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 ?

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