Tuesday, 22 July 2008

amendments and dining with the Board

The Guardian has a policy of correcting factual mistakes., if not of interesting reporting . So my Blog should do likewise.

First I made a serious omission in reporting on my lunch with Peter Wanless , CEO of the Big Lottery Fund. I omitted to mention the tie he was wearing . Such things are , of course, important in judging character . And Peter emails me to point out that he was indeed wearing what he describes as ," a rather fetching Kenzo number ". And he was right . It was . A fellow devotee of Duchamp , we must get together and support the retying of James Purnell project , as his Private office are obviously not up to the challenge.

And then the Charity Commission . As I said in my Blog on Saturday I had not read the full judgment on the John Smith Institute. My two brain Policy Head has now done this. And his view is that the ruling is sound , and does not bear out the reportage in the Guardian . The judgment is based on a risk based approach . So it is not arguing you should not have meetings at No 10 or 11 but that if the majority of your meetings are there it could give the perception of a bias. And they are not arguing you should not have politicians or that they make political comments , just that you need to ensure there is a balanced approach . This is indeed sensible . And it is important that as charities we retain our independence and our ability to both support Government when they do what is right and in accord with out mission , but also that we are critical in approach so we examine what the alternative positions are.

I speak to Andrew Hind of the Charity Commission and I am reassured about the judgment. And I send it to all my members so that they can judge for themselves.As he says the Commission has been at pains to support the right of charities to campaign and advocate . This is crucial to our role . And such activity will often be political . But a balanced approach is key and perceptions of bias could damage trust and confidence. So the key here is not that we stop doing what may be seen as political , at the edge and difficult , simply that we cannot afford to be seen as strongly aligned to one political party , as opposed to another. I hope that the reporting does not scare off charities campaigning hard as it is crucial to what we do , and core to our role as civil society. Edgy , outspoken and not afraid to upset. Its what we do .Thank God.

There was a wonderful article in the Observer at the weekend which reported on Australia Federal Court judgment . This struck down an oppressive and rather silly state law that had made it an offence to "annoy " catholics. This was done in advance of the visit of the Pope. They said this law was " repugnant to fundamental rights and freedoms at common law " freedom of speak cannot be maintained in a society where nobody ever says anything subversive or inflammatory. Spot on Australia. Shame on the mother country that we are wiping out such freedoms , but hooray for the former colonies protecting them .

I have an FBE day , and the evening is a Board meeting . It is a distinguished Board , and with a large collection of skill , experience and view , not necessarily conducive to timely Chairing. But actually it is disciplined and supportive. The comments are nearly always of use in taking the mission forward. We discuss the re changing and reforming nature of the new FBE regime . Our mission to get closer to the customer , but also clearer on our mission to drive up service delivery . We discuss the targeting of areas of underinvestment like offender management . We are setting up a new product to help third sector bodies in the drive to outsource services from Probation to the sector. We have a first meeting of the MoJ -acevo task force tomorrow . Jonathan Lewis, our CEO, is a member as is Rob Owen who runs the St Giles Trust (one of my members and an FBE board member).

There have been various behind the scenes discussions between acevo and the MoJ to get this off the ground. I cannot report that these have always been entirely smooth and amicable , but then Government often finds the third sector puzzling and perplexing. Good we have acevo leading the charge , and fearless in pursuit of the right path .

After the FBE Board we have supper together . It's a relaxing occasion and one where you can get to know fellow Board members at a more personal and intimate level . I sit next to Kevin Carey who I like more and more. It helps he is a committed lay reader in the dear old CoE. And on the correct wing of that Church . And how can you not but like someone who not only knows one of my favourite choral pieces; Stanford's setting of Evensong in G , but then sings the opening lines . Which are , if you do not know them , spine jingling. And I talk recession and Government policy towards, with Harriett Baldwin , ex JP Morgan , Chair of our Investment Committee and Tory candidate for Malvern . She is about to go to Rwanda to look at developing micro credit organisations there . But no time to see the gorillas . Bad decision!

And we have sun .I have a rare moment of contemplation sitting in Soho Square eating my sushi lunch ; note the healthy eating option which I blow at dinner by having a glorious steak . But I did do the gym first thing!

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