Tuesday 30 September 2008

Back from Birmingham

Exhausted . Sleep deprivation (though entirely my own fault) and drinking and eating the wrong things . But it has been fascinating to be at the Conservative Party Conference , particularly as the world financial crisis unfolds. Arriving Sunday I spend the evening at various of the third sector events and receptions . I pop into the Barnardo's fringe ; they have Nick Herbert , who is a particular favourite and who has been pushing what I regard as a good and radical agenda on crime , prisons and rehabilitation . I speak to Martin Narey , who is a fantastic CEO and a person I admire for a no nonsense approach to sector issues. I have a quick word with Nick Herbert and we agree to meet up to pursue this agenda . I am going to arrange a round table with leading CEOs in the crime sector to talk through the role we can play and how this can be expanded.

There is also a fringe by the LGA with EricPickles , who I know from local government days . It's packed out ; Eric seems a popular lad! Then onto the reception for the main children's charities (Barnardo's , Action for Children , The Children's Society , Save the Children and NSPCC). There is a slightly curious contribution from Michael Gove. He is a great speaker and writer but his main point seems to be that the charities carry on " nagging" . He means this positively , but it is slightly odd to talk to third sector bodies who between them deliver a substantial proportion of the country's children services. Yes , campaigning is important . But these days our role has moved on to the development of policy and delivery . We only nag when we need to and as a last resort . Nagging is important at times , but not as important as changing children's lives for the better through effective services and good legislation . I chat to him afterwards.

The Guardian party is an interesting affair. Not quite as jam packed with prominent shadow ministers and thinkers as was the case in Manchester when you could hardly move for Cabinet Ministers . The Telegraph party the following night was much more promising ; though they were not serving champagne. Frankly , if you can't get good champagne at a Tory Conference , the country must be in a state . I am glad to report however that the Bell Pottinger party was afloat on magnums of Mumm.

I go into the Conference for the debate on crime. There is a huge contrast with the same debate in Manchester . There is constant reference to the role of third sector organisations ; it comes up in questions and speeches . They even showcase the work of 2 charities ; notably Rob Owen of the St Giles Trust , who is on a panel on the stage . Rob is an acevo member , and as a former investment banker , is an FBE non exec. Damien Green and Nick Herbert are speaking. Nick's speech is impressive . I find myself agreeing strongly with about 75% and strongly disagreeing with25% (especially the cheap jibe about the Human Rights Act , though I guess that is just a bit of red meat for the bigots). He is clear about the need for a strong programme that puts rehabilitation at the heart of prison work . He points out what ought to be glaringly obvious; that much crime is committed by people who have already been in prison . He argues that prison reform has to be a top priority for Government and pours scorn on the unprogressive record of government . It is astonishing how far Labour have moved from a progressive approach on crime and rehabilitation . And crucially , at Manchester there was not one single mention of the third sector's role . Not one. We were invisible to Labour but prominently visible here . If Labour do not get a grip with this agenda they will pay the price. The same thing happens in the afternoon when Chris Grayling makes clear that he wants third sector organisations playing a crucial role in delivery and showcases the work of the sector. At least in this case James Purnell is also a big fan of a bigger sector role.

I go to 2 sector fringes; CAF have an interesting session on philanthropy and whether we should encourage a 1% norm for giving . As the Tory spoke on culture , Richard Hunt argues our level of giving is only 0.7% in the UK but is 1.7% in the States. If we could encourage people to give 1% of their income to charity we make millions for our sector . Many disagree with this approach . I am torn . What is your view?

The ncvo fringe takes the courageous step of being held well away from the Conference , so me and my colleague Peter take 35 minutes finding the venue. As a consequence there are plenty of sector people there , but practically no one from the Conference . Is this a missed opportunity ? We have a strong message to give to the Conservatives ; we don't do that well by debating amongst ourselves. Greg Clark is there and spends a good few hours with people there so that is valuable. Greg is good; he takes time to listen and explain and he clearly wants to develop Tory policy in a positive way . He has a very charming and courteous manner and deals with self evidently potty ideas with style. I have a meeting with him in the morning and we go through forward plans in acevo and I talk him through some of the emerging ideas in Futurebuilders.

Before heading back to London I meet up with the key figures behind the new Third Sector Research Centre , which is to be based in Birmingham . This is an exciting development for our sector, The research base is week . We know we provide added value through our service delivery ; but where is the hard evidence . It needs to be gathered . acevo will be playing a crucial role in the work stream on service delivery . We want to ensure this is action research that we can then play into the work we are doing with Government on policy on commissioning.

Now time to prep for an interview on Sky News on how the recession will affect the sector . We have done interesting research on this with the Charities Aid Foundation . Things are getting bad for the sector . We are gathering evidence on this and I am looking for people to let me know what is going on . So use the comments system and let me know what is happening in your charity .

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Flood and Currie

Always good to get feedback from members. Tom Flood , CEO of BTCV and one of my acevo Board members takes me to task over my blog on social enterprise and David Freud's comment that none seem to have grown to scale. he says that BTCV , the largest conservation volunteering charity in the country , has a social enterprise that turned over 10m last year and helped over 8000 people get new skills . So that's a point. And are there others? Comments please.

And today I saw Robin Currie , the CEO of PSS, and a member of our arts and heritage special interest group , who was commenting on my blog on the mutant cows of Liverpool , which I should more properly refer to as superstarry lamb banana . Apparently these are now being auctioned off for thousands of pounds . So its ART !! And I called it a mutant cow.

Robin was at an all day event that acevo had organised with ACE , which is our sister organisation of Chief Executives of Government Agencies or quangos , as they are often known. This leadership event was the brain child of the Cabinet Secretary who wants to encourage more interchange between agencies and the third sector . it was a fascinating day and with a good exchange of views and opinions . We debated the role of the sector in delivering services , and great contributions from Ben Wittenberg of the DSC , Ann Blackmore of NCVO and the charming and erudite Alison Benjamin who is the Deputy Editor of Guardian Society ( a favourite paper of mine , especially when they wisely quote me ). Alison in particular was challenging . Do we always live up to our claims that we provide added value or are innovative or closer to our users? the evidence base is weak , though that does not , in my view , weaken the claims . It just means we need to gather the evidence - which is why we now have the newly established third Sector research centre , supported by acevo.

I left them at it midday as we had one of our acevo " Learning with Leaders" lunches with guest speaker Bert Massie , the Compact Commissioner .We were discussing the issue of whether the Commissioner post should be made statutory. A no brainer of a question obviously , but we do have to go through the motions of debating it ; after all we are the third sector in which no proposition however obvious is not worth an argument . I think we do still have a Flat Earth Society ? Simon Blake , acevo member who runs Brook is the chair of the Compact voice and a generally good thing , was there arguing a very coherent case on this. He arrives looking somewhat under dressed as often , though spectacularly charming as always.

Back to the office to deal with issues arising from the Catz Club story in Third Sector yesterday . We have to review this , but it is frustrating that these were all decisions taken by the previous board and contract holders so they know better than I the story behind all this. Greg Clark ( the Tory Third Sector spoke person ) is asking for answers on the case and we must satisfy him if we can . This is public money and organisations distributing it need to be transparent . The problem we have to recognise is the legally binding confidentiality clause on this that the previous Board agreed . I am discussing this with my Vice Chair , Harriett Baldwin who Chairs the Investment Committee and I will see Greg with Harriett and my CEO to talk this through ; he is entitled to raise this and we must answer him. I agree a press release on this .

And tonight I am putting the finishing touches to my presentation for the Away day acevo is holding with the Permanent Secretaries tomorrow . Gus O'Donnell , the Cabinet Secretary is chairing and somehow I feel I can't just do the usual " winging it" approach to speech making! I call it " The power of the Third Sector" . But the joint aim of the day is to look at how the sector can help Government deliver ,but also what the sector needs to do to be more effective working with Government. It will be an interesting day. We will hold it at a great social enterprise , and my members and the Permanent Secretaries are getting there on a bus provided by Hackney Community Transport. How cool is that ?

Gordon and Hope

There is something deeply interesting about hearing Leaders' speeches. I have heard many over the years from Conservative and labour Leaders. You need to be there in person, in the Hall to get the full experience though. Watching on a TV screen and you miss the build up and the crowd hysteria. This was a good speech. Obviously all those comments about lists and rushed and shouted delivery have been listened too.

Of course I was waiting for the reference to the third sector and it came! I tried to get a standing ovation at this point, or even a clap ( at least more than my one!) But to no avail. Still he talked of the sector and name checked Ed.

I saw him afterwards and told him I was pleased to have the recognition in his speech for our sector. He said the role the sector plays is vital for a healthy Britain and said thank you for what we do. I guess he meant the sector at large but perhaps it was acevo as well! Anyway here is a picture of the leader of the third sector meeting the leader of the country. Good job I had my Head of Policy on hand with his Blackberry camera! As I said to Gordon; "wonderful what you can do with mobiles these days".

I went to a very interesting fringe meeting on the Social Enterprise Bank put on by the New Economics Foundation. Sir Ronnie Cohen and Phil Hope were speaking. The Government has said it wants to use the Banks unclaimed assets to set up a social Investment Bank which would drive more capital into the sector. It is a crucial time to argue this case as we need to reinforce the political will to make this happen, even though the Banks will now be resisting strongly.
Phil Hope, the Third sector minister, is encouraging. He believes this reform is vital. I talk to Ronnie about this and we agree we should step up the pressure. I greatly admire Ronnie. This is the guy who effectively created the private equity market and his venture capital firm, Apax, is a world leader. He speaks clearly and cogently on the need for a better approach to funding the sector rather than spraying and praying, and the need to move from a patronage and dependency grants culture he is clear that if we increase the supply of capital, the demand will follow and increase. He is right. I want to look at how we might promote a campaign for the SIB. This could make a lasting difference to capacity building the sectors asset base and enable more money to circulate in the sector

I meet Phil the next day to talk this through, update him on FBE and on acevo. Phil is a good Minister. Hope he remains in the reshuffle but he does deserve promotion as he has been highly effective.

And as for partying I am so tired I retire back to hotel early. The ITN party looks inviting but rather full and hot, so a pleasant Chinese with Seb and talk through our day with the Perm Secs on Friday.

Monday 22 September 2008

Chief Executives and no sun

The sun has gone but the mood here in Manchester has improved . I went to the Progress Rally last night and there were a string of Cabinet Ministers speaking . The stars of the evening however were Ed and David Miliband. David Miliband's speech was masterful . Whilst others confined themselves to ritual Tory bashing and the usual juvenelia on this David had a very good narrative and was the only speech where I remember the points he was making now . And I have just heard his Conference speech . It was good . I have been bumping into loads of members . At one point there was a positive gaggle of charity CEOs around the MIND stand . And we shall all be meeting again at the Conservative Conference in Birmingham . Managed a fringe meeting ( IPPR on public service delivery ) but a half hour long speech by Ivan Lewis ; who I love dearly but in 10minute blocks please. Drove me out to a reception where they were serving Chapel Down English champagne . It was excellent . Tonight is the Guardian Party , always a good bash . I suspect a late night .

Last night however I was back in my room by midnight . Not bad eh! I had been at a dinner acevo had laid on for Tony Hawkhead and Clare Tickell so we could discuss the agenda for the day that acevo is co organising with the Cabinet Secretary to bring together our top CEOs and Permanent Secretaries . It will be at Coin St , the radical social enterprise in Waterloo , and we hope to convince our colleagues in the civil service that the sector has much to offer ; both in terms of service delivery and in articulating voice and campaigning for change. We have an excellent dinner ( at a new restaurant in Manchester called Michael Caines), indeed we agree we have never had better food at a conference . Though that is not exactly a difficult record to beat .
I tell James Purnell he has won the acevo daily award for being the first Minister to mention the third sector in his speech at conference. Amazingly there is a question and answer session on crime and neither Jacqui Smith nor Jack Straw mention the role of the sector ; even when they get a question on how to rehabilitate prisoners and stop re offending. It was all about anti-social behaviour and locking people up . I was thoroughly depressed. Come on Jack and Jacqui . Recognise the vital role we play . And a mention of our crucial part in cutting crime would not have gone amiss. So well done James Purnell for putting the record straight.

An Editorial in the Times last Monday makes interesting reading for any Chief executive. It was commentary on the lessons of the collapse of Lehman . It was headed ;" an aggressive chief executive and ineffective board have brought a bank to bankruptcy ..."

The Editorial goes on to outline how Dick Fuld , the Lehman CEO is being held responsible for the collapse because of " imperious and aggressive " behaviour . It suggests the Board was not exercising proper oversight. Now i wonder if The Times were quite so critical when he was turning the company around ? But again it goes to show how crucial is a balanced relationship at the top . A healthy Chair - CEO relationship is one where views and actions are moderated by both parties. Whilst I am hard wired to believe that Chief Executives are always right , it is clear that there is a mix of talent in our sector. And it is always important for a CEO to remember hubris ! No one is immune the poisoned arrows of destiny.

That is why leadership development is so important and why acevo spends a significant proportion of its time on professional development and support to CEOs. With ncvo we set up the Leadership Centre. We have a pioneering course with the Institute of Directors to equip our CEOs for their director roles on Boards. At present we have Ruth Lesirge of Cass Business School ( and a former Vice Chair of acevo) reviewing our development activities and what we need to do to raise the game in the sector. Our main conclusion is that development needs must be person centred as they vary so widely and so tailor made offerings are more effective .

I met Mary Marsh recently to talk through her ideas for the Clore Third Sector Leadership fellowships she will be developing in her new role from October when she leaves NSPCC. She is keen to develop the leaders of the future and is looking for rising talent. I have asked her to speak at the dinner we hold for our Chief Executives before our Annual Conference.

And talking of the ncvo I see they have just published a new book called " Mind the Gap " . Excellent I'm sure it is . But acevo published a book with the same title 2 years ago. As they say , imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I forebear to mention to Liz Atkins , the ncvo Director when I spot her in the foyer of the hotel we are both staying in in Manchester .

Sunday 21 September 2008

Sun in Manchester

Yes indeed. Sun to hide the gloom around the economy and the Labour Party; for yes I am at the Labour Party Conference. Arrived yesterday evening. I have to admit I was coming earlier but it was a glorious sunny day and it was the Charlbury Street Fayre so Istayed for the opening by Sir Ben Kingsley , who lives locally and then some Christmas shopping. The Hospice stall is always rather good . Run by the wife of the former HBM Ambassador to Hungary it usually has a fine selection of pictures and curios. I buy 2 fine prints from 1795 and a Staffordshire tea pot. Sparkles enjoys the sun and the attention of her many dog friends.

Then it is a cross country train to Manchester ; 3.5 hours is not bad and I arrive in time for a bottle of champagne with my Deputy , the redoubtable Dr Kyle, before plunging into the maelstrom of networking. I bump into Ed Miliband , who wants to know if I heard his speech . regrettably no but I had heard he had mentioned the role of the third sector in delivering public services. Well done that man .

I had promised myself that i would pace it but a late night meant a late start to Sunday . I arrive in time to hear Jack Straw who talks of being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime I was obviously still sleepy as i must have missed the bit when he talked of what we must do to tackle the causes , but did hear the bit about forcing those on community service to wear fluorescent jackets . No mention of the role of the third sector and community organisations in delivery . perhaps this would have served him better than a gimmick.

Now its off to do the exhibition stands . There are many acevo members here . Exhibiting their important work . I am off to show them my support.

Friday 19 September 2008

Dogs and Children

On the roof gardens at Kensington High St last night. Those very old like me will recall this was Biba! It was the launch of "Action for Children" the new name for NCH. Originally the national childrens homes set up by the Methodists. It is run by superstar CEO Clare Tickell, who is closely involved in acevo matters and plays a leading role in our sector. Its a great charity. One of the country's biggest, but with great local and community reach too.
Its packed. And no rain so we can wander the marvellous gardens. Lots of sector gliterati, though there is a rival attraction in the charity Awards. Me and my deputy the esteemed Dr Kyle are with Clare and my Membership director with the Awards!
I'm told by a number of people that it was national take your dog to work day. I'm devastated. I did not know or I would have taken Sparkles into work. I suspect a plot by my staff to hide this fact. Though it has to be said Sparkles has livened up the office on a number of occasions, once famously " performing "in front of Esther Rantzen in my office!

And on the subject of large national charities I read a wonderful letter from Martin Narey in "Third Sector" taking to task somebody who was complaining about the "tescoisation" of the sector. Its a brilliant expose of the nonsense of this claim. Barnados have loads of incredibly well run local projects. They are rooted in the community and it is insulting to the many thousands of staff, volunteers and supporters to make this sort of jibe. The fact that the person concerned probably shops at Tesco because it is convenient, has great opening hours and provides a wide range of well priced produce makes this line even more non sensical

This juvenile nonsense about large charities needs to be stamped on. I know from my work as Chair of the Adventure Capital Fund that community organisations do fantastic work. I know large charities do that as well. The idea that only small charities are good and all those many people involved in large charities are somehow grasping capitalists (I assume that is the Tesco point) is outrageous. I email Martin and say well done

The Futurebuilders board meeting on Tuesday was great, though the investment bankers and venture capitalists on our Board were somewhat glum. However one of them did say how fantastic to come to a meeting of a Board still making investments (they are not). We have an interesting discussion about how we should be helping shape markets through our investment policy and not just reacting to them. We are working up ideas on this and will be holding a strategic away day soon to develop the ideas. If we are to compete effectively as a sector we may need to consider supporting merger and consortia support.

The recession is really hitting home and members are increasingly concerned at long term effects if this lasts long - fundraising , legacies, corporate sponsorship may be hit. Grants will be precarious. But as I say in the Guardian this week. Those with contracts and with expanding service delivery roles will be less affected. And who knows, this may drive further reform in the public services - the innovative amongst us will be grabbing opportunities to deliver better services and persuade the state to outsource more. I drop a note to Ed to make the point that its the time to renew calls for more sector service delivery. And while I'm at it I make arrangements to see various politicians at the forthcoming labour and tory conferencs.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Chairs and chief executives rule OK ?

This morning I conducted my CEO's appraisal . That is in my role as Chair of Futurebuiklders. And in 2 weeks my Chair , John Low , will conduct my appraisal . That's in my role as CEO of acevo. So this is giving me an interesting viewpoint on the respective relationships!

The CEO - Chair relationship is core to success in any third sector body. The Chair and Chief executive must be able to get on , and where the relationship works well it drives the charity forward . Where it works badly it usually leads to a dysfunctional organisation.And where it is very bad , disaster looms.

In my experience in acevo, it is the fall out from bad relationships that is at the root of many sector problems. I have received a lot of emails and calls recently from members who have had , or are having trustee problems , perhaps not surprisingly given the Shaw Trust problem.

It is far too easy for Chairs to remove CEOs. The difficulty many members face is that although they may have cast iron cases at Tribunals , this is a difficult route for them to take . They have a strong identification with the mission of the charity so its hard to take steps that may damage their colleagues. They also want to move on , and that may be more difficult with the stigma of a tribunal , however outrageously the charity Chair has behaved.

At our acevo Chief Executive Summit in July we had a speaker from the private sector who has helped establish a mentoring scheme for Third Sector CEOs . The mentors are drawn from the commercial world. The scheme has been highly successful. But he told me that they had been reviewing the experience of their mentors and the conclusion they had drawn was that it is a dysfunctional Chair-CEO relationship that is the route of many of the problems and they needed to work on that . I am meeting him soon to discuss how we can develop a training module that looks specifically at that relationship , to bolster other work acevo does in governance. This meeting with him and the Institute of Philanthropy will also explore what further work we might do on building better relations.

I have had an interesting idea from one member recently who suggests that the Charity Commission insist that in Annual Reports trustees be obliged to report on where they have changed or terminated a CEO contract and the reasons for that , so that trustees be held to account for their actions. In local authorities there is a set procedure , supported by legislation where a CEO can secure an independent review of a council decision to remove him or her . This is in addition to any tribunal rights .It was aimed at ensuring councils did not act hastily in getting rid of a CEO , often simply because the Council political control had changed.

Could we implement a similar system in charities . A panel supported by the Charity Commission for example?

It has been interesting for me working as a CEO and now taking on a big third sector CEO chair role. i am only too aware that both I and my CEO need to set an example of good practise . And I have tried hard to remember the role of a Chair is as a non executive and to avoid telling my extraordinarily talented and effective CEO ,Jonathan Lewis , how he should do his job . But the demarcation lines can be blurred. Leadership is a shared task at the top . Both the Chair and the CEO must be closely involved in setting the strategy and the CEO will often want advice or support on staffing issues.

Preparing for this morning's appraisal I was reflecting on the various Chair jobs I have had . It began early! I was the Chair of Governors of lambeth's biggest Comprehensive , Stockwell Manor ( now the thriving Stockwell park high School) at the tender age of 28 . I suspect I was an overenthusiastic and somewhat incompetent Chair , though I did get on great with the Headmistress ! I then got onto the Council and chaired all sorts of committeess and organisations ; The Old people's homes , the children's homes committees and the Care and Secure Accommodation Committees . I was the first Chair of the famous Lambeth Board for Disability where we pioneered the adoption by the Council of the 3% quota and became the first local authority of any size to actually employ 3% disabled people in a very large workforce. Then Chair of Tooting Bec Hospital.Then my very first Charity Chair job when I took on that role for Lambeth Aids Action.And then I took on another charity Chair role at the City of Oxford Orchestra ( now that's a tale to tell ). I probably did OK even if unguided in these roles. Certainly we did lots of good strategic and innovative things.The community care programme we rolled out from Tooting Bec was a good one and where we worked with the third sector and communities , and stopped the rapacious managers at St Thomas' hospital from pocketing money from the sale of the hospital .

What I recall from all these varied Chair roles is the lack of training and development . The lack of guidance and support . No one saying that I needed to remember the distinction between executive and non executive functions. No advice on the best way to develop a positive relationship with the CEO. I think back to the council days when I even used to turn up at executive board meetings to add my pennyworth . Not the role you needed frankly , but then everyone used to do that .

has much changed ? Well actually no . We have advanced somewhat , especially with the sector's Code of Good Governance. But training for trustees and Board appraisal remain at low levels of take up . How many unpaid trustees say they wont do training because they are unpaid . frankly another good reason for charities to look at trustee payment.

I hope I am now a reformed( relatively speaking! ) character . Certainly in the Chair role at Futurebuilders I have been trying to ensure model behaviour And in this I am helped by an outstanding CEO , Jonathan Lewis. The appraisal session went superbly . Jonathan has had a stunning year as the ACF and FBE Chief Exec. He came from a very strong career in the commercial sector but has quickly adapted to the sometimes quirky but always interesting ways of the third sector. He has made a mark in the sector at large , with a no nonsense but productive relationship with clients and stakeholders . He has transformed Futurebuilders and deserves the sector's thanks for driving this forward.

And if John Low did a blog perhaps he would reflect on how well his CEO has done at acevo ( or not as the case may be! )when the time comes for my Chief Executive appraisal.

Sunday 14 September 2008

And did those feet?

in ancient time , walk upon England's mountains green? Highly unlikely .but its a great song ; Elgar's Jerusalem , words by William Blake . And interestingly it is a song ( or perhaps even a hymn as it does appear in Ancient and Modern ) that unites both left and right , nationalists and socialists. Its that wonderful last line that particularly appeals to old style labourites ;

" I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land "

And indeed the Sunday papers are full of the sharpening of the swords in the Labour Party !

Well , it was a great evening. At the reception before the event began Mark Thompson , the BBC DG was saying this has been a hugely successful Proms , not just that the attendance has been the highest ever , but that 12m people have been viewing via the Internet. it has a truly global reach and is a democratic institution . the unfortunate comment by Margaret Hodge earlier in the year that it was an elitist festival could not be wider of the mark . This is one of the things that the BBC do so right and we are lucky to have a public broadcaster of the quality and style of the BBC. No other national broadcaster comes even close to being as good .

The reception attracts a catholic sprinkling of politicians ; John Hutton ( just returned from lunch in Brighton with my deputy Dr Kyle I discover! ) and who was looking grim . Greg Clark MP , the Tories dynamic third sector spokesman ( he doesn't like the term third sector but I do )is not looking grim . And then my old friend Damien Green and his wife appear . I knew him well at Oxford and he has always seemed a good thing ; on the liberal wing of the Tory party and it is good that he is their spokesperson on immigration as he is sensible and not rabid on this subject which may not be true for all sections of his Party. I compliment him on his performance on " Any Questions" , which I was listening too at lunch time . But I also tell him off for castigating another old Oxford friend , Dave Aaronovitch , the Times columnist . When we knew Mr Aaronovitch he was a Trot ; as some people were in those days, and was a leading light in the sit in of the examination schools . Another alumni of that sit in was a certain Mr Chris Huhne ! I have to say such goings on did not appeal to me or Damien as we were much too boring and mainstream for such malarkey ( and in any case it interfered with social life )

Along with some other leading lights of the third sector I am a guest of the BBC's Head of Outreach, Alec McGivan and we join Brendan Gormley , the CEO of the Disasters Emergency Committee and Stephen Navin, the CEO of the Music Publishers Association . Brendan is a member but Stephen is not . We must see about that I tell him ; we have a growing culture and arts membership in acevo and even have a special interest group for those members . I tell him Mark Pemberton , who runs the British Association of Orchestras is a member ! He knows him well so we shall do a pincer movement and get him to join.

It transpires that Brendan and family live 5 miles away from me in Charlbury ; in the charming hamlet of Hailey! they have a large converted barn , and until recently Brendan has been biking it to London to work . That's rather game of him I think , but perhaps not what we should be doing as we get older and his wife tells me she is pleased that recently the bike got torched and so he is training like other normal CEOs !

The Last Night is spectacular. Bryn Terfel , the brilliant Welsh bass baritone is singing. The extract fro Tosca is particularly superb , massed choirs and the thundering Albert Hall organ . There is a Wagner extract from Tannhauser . I have to admit I like my Wagner in extracts ; the whole works can be a trial ; splendid tunes interspersed with lots of dreary Germanic tedium . The Proms atmosphere , the audience and the flag waving ( plenty of international flags and not just the Union Jack you know ! ) is exhilarating. I found that the liberal supply of wine in the box helped loosen the inhibitions and there was very hearty and gutsy singing from our Box.

I am at the Proms with the Head Hunter Extraordinaire , Mr Fielding. He berates me for my most recent blog and remarks on the flag of St George etc . As he reminds me ; and he is the first Englishman to have become international Aikido world champion so he should know, the waving of flags to celebrate sporting achievement is not just good but essential to the whole enjoyment of the events . He is right , of course . Who can forget the sight of all those Union Jacks being raised at the Olympics to celebrate our brilliant recent success in Peking ?

A slightly more relaxed Sunday as I recover from excess and so a leisurely lunch with my old Deputy CEO Nick Aldridge . He is now the Chief Executive of Mission Fish and doing well . it is good to catch up . Nick made a huge contribution at acevo and was a real support to me as CEO. It is heartening to know that the staff you support and develop go on to bigger jobs. It is part of the role of a Leader to develop their staff and to see that their careers flourish ( though not too quickly and Nick was with me for 5 years!) One of the notable things about acevo is the very real talent of the staff . Our Director group is very strong and the dynamism and " go getting" nature of the team is something you quickly spot if you come to acevo's office.

Saturday 13 September 2008

it's the Last Night ...

of The Proms. And I am getting ready to go back to London to take part in this glorious feast of music and Englishness.Look out for me in the BBC box waving my Union Jack ! The Proms are a very special institution . I have been to several so far , the best being the haunting Rachmaninov Vespers.But the atmosphere of the Last night is especial. It's the one time in the year you can feel patriotic without embarrassment. Gordon Brown had that phase of wanting us all to put up flagpoles and fly the flag . What he failed to understand is that the English have an ironic attitude to nation . An understated attitude to patriotism is what makes one English. We look askance at all those foreigners and their flag waving and ostentatious displays of nationalism . Being secure in one's notion of country and the strength of our democracy, our monarchy and our traditional institutions means we do not need be ostentatious or , heaven forfend , vulgar. Indeed we feel such displays are rather naff. If I see someone with a flag of St George flying I rather suspect they might be supporters of the BNP , and therefore essentially un English!But I'm glad to say the Gordon flagpole idea has been silently dropped .

I shall report on my singing prowess and flag waving ( in an unnationalistic way ,of course ) in my next blog!

It's a glorious autumn morning in Charlbury and I have just returned from the Farmers Market on the Playing Close. That wonderful organisation Plunkett , the rural social Enterprise based in Woodstock promotes farmers markets as a real source of good local produce , from local farmers and many of them selling organic. There is a particular local cheese maker from whom I buy the most gorgeous blue brie. As I wander round I am roped into organising the book stall at the Church Bazaar in November . Now actually this is a rather splendid task and I shall get my Oxford nephews over to help me do the stall . it is always jam packed with books , and good ones , this being Charlbury. It's 22nd November if you are in the vicinity , pop in !

We have just had the last meeting of the acevo- MoJ task force on third sector provision of probation services. We persuaded the Government to look again at their pusillanimous behaviour in trying to drop the 10% target for outsourcing probation services. The only reason for dropping it seemed to be the lame excuse that they couldn't actually achieve it ! So far a miserable 5% has been outsourced and the message around the probation service is that you don't really need to bother . So the task force has been useful .In fact the work of the 4 working groups have come up with some very solid ideas and proposals . We have been clear the target must remain and we want Jack Straw to be firm on this .

But the target on its own is not enough . There has to be firm action form the MoJ itself and the Regional Directors of Offender Management to ensure a programme of outsourcing to the sector. As I say to the Minster ,David Hanson MP, at the end of our meeting , we are in this together . We are both committed to reducing crime by cutting re offending .And you will only seriously address re-offending by a targeted approach from the third sector . Members working in offender management are sick of promises about more involvement only to find that the Probation Service cuts them out , ignores them or derides their value. We all agree the culture in probation must change.Its time the probation service and the Probation Union get out of their fortress and start to work through the sector. Stop looking down at us and use us a s partners.

I really hope that Jack Straw MP , the Justice Secretary, will seize this opportunity to push for change. Be radical . Be challenging. We will support him and David Hanson in moving forward an agenda that has got stuck because of the forces of reaction in the system . The Third Sector has so much to offer in its work with prisoners and with ex offenders ; cross cutting , people based . dealing with the multiple problems of worklessness , addiction , mental health , housing and social breakdown . So use us. And may I suggest that if you built one less prison and invested that money in third sector provision you would make a real dent in crime figures , even if "The Mail" might not approve.

So Jack and David , lets remember the probation service was invented by , and run by ,the third sector until 1936 . We know what we are doing guys!

but now its off for a brisk walk over the hills and then the train and Elgar...

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Voices Off

Walking towards the inaugural conference of " National Voices " I am accosted in the street by one of my members . With over 2000 chief executives it is , of course ,highly likely I will be stopped in the street from time to time ! We have a good natter and talk about how difficult the sector finds it to sack incompetent staff. He relates a story of one charity he ran where one member of staff was highly popular; as he did no work he had lots of time to wander around being nice to people, chatting and listening to their problems. But no work output struck him as unacceptable so he said he would have to go. All hell broke loose . I am obviously not revealing his name here!

The National Voices Conference is a grand affair . In Central Hall , this is a new umbrella organisation set up from health and social care charities to bring together organisations representing users and give them a stronger voice in policy making . acevo has been supporting this from the early days ; it has been ably steered by the admirable Jeremy Hughes , CEO of Breakthrough Breast Cancer ( active acevo member ). I make a 5 minute presentation giving acevo's full backing and support for this initiative . Core to the reform of public services is a recognition of the user , citizen and community. The Health service , wonderful though it often is has not been brilliant at recognising the views and opinions of patients , users or carers. That is what the third sector is so good at .

I relate the story of Cecily Saunders ,a nurse at St Thomas' hospital across the river . In the 50s she was caring for a refugee from the Warsaw Ghetto . He was dying. He was receiving superb medical care ; but he needed more . He wanted care , support and love at the end of his tragic and difficult life . Cecily saw that the NHs was not providing that and so began her quest for better palliaitive care and , in 1967 , the founding of St Christopher's Hospice . Now hospices are key to health provision in our country and this model has been copied around the world. Cecily realised that the user voice wasn't being heard . And in true third sector fashion she set about sorting the problem .St Christopher's is now led

Last night was a trial . I had agreed to deliver a lecture to mark the launch of the Third Sector Research Centre . This new facility is being run from Birmingham and Southampton Universities with a £10ml grant from the Office of the Third Sector.Acevo was part of the consortium that bid to run the Centre and we will be playing a big role in the work in the new School for Public Partnership run by the estimable John Tizard. It was funny how despite being used to making speeches , I had a disturbed night preparing in my head what I was to lecture on . I was looking at the future challenges of a third sector in the 21st Century and how the sector is changing and adapting.

The 2 key shifts for me are the substantial growth in service delivery and the huge growth of the sector's role in voice and advocacy and in promoting a healthy civil society . We play a crucial role in making a better and more happy society and in underpinning democratic institutions by active civil society and greater civic engagement. I reminded people that William Beveridge wrote ,

" The happiness or unhappiness of the society in which we live depends upon ourselves as citizens, not on the instrument of political power we call the state . "

And it is often third sector organisations; community groups , campaigning charities who galvanise and give voice to citizen demands for change.

I talked about the need for the sector to adapt to change ; this may mean more mergers and alliances , partnerships with the private sector and a ruthless approach to professionalism . Our capacity and infrastructure needs to develop . More investment funding ; a bigger FBE and other investment and venture capital bodies and a Social Investment Bank . Stronger national organisations to promote the sector and support development. But I also called for culture change . An end to divisive name calling of larger charities and a ditching of the Maoist approach to small is good , large is bad . I pointed out that in our sector even our really large national charities pail into insignificance compared with big private companies and public sector bodies . Are we sometimes too small to truly develop voice and choice for citizens? The lecture is been put up on our website tomorrow , so you can read it all in its full glory!

We had invited a selected group of people , members and key influencers .I was very flattered that David Freud ( he of the famous DWP Freud Report )was there and played a full part in the discussion that followed . He raised the interesting point as to why social enterprises had never made it to the big time? If they are dedicated to making a profit ( even though it is plowed back into the business ) how come all social enterprises are still small scale ? He felt that there was no " forcing mechanism " in our sector . By that he meant that in the private sector they are ruthless at removing dead wood and promoting talent . If you are the manager who got the organisation to a £5m turnover you might not be the person to take it to £50m ? Yet in our sector people carry on and don't get forced out. An interesting point for thought , and one that harked back to the street conversation I had at lunchtime ? Are we just too soft in the third sector? Or is that a strength?

Saturday 6 September 2008

Charlbury's Queen of Crime !

Charlbury and its environs attract a gloriously eclectic mix of folk ; from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the actor Freddie Jones, from David Cameron to Ronnie Barker,the Editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , the famous photographer Andrew Lawson and a plethora of retired Ambassadors and top civil servants . It makes for interesting conversations in the pub.

But last night I went to listen to a talk by Veronica Stallwood , the crime writer , famous for her Kate Ivory novels set in Oxford .She has lived in Charlbury for the last 3 years; perhaps not as famous as the Morse character , her books are nevertheless exciting reads . And her talk is fascinating. I love listening to authors talk about their work and am a great fan of the Oxford literary festival held every year and attracting top writers to talk and debate. In this case our very very own Charlbury Queen of Crime gives a behind the scenes description of the role of Editors and sub editors. the subs sound interesting. Their job is to correct grammar and spot inconsistencies . But sometimes a little too enthusiastically;as when one made a wholesale alteration to the comma sequence as well as correcting the grammar of some of the characters; for example the conversations of feral youth , who are not usually known for perfect grammar and so alterations slightly lost the point of the dialogue! Amusingly the current novel " Oxford Menace" contains the touching scene of the death of the Kate Ivory cat. The Editor , an ardent cat lover told Veronica that he could not possibly deal with it in just one paragraph ( as she had ) and so the finished book rather drags this one out.

The talk , held in the charming 18th century "Corner House " , left to the village by philanthropic Quakers , attracts a whole bunch of other authors who talk shop . There is one woman who looks immediately recognisable but for the life of me I can't remember her name.The wine , supplied by the publishers make the evening even more charming. Its rather an amusing end to the day which featured a diatribe by Nick Clegg on the Government's dismal failing on crime! ( Blog yesterday ).

The Today programme on Radio 4 is a national Treasure . my favourite start to the day and I have radios placed in all key rooms so I can move effortlessly around the house getting ready for work but not missing crucial bits of the programme.Friday was special .It was the result of the national competition to find the most bizarre book title.They have to be actual books published seriously rather than spoofs titles. Previous winners have included " Avoiding large ships" and last year's " How green were the Nazis?". This year it is " Greek rural postmen and their cancellation codes ". The author , a charming 91 year old comes on to lucidly explain the purpose of the publication . How special is that ?

The weekend unfolds and I have neighbours into dinner tonight and my poetical nephew Alexander for lunch tomorrow. I had the hearty nephew Julian for lunch in London on Wednesday ; he has developed a fine taste in claret and port with Stilton thus demonstrating the power of heredity genes!And amongst all this entertaining i have to prepare a Lecture for Monday , correct a draft funding application and write a 1000 word article for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives ( amusingly called SOLACE ! ). Its just a typical weekend in the life of a charity Chief Executive!I guess you are not sympathetic.

And if my nephew and niece ; the charming twins, Oliver and Miranda ,are reading this, " Happy 17th Birthday" !

Friday 5 September 2008

Lunch with Nick Clegg, Brekkie with the LSC, and the Balkans

In Sheffield for an acevo north lunch with Nick Clegg. An engaging and passionate advocate for the Lib Dems. He talked about the power of voluntary and community action. He questioned if Governments were fully realising and using our potential. He warned of the need not to loose our stroppy and cynical attitude to politicians! Too right Nick!

He pays generous tribute to Ed Miliband, and talks of the importance of the role of organisations like acevo in promoting sector leadership. Perhaps his most telling point was his fierce attack on the overtly right wing policies of new Labour on crime. He said it was a scandal that we have the highest re-offending rates for prisoners in the Western world. He pointed out that for kids who end up in detention for 90 days the re-offending rate is over 90%. Perhaps our government should think a little harder before more tough talk on youth crime? He is right on this. A Government that was elected to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime have simply forgotten the later in the desire to promote the former. And we are all paying the price in higher crime.

That is why it is such brilliant news that charities like NACRO, Rainer and Turning Point are bidding with the private sector to win contracts to run prisons. What I find incomprehensible is that Government is about to spend huge sums on more prisons when actually that money should be poured into the third sector to work on prevention and rehabilitation. But the real picture is charities scrimp and save, are awarded short term contracts, sometimes not even at full cost and so our potential is stifled. Clegg is right. Government policy on crime has been a failure. Put the sector at the heart of the answer and stop pandering to the Mail and reactionary forces in probation and prisons.

I guess if there was a criticism of Clegg it was that we heard little coherent policy on the sector. I'm not sure they have a thought through policy, and unlike the other two parties are light on what they would do for the sector. This despite the long and rich Liberal tradition of support for communities and voluntary action.

I reminded him as he left that Lord Rennard, the General Secretary of the Lib Dems, is a one time acevo member and has been on a number of acevo courses. After all political parties are themselves large voluntary organisations!

Had breakfast this week with Chris Banks, Chair of the Learning and Skills Council. He is also a non-Exec on the Futurebuilders Board. He has had a stunning career in industry and a passion for driving up the skills of our UK workforce. The third sector has had a rocky relationship with the LSC but it is vital for a sector that employs 1.5 million people and with an army of volunteers that we work closely with them. We discuss how Train to Gain works. We may do some work in acevo on this.

We also talk about how we can ensure effective working between Futurebuilders and LSC on capital support for skills development.

And now to the Balkans! The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has awarded Euclid Network a major grant to support the development of civil society and third sector leaders in Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania in an 18 month project. Euclid Network is currently looking for organisations to host job shadowers as part of the project. This is a fantastic opportunity for third sector leaders in the UK to work with two of the world’s newest countries. If you are interested in participating please contact Ben Rattenbury, Euclid Network’s Projects Officer, at ben.rattenbury@euclidnetwork.eu.

Thursday 4 September 2008

An Unjust Society?

A new book by David Walker and Polly Toynbee " Unjust Rewards " is shaking the rafters . I went to the launch party and lecture at the RSA tonight. The book argues that despite a strong commitment by Government to creating a more equal society we have seen more inequality . They quote a lot of statistics to prove their point . I'm not sure whether this is actually the case . It strikes me that society has become more equal , and certainly the investment in our key public services like health and education , the radical social reforms on women and gender equality have made our society fairer . But it is also trus that there has been a huge growth in the gap between the rich and the poor and a massive growth in the super rich who make a pathetic contribution to the public realm through taxation .

There is an interesting exchange when a venture capitalist suggest that it is better for the super rich to give through philanthropy . Polly gives that old canard short shrift .And she name checks me in support of her ! the fact is tnat giving by the wealthy is minute in proportion to their wealth , and giving has not risen in line with the vast expansion of personal wealth. In any case, as Polly argues, philanthropy is undemocratic . It is old fashioned noblesse oblige , with the rich deciding what particular good cause will get their generous patronage . Hear , hear , Polly . It's the trouble with a lot of Foundations whose funding priorities are set by small groups of largely unaccountable trustees with little transparency and practically no accountability.

I support their call for fairer taxation of the very rich . And I support their call for politicians to put the case for taxes supporting our public realm .Well done to P and D for this polemic . Great to have them pushing this debate.Will any party be prepared to take up the issues they raise . This could be the big issue for Gordon brown , who undoubtedly does believe in a fairer society even if his actions have sometimes fallen short of that goal .

I buy the book and get Polly and David to sign it. Ther are a range of politicians there . David Willetts MP makes a good contribution though perhaps a little light on what a Tory Government might do on this issue .But it is excellent to have a key Tory thinker and strategist engaged in this debate . It marks a shift from the days of the last Tory Government and that is progress.And David is a good guy ( educated at my old college so that's not surprising! )

Ed Miliband MP turns up looking remarkably relaxed in the circumstances. He tells me he has just been in California , which probably explains it ! He tells me to keep up the blogging! He likes to find out about government policy on the sector from it!Good to see Ed , one of the governments top stars.And he spots my Obamaba lapel button!

Tomorrow I'm off to Sheffield to an acevo lunch with Nick Clegg MP, leader of the Lib Dems .I shall be quizzing him on his reactions to the Polly thesis ! He better have read it!+