Thursday, 17 July 2008

Loving the French and Balls

Every so often you have a meeting with someone and you know they are kindred spirits. So it was with Hugues Sibille who is the Directeur Général Délégué of Credit Coopératif. His is the largest third sector bank in the country. He is also the Chair of their venture capital fund and is fascinated by Futurebuilders. He thinks it's a great name. So I agree that my CEO and I will meet their people to talk about how we do social investment perhaps a little too far off doing joint projects? I must mention to OTS! He is also a key figure in the last Government in France when he was Director of the Inter-ministerial Liaison Department for Social Economy - a role that is similar to a brief to cover the third sector, or the social economy as they describe it. .

I like the French. What I particularly like is being able to talk about food and wine with people who take it for granted that you should enjoy this and be knowledgeable about the finer aspects of such. Mention a liking for fine wine in the UK and you are immediately thought of as a snob or dilettante the French find this Anglo Saxon puritanism puzzling.

Hugues is a man who knows his claret Chateaux and appellations. We agree over lunch that there are few things finer in life than a top white Burgundy, though like me he is unclear as to whether he prefers a Chassagne or a Puligny Montrachet. I have taken them for lunch at the British Museum. It's a great restaurant and it has the advantage that you contribute to the running of a magnificent third sector institution rather than putting money into the pockets of the private sector.

I manage to spend a whole afternoon in the office and wander around raising morale, spreading ideas and encouraging ever more delivery. Preferably immediately when it comes to my latest thoughts and suggestions. It is with expressions of relief all round when I finally leave to go to a DCFS reception that Ed Balls is throwing for stakeholders.

He says "partnerships are often uncomfortable; but that is how they should be". That is absolutely right. If we can't give grief when things go wrong but also praise when they are right there is no point in a partnership. I believe this strongly in acevo. We will always work with Government to get a better deal. I will always give support to the right policies and not be afraid to say so, even when other parts of the sector are being critical. But no one would ever suggest I don't bite the hand that feeds us. If a Department screws up, like MoJ are doing now and DWP have done in the past, I'm the first to say so. No one who castigated DWP with such force as I do when they "comprehensively stuffed" us but also key to how to manage acevo is that I always offer a way to put things right. So with DWP we set up the Macdonald Enquiry and we are now working closely with James Purnell on reform. And with MoJ we have a Taskforce to establish to try and pull things back from the disaster of the unimplemented Offender Management Act.

I move effortlessly from chatting to Ed Balls to the Award Ceremony for the Centre for Social Justice - the Ian Duncan Smith lot. I have a good discussion with Francis Maude on commissioning. We are doing work to feed into his Review. It is essential that if the Government changes they have policies for the sector that work for us.

I meet a lot of people, thanks to the introductions of Harriett Baldwin, the Tory expert on social enterprise and who is my Vice Chair at FBE. I'm tipping her to be the Third Sector Minister- its very clear Greg Clark is destined for great things. His interview in Third Sector is very revealing. I doubt it will be long before he has a Front Bench brief. He should.

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