is no good expecting people to accept we do good things because we are charities . We have to show how we spend money , account for our actions , be open and transparent about all we do . As we move forward in playing an even greater role in delivering public services , acting as a voice for our members and communities and advocating for social change , we need to accept that comes at the price of being much more publicly open . So one start might be to see how we make the Code used and even enforced by alll sector bodies. Of course the application of the Code must be proportionate and the small community volunteer led organisation will not need to take as many steps in application as the big charity , but we all need to observe standards , big or small.

All this is so obvious I wonder why I'm writing it . But the shame is there are still voices who argue against moves to make the Code more enforceable. There are those who think that all government's and funders should do is hand over money and we will decide how best to spend it. The public sector have increasingly got the message and now take their duty to be open seriously . And if they don't there are plenty of journalists around with their Freedom of Information requests. Perhaps they might extend that Act to us ?

Its like the argument on the Compact . It is clearly evident we need statutory backing for the Commissioner post and possibly for an underpinning for the Compact itself. There is an opportunity to do this as part of the Community Empowerment Legislation that Hazel Blears will be sponsoring in this Parliament . What could be more empowering for community organisations than giving the Compact Commissioner teeth to take up their shabby treatment at the hands of bad government. And yet we still have voices arguing against . It is good to have acevo battling away on behalf of a professional sector. As Chief Executives we need to be at the forefront of the battle for a professional third sector . We should be leading the way on accountability . Setting examples of transparency . And there are many of my members doing just that. We need to spread the word wider.

I went to the rather lovely , if small Church of Ireland chapel in Leap on Sunday . It's the village up river from Union Hall and the walk along the wooded banks was peaceful and a treasured moment of tranquillity. In a country of only 6 million the roads are remarkably quiet. I was reminded of the Gospel reading when I opened the weekly Third Sector magazine to read the usual mix of inspiring stories and utter balderdash .

" Look at the birds of the air ; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life ? "

I guess that is sound advice to a sector CEO ?

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Union Hall

I have been painting the railings on the family vault. As you do at bank holidays. This is in Union Hall , Co Cork in Ireland ; a beautiful village on an inlet off the Atlantic. there is a small harbour and just above it my mother was born , And in the late 18th century Colonel William Somerville Limrick had a large and gracious Georgian mansion built here . It lasted till 1921 when the IRA thought they really ought to return to England ( they had not been there in 4 centuries of course ) and burnt it down . William had been out in India fighting for the Duke of Wellington ( another Irishman as it happens ! ) And his brother Paul was Wellington's Chaplain general , and appointed first Bishop of Calcutta but drowned on his way back for his consecration. Unlucky lad. So there is a Limrick vault in the Church of Ireland cemetery and I keep it trim . Ran out of paint and had to get another. hope they appreciate the trouble.
And that is a great excuse for fun . i have , we calculated sitting in the pub 68 cousins in the village. We had counted 61 over a couple of pints of Smithwicks but had missed some out when we checked up later with one of the said cousins.So if you visit the chances are you will bump into a blood relative , or at least someone married to a cousin of a cousin .I confess not the best of reasons to visit Union Hall though you'd love it if you did.I work on the basis I will probably be related to most of the folk I meet . Though there was a very odd family lurking the back of the pub when we were indulging in a spot of dancing on Saturday night . Looked as though they thought marriage too fine a thing to share outside the family ! And the dancing was of interest to students of the bizarre .Thank goodness no one from Third Sector was lurking with a camera as Itwirled around the pub to the noise of the MC shouting " now double back , cross ways , swap your partner , step on her toes . No sorry I made that last one up .
The Irish roads and hedgerows are amazing for the flora and fauna. Foxgloves, fuchsia , violets , yellow irises , all grow wild in abandon . Oh and drunken Polish sailors , as we saw one of those hiding in the hedgerow clutching his trusty bottle of sherry. A cousin helped retrieve him from the hedgerow and deposit him on the side of the road. We saw him the next day marching into the pub , so all's well that ends well.

Thursday 22 May 2008

learning and logical fallacies

The scene ; the Pugin room , House of Lords . Its the annual bash for Learning at Work day run by the Campaign for Learning ( acevo member ). And it is THAT wallpaper ; yes , the thousand pound a roll wallpaper that dear Lord Irvine , the then Lord Chancellor installed to match his ego. It is rather splendid though and great to see so many acevo members attending in such magnificence.. Strangely , the host Lord Dhokalia is not there .He is in Taiwan , they inexplicably announce ." Learning "no doubt , rather than a mere parliamentary junket . The wine was disgraceful . Bring back Lord Irvine I cry.

The Campaign for Learning is a rather important organisation ; battling on behalf of learning - and not just " education ".I meet an old pal from the days when I was the Research Officer for the Transport and General Workers Union. We are talking the 70s here I might point out. He now works in UnionLearn at the TUC where they run a big multi million pound training programme for union members . This is one aspect of union work that is not often heard about . The strident tones of the trots tend to drown out the incredible work that goes on by unions in supporting their members in learning , health and welfare and support in times of trouble at work .

Post hoc , ergo propter hoc ......well Boris is making the use of Latin fashionable again and I am so old that I am one of the declining race of people that studied Latin at school.Indeed in those days you needed Latin to get into Oxford ! Anyway the tag sums up the logical fallacy that because b follows a , therefore b is caused by a . An obvious nonsense but that does not stop politicians using this illogicality to justify their prejudices.

A classic example was trotted out by Ian Duncan Smith ( the former Tory leader ) in the Commons recently in the debate on abortion etc . He had put down the amendment on the need for a father in decisions on fertilisation of embryos. He argued that because there is evidence that children in families without a father do less well than those with a father , therefore it is the absence of a father that has caused the problem . No evidence to support this assertion . He also made use of this classic logic fallacy when arguing for marriage when he produced his Breakdown Britain Report. So because in areas of severe social problem there are , statistically, less people in marriage , therefore social breakdown is caused by the decline in marriage.

But I'm just being picky .Why would you want evidence based policy making when glorying in your prejudice is so much more fun. I could go on ....unemployment is rising . There are many more migrants so they are stealing "our " jobs. A little more learning for our politicians might be a good thing . And IDS needs a crash course in logic.

We should feel for the people of Burma . Now that the Chinese are suffering from the effects of the terrible earthquake and are not now afraid of media coverage , people are forgetting the still massive problem of the cyclone ravaged Burma delta. My family have now had 2 emails from Rangoon . The first from the Bishop of Tanguo , who was about to go into Rangoon to help with the relief effort with other church members , and another from the Archbishop of Burma. I was at his enthronemnet a number of years back , and it was the last time I visited. It is clear there is terrible suffering , but it was also clear that his email had been vetted by the Junta. The evil and depravitiy of the generals appears to know no bounds . Will there be an end to this evil ? One must always believe that this can be so .

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Futurebuilders and vivat bacchus

Future Builders is a 215 m. investment fund set up by the Government to support third sector organisations bidding for public service contracts. The reality of funding for the sector is that it is , as a candidate for our Board put it , "deeply dysfunctional ". Most organisations are cut off from the normal loan funds available to the public and private sectors. That means whenever a third sector body wants to invest they spend all their time fundraising ( and that assumes they are the sort of cause that attracts funding !).
So 3 years ago Future Builder's (FBE ) was set up as a loan fund. (It was a fund championed by the then Chief Secretary of the Treasury , Paul Boateng MP . I was on Lambeth Council with Paul's wife Janet in the 80s. They are both now in South Africa where Paul is the British High Commissioner. And I had a rumbustious dinner with them last year in Cape Town . He is highly amused I am now FBE chair ! )
The FBE fund now gives the chance for the third sector to access capital . A noble experiment. As the Chair I need to help ensure the organisation delivers and grows.That means great governance. And for the last 2 days we have been selecting new trustees. A stunning line up of candidates ; from the very top of the investment and banking industry ; top names from such as Merril Lynch , JP Morgan ,Ambro ,for example , and who are teemed up with well known people from the third sector. My colleague Trustees on the panel are highly amused at the prospect of me chairing a Board of such expertise and experience. I am sorry I cannot yet reveal the names . But I am looking forward to doing just that . We used headhunters , Rockpools and they have really come up trumps for us with the sort of people many CEOs would be giving their right hands for . But we have them!
I report back to the Board of FBE this evening. We have also been reviewing the whole process for how we get investments out the door. We are looking at scrapping application forms . We must remember we are in the investment business and learn from how the commercial and venture capital sector do business . Focused . Efficient . Effective. Customer centred. But delivering a bigger role for third sector service delivery . We have a presentation from Ernst and Young on the re-engineering work they have undertaken .It is great to hear how staff have been heavily involved in the process as it is clear they want to ensure we achieve our mission.

Amusingly I rush straight from the Board which I chair to a dinner at CCLA for acevo chief executives to discuss strategic planning and the job of the CEO.We are producing a guide which we will launch at our Annual Conference. So I change hats in the tube. Just who is responsible for strategic direction? Is it shared ? Is it a Board job , or the CEO. One suggestion is for a survey of all acevo CEOS and Chairs asking them and comparing results!My dinner colleague Nick Aldridge unkindly remarks on how I might fill in my 2 forms and whether the answers would necessarily tally. Cruel . Jackie Ballard makes a forceful contribution on her expereinces from the RSPCA and from the RNID. She stresses the role of the CEO and their need for a "manifesto "about what they want to achieve , and a clear eye on the organisation's vision.

I am abstemious on the wine ( Shock - hold the front page.) but that was because the previous evening I was taken to a Wine Society tasting by the Editor of the Guardian's " Public " magazine ; a brilliant publication for public service managers and tackling some of the key strategic issues that affect the public ( and third ) sectors. David Walker ; for it is he , also regularly writes in Guardian Society . And to continue the Guardian theme ,is the partner of Polly Toynbee , another Guardian columnist and occasional flirter with the Tories . Or rather this may be them flirting with her ? There are 57 wines on offer for tasting . This might well have rendered me unconscious and at the very least made for a less than coherent blog. Some unkind souls might argue it usually is ? We clearly needed to ration , and what better method than the tried and tested capitalist system of Price. So we look at the accompanying order form and work through the most expensive. And exchange high level banter on weighty matters of state and . as the evening progresses , gossip .
I get home to read in The Times that the legendary American winemaker Robert Mondavi has died . His Californian wine estate and his superb wines acquired a huge international following.
His Obituary recalls a favourite toast ;

" Wine has been with us since the beginning of civilisation . It is the temperate , civilised , sacred and romantic mealtime beverage "

May he rest in peace.

Sunday 18 May 2008

social entreprise,Oxfam and a weary Sunday morn !

The Social Enterprise movement has brought a breath of fresh air to the third sector. At heart , the central proposition is that making a profit is a good thing. Trading for a social return . It has certainly become fashionable as politicians and Government rally to the cause . Why we even have Social Enterprise units in various government departments.
But the idea is not new . Charities have been trading for social returns for centuries. There was a 16th century Bishop of London who kept a money chest so that he could loan out to good causes . And the fact is that most " social enterprises " are actually registered charities.

I was reminded of this by the fact that this weekend is the 60th anniversary of the opening of the world's first charity shop ; Oxfam , Broad St , Oxford. They are holding a series of celebrations to mark the anniversary . And if charity shops are not social enterprises , what are ?

The story of how it happened is fascinating. Joe Mitty was Oxfam's first paid employee; responsible for admin and accounts . 60 years ago they opened the Broad St shop as a collection centre for items they were sending to war ravaged Europe.
Mitty realised quickly that they could sell goods to raise money so he made the shop more professional , smartening it up and it quickly started bringing in money . Since then oxfam have raised over 500m for the cause . And other charities have followed in their steps. Now there are over 7500 shops and with an annual turnover of over 550 ml .

acevo has a large number of Social Enterprise Chief Executives as members . Indeed the charming , the magnificent , the wonderful Alison Ogden Newton , the CEO of Social Enterprise London is acevo's Vice Chair. I cannot resist a tale that illustrates the talent of Alison . She was interviewing with me . We had a difficult choice. There were 2 good candidates. Alison summed up our dilemma. She said do we want this season's must have designer fashion accessory or do we want the trusty old suit ? Well , acevo is so not " old suit " .The choice was clear.

The No 74 bus . It has shot to fame after the interesting revelations by Cherie Blair of the goings on in the top deck ! Oh no , I thought , too much information . Would I ever look at No 74 bus in the face again , let alone board the upper deck . But be not afered. This 74 Route master has been replaced by a single decker. And it is now the 274.

I see that Cherie has been getting criticism from the lofty world of the legal establishment .His honour Mr Justice Pompous has opined that Cherie has brought the legal profession into disrepute . Goodness , you can just imagine Mr Justice Pompous at breakfast ; " sex" , "contraceptives " ...he must have been choking on his cornflakes. I wonder if this is one of those judges who bring the legal profession into disrepute with the great British public by asking " who are the Beatles ? "

Lets here it for salacious gossip and tittle tattle.I have thoroughly enjoyed the book extracts and I'm buying the real thing tomorrow. Don't be fooled by the noise . This is a seriously strong and talented woman .

I am often criticised for my over use of the blackberry . And it is true . I am in love with my little machine and I email at all times of the day and night. If you have a good idea , it needs to be disseminated . And immediately. I am always amused to discover just how many other people are similarly addicted . Why I had an email from the erudite Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee at 22.43 on Friday evening.And all through the weekend I get messages from staff and colleagues.

Mind you Saturday evening was an exception . I had read ( courtesy of the Saturday Daily Telegraph ) that Laurent Perrier have now brought out an ultra brut champagne . No added sugar at all . Just the thing for a diabetic I thought and so shared a bottle with my best friend at Kettners that evening. And then it was dinner and a superb Chassagne Montrachet , followed by a 1988 Claret . Now , It may be remarked , what is a charity chief executive doing in such a gross display of gourmandising ? Well all I can say is that when I was first appointed to a job as the Research Officer for the Transport and General Workers Union ( under the great Jack Jones ) I remember a trusty Union Official , known for his taste in things fine telling me , " remember Steve , nothing is too good for the workers. " And Nye Bevan was fond of Bollinger. So my view is that nothing is too good for the third sector .
Mind you I felt a bit delicate this morning.

Saturday 17 May 2008

a saturday morning

It was scary. Waking up to the voice of Margaret Thatcher . The Today programme were playing an excerpt from her Sermon ( sorry, speech ) to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Only someone of the monumental insensitivity of the Blessed Margaret would have delivered a talk on religion to the esteemed Elders of the Presbyterian establishment of Scotland . They were stunned. Perhaps the highlight was the re-interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan . Our Lord had apparently omitted to mention that the importance of this story was that the Samaritan could only perform his good deed because he was rich ! So good of Margaret to clarify that for us.Our Lord duly admonished. Gordon Brown is to address the Elders this morning . At least his Father was a Minister of the Kirk.I suspect he will be more warmly received.

I was so mesmerised by the story I nearly missed the Charlbury Evergreen's coffee morning and cake stall. You need to be up early to get the best cakes and I did not arrive till 9.30. Most cakes had gone but I managed to get the last walnut and fruit , and a pot of marmalade . Oh , and a white foxglove ( that's to plant not eat ).

My courtyard in the cottage is now looking fabulous. The first roses are out . I have a number of bourbon rose climbers. They are an old variety and the smell is enchanting.

I am afraid I have a confession . My Blog has been censored. One of my ever vigilant staff has spotted something I was not supposed to be writing about. So I had to agree to have it all removed. It's so Stalinist .It is as though I had never said it . I am now worried next time I blog I'll find my photo has been removed and I have become a non person . Mind you , they were right . I admit, " I have done those things which I ought not to have done , and there is no health in me " (Book of Common Prayer : General Confession ; but you knew that ...)

That's the trouble with CEOs . You just can't allow them out unsupervised. Its like the school kid , let out early from class , drunken in charge of an aerosol and busy spraying walls with graffiti.
So I'm sticking to safe subjects this morning .

Friday 16 May 2008

Bells and the health service

You know you are getting on when you arrive at the Doctor's surgery to be warmly greeted by name . I'm spending too much time here I thought . But what frustrates me is that I have had to take the day off to get to see the doctor for a blood test. And as my Doctor is in marvellous Charlbury I came up from London last night . So why could I not go to any hospital , or even Boots round the corner? And why are Doctor's not open at the weekends and evenings ? Of course , silly me ; I'm thinking the health service is run for the convenience of patients . Time for reform . The professionals have had it to easy for too long and they start needing to think more clearly about their customers. Just because it is the NHS why can't we get the same level of customer care you would demand if you went to a private clinic?

Yet again I think how we need a bigger role for the third sector in the NHS. One of my members runs a dental service in a deprived city in Southern England . The irrepressible Debbie Scott , the CEO of Tomorrow's People runs surgeries for people out of work in doctor's surgeries. She provides support and advice to many people on disability benefit who want to get back into employment. Perhaps she should take over the management of the surgeries themselves?

This week I spoke at the annual meeting of the NHS charities . A fine bunch . They have long and distinguished histories and , in some cases large endowments. I know the one at Guys and Tommies in London well from the 2 decades I was on the health authorities in South London. But I encourage them to be more outward focused ; looking at their local communities , at health promotiom work and at their local health charities , and not just fund capital work or work within the hospitals themselves. They do great work , for example at St Thomas's they supported the building of the Evalina Children's Hospital . This is crucial , but we also need money spent in supp roting communities to be healthy and to charities who work to keep people out of hospital . I talk of the work of Marie Curie and how there funding arrangements with the NHS mean they cannot meet all the requests they have for help to support people who want to die at home. And , of course , when they cannot help , people end up in an expensive hospital bed. How clever is that ? Alan Johnston - get it sorted.

A call from an acevo member . Chief Executive of a good charity and social enterprise . They have a serious funding crisis around their public sector contracts . Whilst I believe contracting for public services is crucial to public service reform for our sector , the contracting system is imperfect and convoluted. I help with what information I can . But I like the description she gives of the CEO job , she says it is like a white knuckle ride. It is a shame this is so often the experience of a third sector chief executive. it should not be like this . We should be able to concentrate on the job of delivering our mission .Not tackling the deficiencies of the state 's imperfect system for engagement with our sector. It is why acevo has spent so much time lobbying Government to secure changes to funding and procurement regimes. The battle continues.

Now the talking point in Charlbury has been the incident in the Tower ! The bell tower of the Parish Church to be precise. At bell ringing practice on Wednesday ( St Mary's has a fine peel of bells ) one of the ringers , our friend Mr Merry was not paying sufficient attention and gets tangled in the bell rope and lifted into the heavens and deposited rather firmly back on the floor , concussed and with a broken collar bone. Oh dear . They cannot get him down the narrow stairs so the fire brigade are called and they hace to cut a large hole in the floor of the tower and lower him out. A major news item on BBC news Oxford . It all goes on in the Oxfordshire countryside you know!

Thursday 15 May 2008

The Compact; a real voice for the third sector ?

In 1998 the Government signed a " Compact" with the third sector. This was a framework for relationships between us and Government ; setting out standards on issues like funding and consultation . It was a remarkable step forward. NCVO , who spearheaded this move did a huge service to sector - government relations. It continues to underpin relations between us and is now being seen as a model in countries across the world. I have had talks with Governments in Australia , Canada and Israel , for example on how to introduce an effective Compact to underpin their relationships with civil society and how to learn from our experience.

But like all agreements that are 10 years old they become frayed at the edges and people get cynical when , for example , some local authorities not only don't implement it but have not even heard of it ! So in acevo we pressed for the creation of the post of Compact Commissioner. It was one of the key outcomes of acevo's Surer Funding report . I remember having a discussion with the head of the Active Community unit in the Home Office ( the forerunner of the current Office of the Third Sector ) and he was clear that they needed to put some welly behind the Compact , especially on funding issues , and so decided to create the Commissioner Post.

But now we need to go further and we need to give the Commissioner statutory powers. We have been lobbying hard for this move . I met Ed Miliband ( the Cabinet Office minister ) today and told him the results and urged him to give this serious consideration. i think we will see progress . The case is so clear . It is not if but when . And I have been disappointed that Compact Voice , which is the sector body that draws together organisations to promote the Compact has not been as far behind this as it should. However I think the new Chair , Simon from the brilliant charity Brook Advisory services will help pull us all together in support of statutory powers. We must all work together to ensure the powers are strong enough to give real bite. The newly appointed Compact Commissioner is Bert Massie , a doughty fighter for disabled rights. He is not going to stand any nonsense and we will soon see some action I suspect....

The day started off well when I met the CEO of the Shell Foundation ( after my work out at the gym ! ) who has some very interesting experience in investing in and developing third sector bodies in various parts of the world , including Africa. He was clear that it is never enough to just invest , without also providing support for business development . It is a lesson we have learnt in the Adventure Capital Fund ( which I chair ) and we do exactly that when we support our Community Enterprise projects with investment money , but also business development grants. i love the role with ACF. There are some fantastic community organisations around the country who , often despite the odds stacked against them by the bureaucracy do great things in their locality. one of the exciting developments has been the growth of what are termed " community anchors " which provide premises to support local groups , enterprises and charities . The Government have allocated a large fund to support the growth of these and we hope to play our part in this bold programme. Hazel Blears and her staff at DCLG ( the community and local government department ) are keen to see thriving communities and I have been in full discussion on how to support them in achieving this.

So that' s enough of the heavy stuff. Its time to get the train to Charlbury . i have a 3 month blood test tomorrow to check on how far my diet and gym work has got me in tackling the diabetes. Fingers crossed....and at least the geraniums are getting lots of rain!

Wednesday 14 May 2008

your Voice

Just back from the " your voice " event which Gordon Brown and a whole posse of Cabinet members held at the Bermondsey Community Centre. Today he outlined his plans for what should be in the Queens Speech and opened it up for consultation . Having outlined his plans in Parliament he then came out for the first in a whole series of public meetings around the country to consult people on what they think should be in the Queens Speech.
So there was a mixture of local people and community activists from Bermondsey ( I was on a table with people from the famous Aylesbury Estate.) There were also a sprinkling of Third sector national folk , so as well as myself on behalf of acevo ,there was Clare Tickell from NCH, Jon Bland from Social Enterprise, Ben Kernigan from NCVO and Bob Reitemeir from Children's Society - all members of acevo ( even Ben whom I am pleased to say is one of our associate members ).I sat next to Clare and she made a superb contribution on young people. I met her Chair last night and we both agreed that Clare is one of the sector's leading CEOs. NCH is a superb children's charity , providing essential children focused services and acting as a voice for children and young people generally.
One of the key points in the speech ( from GB rather than the Queen ) was the need for public swervice reform to go deeper and broader.he spoke of the need for more " diversity of supply " and how public services must be " shaped by you the user " . its absolutly the right message. Public services must be reformed and our third sector role as advocate and voice for citizens and communities and our role in providing citizen focused services is crucial to radical reform . He knows that and tomorrow I will be talking to Ed Miliband about how we can drive that agenda forward in a way that is more than just rhetoric.Charities and community enterprise is the key to success . just give us the tools to do it Gordon.
It is easy to be cynical about such Government run consultation exercises , and the elaborate attempt to get down and dirty in a community centre but these are good opportunities to fly the flag for community and citizen empowerment.
And I was so chuffed to arrive at the Centre to be warmly greeted by an old guy who remembers me from my days as a well known Lambeth we are talking the 80s here so anyone who remembers this must be a star. I remind my staff they are so lucky to have a working class hero as their boss but they look confused .
Hazel Blears , Jacqui Smith, Ed Balls, Harriet Harman and Alan Johnston are all there too.Hazel as always looks chirpy. I had a chat afterwards and as it was her birthday had not the heart to say I was not at all sure on her idea ( as heard on the morning's Today programme )about holding Cabinet Meetings in Town Halls! )Somehow I think its the quality of the decision that matters not the venue for the decision making , but hey why not!
I'm afraid Gordon does not look exactly care free but it was good to be able to make the point to him that the Government has made strong advances on the third sector , even if more remains to be done.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

care consulation - Our Voice !

Straight off the train from Leeds to the launch of the Government's major consultation on the social care system . On current trends there will be a 6 million pounds deficit in funding in future , in a system that is already cracking and where patent unfairness and inequality exist. As Polly Toynbee points out in a forceful article in the Guardian this morning , the baby boomer generation 9 of which I am a proud member ) will not put up with crap care and will be demanding personal services of the very best . But who will pay?
The Government are to be congratulated ( and Ivan Lewis the care minister in particular ) on launching this wide and broad consultation.
And it must be serious as we have no less that 3 Cabinet Ministers in the room . James Purnell , Hazel Blears and Alan Jonston.
James and Hazel in particular are superb . James is a real star and , along with Ed Miliband my tips for the very top in a future Labour Government . When that will be is an altogether different matter !

I believe the so called " personalisation agenda that Gordon brown has been advocating is key to driving forward public service reform . And the role of the third sector is paramount to this agenda. Although Government half gets this they still don't seem to be able to follow the logic through to empowering the sector with full cost funding , long term contracts and building organisational capacity.
Ivan Lewis makes a crucial point ; you cannot only talk about personal agendas without also talking about collective voice too. One of the crucial functions of our sector organisations is acting as voice and advocate for citizens , for clients and patients who often face enormous difficulty against the impenetrable walls of state and local authority bureaucracy. You cannot just empower individuals without empowering a collective voice . Spot on Ivan .
one of my Board members is Stephen Burke , who runs Counsel and Care. he is on the platform . he has been playing a crucial role behind the scenes in pushing this agenda. he rightly gets mentioned in the Polly Toynbee article .We chat with David Brindle of the Guardian afterwards and David remarks that the event is well and truly historic as it is the first he has attended where Bubb has not asked a question and banged the third sector drum. So , so true. the problem was I got stuck in a taxi and arrived at the end of the 3 Cabinet Ministers presentations and even I did not have the cheek to come straight in with a question on points i had not heard....David was surprised I was being so coy.
We are alerting all our 2200 members to the consultation and the need to respond.

Poor Gordon . you have to sympathise. First a left hook from Cherie on Saturday and then a right hook ( so to speak ) from " Prezza " on Sunday.Its all trivia of course , but then that's what makes it fun! I loved the story of Cherie introducing Chris Smith to Princess Margaret and she introduces hid partner . " Partner in what" says HRH . "Sex" replies Cherie. Good for Cherie!
The reason I was late for the consultation was that I had bean in Leeds at our acevo north office there and talking through our stakeholder and sector engagement strategy. We have bold plans and big ambitions for driving forward the professional agenda in the third sector in the North . Jenny , our newly appointed Director wants a big programme of professional development and representation for members , and we must expand our membership and reach so we can increasingly speak for the sector in the North. capacity building for our sector is the way in which we can make our voice heard and drive up the delivery of services through organisations close to their communities and to citizens.

i had an amazingly refreshing Whitsun weekend. the sun was glorious and the bottle of wine I consumed sitting in my courtyard watching the sun disappear was particularly agreeable. When they roll me into the high quality care home to which my loving partner will consign me I will have vetted the wine list in advance.And the cuisine had better be of the standard to which the third sector properly aspires.

Saturday 10 May 2008

geraniums , ITV and the CEO job

Set the alarm early. It's the day off the Charlbury Society annual plant sale. It's popular and so I arrive 15 minutes early and get in the queue. 15 ahead of me , so with careful planning I should get what I want. And I read the Cherie Booth memoirs in TheTimes as I wait. I am an admirer of Cherie. She was our guest speaker at our annual conference 2 years ago. She gave an erudite and witty speech on the importance and relevance of human rights. She made a point of speaking to many members and I had a great discussion over dinner. Her media reputation is just so unlike how she really is. I shall be buying the book.And when I saw her recently at the Tony Blair lecture in the Cathedral , she seemed so much more relaxed and in charge...I guess the final years in No 10 must have been draining on her in particular. She clearly loves being able to get out in the country at weekends ; hence the recently acquired stately home. I know the feeling , though mine's a cottage I'm afraid ! All the pictures of her new pile show Sir John Gielgud in situ . Did they buy it complete with Sir John . I think we should be told.

Anyway i get all my geraniums and lots of lovely bedding plants . The place is empty in about half an hour flat ! Country people are no slouches at this game !

The last few days have been taxing. I had one of those CEO moments on Thursday , when you need to make a decision and it is not immediately apparent what to do , and there is a heavy risk involved.But being a wise CEO I ensure I talk to my Chairman before deciding. And I am lucky I have a strong and supportive Chair . I go for the risk ! acevo would not be what it is today if I had ever been cautious! Lets hope it not a wrong one this time !

Burma continues to dominate the news and i feel a mixture of horror and anger every time I see the pictures of death and destruction .It is hard to imagine the depth of the depraved minds of the Burmese generals. Still feeling upset I ring the DEC fundraising line and make a generous donation . it is the least I can do , but it is a feeble effort in the face of such a tragedy.

On Friday comes news of the incompetence of the BBC and their abject failure to run a helpline and so keep money owed to charity. I am phoned by ITV who want a comment I give them my view. I say it is not enough to repay the money with interest . They have further undermined confidence in helplines , which are a strong source of funding for our sector. So I say damages are essential . i demand that the BBC make a generous 0.5m donation to the Burma emergency appeal. they want me to go on ITV news to say so . But I am in Charlbury writing 2 papers to submit to Government and so suggest they use my brilliant Head of Policy , Seb Elsworth . They agree. The problem is , as I discover , he is improperly dressed ; it being dress down Friday ( a habit I deplore and do not follow myself ) .I tell him I am not having any of my staff appearing before the great British viewing public in rags so dispatch him to Oxford St to get a shirt , tie and jacket. it is the first time he has done a TV slot. And I must say he does it superbly. Very photogenic and he makes his points clearly and strongly. Calls the BBC " shabby " That's my boy .

I still have not finished my proposals. Had an interesting meeting with the top guy at DCLG on Thursday and want to follow up with suggestions about how the third sector can deliver community empowerment.It's a strong passion of Hazel Blears so I want to ensure our voice is strong in the debate. And acevo , which knows how to engage and supprot , can make a real contribution. The notion among those still living in the hippy sector , that all government is evil and so no contact can be good , does a huge disservice to our sector and those we serve. It is our duty ,and occasionally , a joy to engage. And if we gain advances for our people then that must be good.

But I must finish . I am off to Oxford to see my nephew Julian , who is reading History and German at Keble. We will have tea at the Randolph.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

interviewing ,Burma , becoming old and talent.

An uneventful bank holiday meant I read a book! Anita Brookner - 50p and bought off the hospice stall outside the library in Charlbury. The Bay of Angels ; I finished it off on the train back to London and left it on my seat ; a random act of kindness . I wonder who picked it up and is reading it now? I guess my staff are thankful I was reading Anita rather than on my blackberry...

Tuesday and I am interviewing for the Chair of the FBE Investment Committee....5 brilliant people , top of their professions ...I guess I better say no more as at least one of them said they had read my blog! But these were people from the very top of the commercial and investment banking industry. Rockpools , the search company , have really found us quality. When you are running a body that will be playing a major role in the sector's capacity building you need to have the best on your governance board. And we shall.

Bizarrely I read that we are being criticised ( just 4 weeks into our contract ) for encouraging a "sub prime " market ! As the rule for investment by FBE ,since it was set up 3 years ago, is only to invest in non bankable projects , this seems an interesting redefinition of the term , or perhaps a misunderstanding of the role . Or , heaven forbid , a bit of mischief ? But we shall deal with this by making appointments to our Investment Committee of real experts in investment and venture capital. They probably do understand sub prime.

But then its off to the Gym . I have now joined up to the Oasis centre in Holborn . A great facility , with wonderful outdoor pool run by Greenwich Leisure - a third sector organisation . Of course the Ayatollahs of the sector would probably turn their noses up at me calling them " third sector" as they were a spin off from the local authority but they have transformed leisure centres in London from the dreadful facilities run by staid and tired local authorities into well used and customer friendly organisations.
Amusingly when I signed up for the Gym the lady on the desk spotted my date of birth and asked ," was I over 55 ?". And when I said yes she told me , "oh well , you qualify for the older person discount then" .So there you have it...I'm officially an old person . Still i get in half price so am I complaining . Bring on the free bus pass I say.

Lunch at the Atheneum today with an old friend , the General Secretary of the FDA , the trade union for the senior civil service . He is the Permanent Secretaries Convener , so we have a good gossip and mull over the political runes. And , as old people do , we muse on our health !
I reckon I deserve a good lunch after a meeting with all my staff at acevo . I tell them we need to be focusing on the bottom line , and making a profit. Only if we make profit can we develop services for our members .Too many sector bodies think profit is a dirty word . I want it . And in spades. And I have no doubt my team will deliver it. As a group of staff I could not hope for a brighter , more talented bunch . We may only be 30 ( with a bunch of itinerant interns too ) but the output and the delivery of acevo is second to none. As a CEO I am intolerant of inefficiency and incompetence but I believe in developing and promoting talent. A great example of this is in the front page story on Third Sector today. It was something my new policy guy developed and he is quoted. Ralph Michell...remember the name. He is heading for stardom .A First from Oxford.A fierce intellect. An inquiring mind and a maturity beyond his years: yet another star in the bright firmament that is acevo.
And then onto the Board of the Adventure Capital Fund which I chair.Its a great Board , though not one of the shy and retiring. But I believe in firm time keeping and keeping to the point so we are finished in time for me to get home for The Archers.

But a sad night . 100,000 dead in Burma . Perhaps more. This is a disaster ,but what makes it more appalling is the behaviour of the evil group of generals who run their brutal dictatorship and whose interest in the welfare of the people is not as important as their own survival .They will rot in hell but in the meantime people die .I have many friends in Burma , in the Anglican Church there. I have been there on several occasions ; the last time for the Enthronement of the current Archbishop of Burma when I even got arrested for being in a prohibited place. My mother is trying to get information about the people we know but there is practically no communication out of the country . We don't know the state of the casualties , or whether the Churches have survived. A marvellous people who we must help.

Monday 5 May 2008

DWP , brainstorms and graves

Lunch on Thursday at the Reform Club ; with Leigh Lewis , the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions, and Tony Hawkhead , the CEO of Groundwork , a major charity working in regeneration and with huge experience of getting jobs for the most excluded communities . We are talking about how the third sector can play a bigger role in the job market. relationships have been difficult since the row over the Pathways to Work debacle last year. But we need to work more closely together if we are to make a dent in the 3.3 ml people on long term benefit.
We have ideas for this which is why Tony and I are talking to Leigh. He is keen to work with us ; and you somehow know with him that if he is on side then things will move. And i have also been in discussion with James Purnell ; one of the best members of the current Cabinet. he is a fiercely bright , ambitious and smart guy . He is clear on the role of the sector , and determined to follow through the Freud Report. This looks at the much greater use of the third sector and the private sector in delivering services to those who have been out of work for more than a year.
The reform of our public services is an ongoing demand of our sector. Citizen focused services , delivered for people according to their needs not the predetermined objectives of state silos. Its great that acevo has been able one of the leaders for such reform .

then its off to Charlbury . I am having a brainstorm with my Deputy ; Dr Kyle and my Head of Policy Seb Elsworth ; they are both great guys , brains and talent , what more can a CEO ask for ! We spend the day reviewing our plans for the future, dissecting problems , sharing concerns and , in particular , mapping out the way forward. acevo is in a good place ; widely seen as the leading policy voice of the sector and the strongest advocate of a professional sector led by strong Leaders.We have been growing apace. But you can never be complacent as a CEO. Get complacent and you are headed for a fall. So we need to manage our growth . I am lucky to have such good brains around me to plan.
But we do not forget to feed the body as well as the soul . So we are off to the Bull at lunch time for a mouth watering roast leg of local lamb. Its hard to beat a relaxing lunch in an English pub , with good food and a pint of the finest of English bitters...i guess this is what Gordon has in mind when he goes om about Britishness ? Though up in the Cotswolds we take the view that a certain ironic detachment to patriotism is what actually marks out an Englishman.Flagpoles in ones garden , American style , would be regarded with distaste up here . And , in any case , would not get planning permission.

Which brings us to the elections. Poor Ken . A Lambeth boy, and a former Lambeth Councillor ( like me, I was elected to the council for a brief 4 years in Clapham Town ward in 1982 ) . So I was sad to see him go But that's politics...must get Boris to an acevo lunch. One of the lunches we do at RBS where they serve Chassagne Montachet ; he will like that.

And so we remember that we are here for an alloted span and then above ( as the hymn writer has it ) i have finally completed my arrangmeents for my grave . I have paid for my plot in the new Cemetary in Charlbury . The old cemetary is nearly full and they have opened a beautifull plot in a field on a gentle slope in a green lush valley at the edge of the village .iI shall be happy resting here. Though I am not planning to do so for some time yet! Stuart and all my colleagues will be relieved to hear.