Saturday 30 August 2008

Excellence, Pershore and neighbours

I've been reading a Government white paper , as you do ! Its called " Excellence and Fairness : Achieving world class public services . " For a document with such a lofty title you could expect much . But much is not delivered . This is the mouse that roared. It is a document that speaks volumes about the dichotomy of Government policy on the public service . On the one hand wanting to keep professional public servants working in state services on side , and on the other wanting more diversity of provision ,especially through the third sector. And the problem with trying to steer a middle path is that you get run over !As they do here.

One of the byproducts of a degree in philosophy is that you take a close interest in the actual words people use . So when the document talks of public service workers we have the language of " empowerment " . And what do we read for the third sector ? Well , the Government are going to continue to " expand opportunities" , whatever that might mean .There is a vast gulf in meaning between empowerment and opportunity. We shall be dissecting this document and ensuring we send a strong message to the Cabinet Office. Get off the fence and start empowering the sector. And by that I mean actually giving us the services to deliver. Not opportunities . Not talk . But actuality.

I am not suggessting that the Government are not commited to more delivery through the third sector ; they clearly are . But the mechanisms to achive this have to be strengthened and a determined push given to expanding our role , even when the public sector unions whine and complain . So backbone Ed . This is no time to take ythe foot off the pedal .

We intend to keep up the pressure on this from acevo . In the autumn we are launching a series of lectures on the theme of ; " Capturing the public services for the citizen ". There will be a publication; and you can be sure it will have more backbone than the one I have been reading! The series starts off with James Purnell ( no slouch when it comes to sector service delivery ) then Francis Maude ,Trevor Philipps and Hazel Blears. And a galaxy of respondents for each lecture . Details in the acevo website. Be there.

And be clear ; this is not just about our delivery role . it is also about that crucial role we play in campaigning and advocacy for better services. Acting as a voice for citizens and communities , when so often the public services are run for the convenience of those who work in them .

Yesterday I had a splendid day in Pershore . I was having lunch with Harriett Baldwin , who is Vice Chair of Futurebuilders. But more importantly Harriett is the next MP for West Worcestershire . a beautiful constituency that covers the Malverns and Pershore and other splendid parts of the Cotswolds . The Bredon Hills are celebrated in poetry of Housman and Betjamin . And it is Vaughan Williams country , one of my favourite composers whose death 50 years ago was remembered last week .We were having a catch up on FBE tender plans and prospects for a Social Investment Bank. Harriett , who was until recently at JP Morgan as one of their managing directors is someone who will clearly go far in the Tory Party. A sharp mind and charming personality. She is a real asset to Futurebuilders; with her vast experience of investment policy she chairs our Investment Committee and so ensures a good mix of private sector investment nous , with the third sector knowledge she brings from the work she has done with Greg Clarke on social enterprise. Indeed we have a brief visit to the local arts centre , established as a social enterprise ! She has just got back from Rwanda where she and others ( including Francis Maude )have been advising on micro credit . Francis was doing some teaching in local schools apparently. A great thing to do.

And our 2 dogs got on very well together as they sat in her car whilst we ate the wonderful Pershore plums . I went for a walk round the town afterwards and visited the sadly truncated Abbey (naughty Henry V111 )and bought a large bag of the local plums ; they are the best in the country.

And talking of Tories ,Charlbury is in David Cameron's constituency . My neighbour here is the Secretary of the local Labour Party ( at 75 no less ) and as we chat she tells me that the DC's neighbour in the cottage next door ,up road from Charlbury ,has joined the Labour Party . That will provide for interesting talk over the fence ( or more likely dry stone wall in these parts ) !

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