Wednesday 29 October 2008

pushing the case and Hazel at the Bank

A reasonably productive meeting with Government on the Icelandic charity losses. We certainly made an impressive team in our presentation ; Stuart Etherington, John Low and myself worked well together in pushing our case for support . It is now down to Government to come up with a scheme to support charities who have losses. We have proposed a loan scheme so that charities can access money now whilst the administrator works on the wind up and payments back to creditors.I relate to the HMT official that the last big bank collapse , that of BCCI ,took 20 years to finally wind up . We have not got a 20 year window of waiting . Stuart makes a presentation on the losses and John shows great mastery of the brief in the discussions . Kevin is listening and I think understands the real problems these charities face.

The HMT are obviously worried about precedent . So if they agree a scheme for charities will they have to offer the same terms to local councils? i think the precedent argument is over-rated . After all , if the Minister was to stand up and tell the Commons that they are refusing to support the Naoimi Hospice who face a cash crisis because they would then also have to help Kent County Council this would not go down well with the public. After all , Harriet Harman , on Any Questions a few weeks back said the Government would act to support charities like Naoimi Hospice.

I feel sure the Government will want to come up with a scheme . We hope we will not be disappointed. But we stressed very strongly that time is of the essence. We expect to hear back from Kevin Brennan soon . I am sure that our new Minister is up for the challenge of delivering for the sector.

In fact I had 2 meetings with the Third sector Minister yesterday . The first was wearing my Chair of Futurebuilders hat . We had a briefing session to talk about our current performance and our future plans . That was very productive ; I had 2 of my Board colleagues with me ; Kevin Carey ( third sector activist and Vice Chair of RNIB ) and Rupert Evenett ( former investment banker and current Chair of BTCV )as well as our dynamic Chief executive Johnathan Lewis. We spent some time talking about how we can help shape the market for service delivery by the third sector by supporting organisations to scale up , to form consortia and to form alliances and mergers. we will be putting more of our investment money behind this . Our tender fund , which supports organisations wanting to increase capacity to bid , has been hugely successful . And we made the point that in a recession we want to help third sector bodies to re plan their strategies and to consider new opportunities in service delivery .

Futurebuilders is moving from being a largely reactive organisation that merely receives applications , to a progressive investor , seeking out opportunities to invest and helping shape the market and support greater capacity in TSOs to deliver. It was a good meeting . I said to Kevin that Futurebuilders is a great success story for the Government . We need to build on that by pressing ahead with establishing a Social Investment Bank so that more capital can be deployed in the sector. i warned Kevin that the banks were seeking to wriggle out of their commitment that they will cough up £400ml in unclaimed assets and said that the real estimate on what is in dormant accounts may actually be nearer to £2 billion . So the banks got a good deal . They should not be allowed to renege . It's our money , not theirs.

But obviously HMT will be able to use its new power over our Banks to insist they come up with the goods. Won't they?

The rest of the evening was a pleasant dinner to say thank you to Fred Worth , one of the trustees of the Adventure Capital Fund ,who played a crucial role in getting and setting up Futurebuilders in the early stages . He is the author of a comprehensive and thorough Governance handbook for FBE. It rounded off a rather testing day with aplomb . Arrived home exhausted and determined not to go to the breakfast round tablein my diary for Wednesday morning but have a lie in . Every good boy deserves a treat , as they say ( and that applies to Chief Executives too ) . I walked 2 tube stops on the way in as well . The autumnal leaves on the trees in Kennington Park look magnificent. I love Kennnigton . And remember that this is the site of the biggest gathering of Chartists demanding the vote for the people in 1848. They then marched on Westminster to hand in their mass petition demanding the vote for males over 21 , annual parliaments and salaried MPs. Denounced at the time as lunatic or revolutionary ! Kennnigton has always been the site for popular and democratic demonstrations .I am thinking of this as I ponder the meetings of yesterday ; a good place to rally to demand action for charities if the Government fail to give us what we need . But that won't be needed I'm sure.

Lunch at the Commonwealth Club to determine the Charity Champion Awards . This is an award scheme which finds charity champions amongst Parliamentarians.A group of distinguished panelists meets to detrmine a shortlist of 3 which then goes to a vote amongst the Paliamnetarians themsleves. So Esther Ranzen , Brian Rix , Alf Morris and Julia Neuberger debate the merite os a range of people over the sea bream . Me and Stuart are the voice of the sector. Our voice is heard! Tempting to reveal titbits of the names but No , that would be improper.

Tonight was our second in the series of ACEVO Lectures on 21st century public services. It was held in the splendid offices of the Bank of America over in Canary Wharf. Space , marble and ART . No sign of the credit crunch here then. Our lecturer was the feisty and energetic Hazel Blears MP , one of my favourite Cabinet Ministers . It was a good Lecture . She directly addressed the challenge of recession for the sector. She has a strong commitment to the sector and understands the power of communities to make lasting change . She also used the lecture to announce the guidance for the new 7.5ml empowerment fund. She talked about how we need to support the sector but how this is also a time for the sector to show the determination and the innovation for which we are renowned. She made a strong point about how this is the time the sector can be arguing for shaping new services and changes in the way the state delivers at a time of recession . She argued at this time state bodies may be moor prepared to contemplate change ;it is a good point. It is taken up by various members in the audience . Indeed the quality of the comments and issues raised by the audience make me proud that the sector is showing off its best side. Hazel also makes the point that the sector itself must rise to its own challenges ; becoming more professional in its approach . We are at our best when we rise to a crisis by finding new solutions , by providing flexible , responsive and rooted services. It is a truly excellent speech by a real champion for our sector. It was a good opportunity for me to ram home the messages I have been getting from members about the need for support for us to work with Government tackling the economic and social fallout from recession .

Tuesday 28 October 2008

what do we want and when will we get it?

Monday and a letter from Angela Eagle MP, one of the Treasury Ministers. I had written to the Chancellor calling for action to support the sector as we face the challenge of recession, and in particular an emergency fund of £500ml and action on Gift Aid. Clearly the sector does not rate a reply from the Chancellor himself.

The reply is, frankly, disappointing (and I am being charitable here). It tells me nothing and promises me less. In response to our call for an emergency fund to support charities facing rising demand and falling income I am told that "the Government is already investing £515ml across the third sector over the course of the Comprehensive Spending Review ".

I could, of course, point out that the Government were also providing support to small business before the recession hit, but this has not stopped them from finding a rescue package of up to £12billion. Yes, that is billions not millions. As one of my members said to me last night, "I am sick of hearing about Government support for small business. I am a small business but they are not supporting me."

So the letter promises nothing. The message is that we have had all we are getting. This is simply not good enough.

We know the government are providing support to the sector. But that was then.This is now. We face the challenge of a recession. Do the Government wish to help us support the victims of recession by support to third sector or not? Do they want to ensure that charities do not go under during this crisis?

And as for my suggestions of radical action on Gift Aid, well, this is all very "complex", they require "better understanding" and a full assessment of the risks and this will not be a quick process. Aren't we lucky that this was not the response they took when the banks were collapsing.

I know a brush off when I see it. It is not good enough and this response merely ensures I will be even more energised to fight our case .

A meeting this morning with Stuart Etherington and John Low has agreed a common line for us to take at the meeting we have this afternoon with Kevin Brennan, the Third Sector Minister, on securing a guarantee on the lost Icelandic assets. It will be a test of government resolve to support our sector.

Friday 24 October 2008

Leeds and points North

Hearing that great national treasure, Alan Bennett, on Today this morning was apposite as I was about to jump on the train for Leeds and our ACEVO North office.

We are having the ACEVO North office opening - complete with opera singers and old friend Hilary Benn MP. This is the second launch event. Last week we opened in the North East with a jam packed event in Newcastle. Indeed the Newcastle launch was carried on regional radio and media outlets including a great piece in the Newcastle Journal - and 20 new members joined on the day so I guess the combined effect of Hilary Armstrong and the inimitable Dr Kyle worked their charms. Incidentally you don't need to be called Hilary just to speak at an ACEVO event!

But why opera singers at Leeds? Well we all know of the great Opera North. The Director is one of ACEVO's members. As I blogged yesterday we have a growing membership in the arts and heritage field and so I have taken advantage of the link to add a bit of glamour to our launch. And the bonus is that I am going to the Opera North production of the Bellini opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi. In August I stood at the grave of the Maestro Giovanni Bellini in the Cathedral of Catania, Sicily, his home town.

I am going with Sir Rodney Brooke, Chair of the Social Care Council, and then staying with him in Brooke towers in Ilkley overnight. Rodney has the distinction (or burden) of having been my boss when I worked at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities in the 90s. We have stayed in touch, united by a love of Local Government, good wine, culture and high level gossip. He also has a huge interest in the sector and has recently been appointed to Capacity Builders Board. (I met the new CEO of Capacity Builders recently - Matt Leach - who seems a good guy.)

The mood at the launch is great, even if our CEOs are apprehensive about the recession. Though I love opera I resist the temptation to sing, even though, as I remind Jenny, our North Director, I was head choir boy at my local Parish church.

I stress that in crisis the qualities of leadership become ever more important. A CEO has to plan for the worst, hope for the best and continue to provide drive and energy for the troops.

And for ACEVO the leadership role means working closely with our colleagues in NCVO and other key sector organisations so we present a strong front to Government. I have been in touch today with the Community Sector Alliance to share thoughts on how the recession affects us. I talked to the FT yesterday and said I was getting increasingly frustrated at the lack of attention from Government to our challenges. Hardly a day goes by without yet further talk about how we will help small business. The fact that the third sector is an important part of the economy, as well as crucial to tackling the social consequences of recession, is not getting through. A great Editorial from Stephen Cook in Third Sector makes exactly this point. Is Government listening? Or do I have to turn up the volume?

Thursday 23 October 2008

The Shaw Trust

Chairing a session at the Social Enterprise London conference on Wednesday I am collared by a member who says thank you for being such a staunch defender of Ian Charlesworth , the CEO of the Shaw Trust , who was removed by the trustees of that charity despite having led the organisation to such great success . She says it is important that trustees know that when they act to remove CEOs then that may well have consequences and therefore trustees generally must act fully in line with good governance . I agree with her. That is one reason why acevo has been clear in its defence of Ian .

And then today I get a phone call from a former employee of the Trust who tells me how , in his words , he was "shabbily treated" when he was removed from his post . Indeed this is the second such cold call I have had from a former employee who wanted me to khow how he had been treated . I have already passed on the previous call to the Charity Commission .

This ongoing problem needs resolution , not least for the benefit of the staff and the beneficiaries of the charity . Good governance requires , in my opinion , a clear line to be drawn between the executive and non executive function . In this case there appears to be confusion between the role of the Director General , occupied by the person who founded the Charity , and the actual Chief Executive . In this case I understand that some staff report to the DG post although most report to the CEO position . The roles vis a vis the trustee board therefore appear unclear .

This is not a model I know of in any other acevo member charity , though you never know! it is not one I would recommend .

The trustees will need to review this whatever happens with the position of Ian who remains as the existing CEO , even if they have put him on what they charmingly describe as " gardening leave " . At many functions I go to people ask me about Ian . He is clearly well liked and respected . One person tells me that she thinks it is unbelievable that the Trust could think of removing one of the country's most successful CEOs.

The Charity Commission are reviewing . I trust this will conclude soon. In the meantime the FD has resigned . I wonder if the Trsut will be publishing her resignation letter ? We should be told I think? Perhaps the new PR firm that have been hired to represent the Trust will be letting us know. They are specialists in brand management I read in Third Sector. We must hope that the charity's money is being spent wisely in such matters and I am sure the expenditure will be fully recorded in their annual report ; indeed along with the legal costs also being spent at the moment .Transparency requires such disclosure so a view can be taken and I hope this is also under review by the Charity Commission .Clearly charities must make arrangements in these areas . What must be open to debate however is whether this is proportionate and whether a resolution of the problem is better than spending money in this way ? I shall be very happy to publish the details here as with any response from said PR company. Lets ensure we have the full picture so proper judgments can be made.

We must all hope that the situation here will be resolved quickly and that Ian's position is sorted in the best interests on him and the charity. The wider lessons need to be learnt . It should be very difficult for any Trustee board to remove a CEO , unless of course there is serious negligence or gross misconduct . Good governance should mean an effective executive and non executive relationship , where the respective roles are understood and respected . I also think the role of the Charity Commission may need reviewing in respect of powers of direction . We shall see what happens in this case .Overall it leaves me feeling , and not for the first time , that our governance needs review and strengthening.

Select Committees, Tories ,Members and well being

Shocking story on "Today" this morning . Apparently " blogging is so 2004 " . Its going to go out of fashion . Typical , just as I get into it , the fashion moves on . But I refuse to believe this and will continue unabated;the sector needs its bloggers.

I was looking for bankers and cardboard boxes on Monday . It was the Third Sector Charity Awards in Canary Wharf and as far as I could see no visible signs of distress . Indeed I got soaked by a passing Aston Martin as I made my way to Barclays Bank . Hope he was on the way to the receivers , I uncharitably thought.

The Awards was a fun event . Barclays were rolling out the champagne and I have to admit I drank more than perhaps was advisable for a Monday evening . But it was a triumph for acevo members. I had made 3 nominations ; Clare Tickell for most admired CEO, Bob Reitemier for most admired charity ( the Children's Society ) and Matthew Thompson ( London recycling )for most innovative charity . They are all top class third sector leaders . And they all won . As they should . So there was lots to celebrate . Nick Hurd MP ; the new Tory third sector spokesman turned up so I took advantage and introduced him to a range of acevo members . I travelled back on the tube in a merry mood with the chair of the Charity Commission , the charming Dame Suzi . I think we had put the sector to rights by the time I changed to the Northern Line.

Sticking to the Tory theme, Nick came to speak at one of our splendid acevo dinners at RBS on Wednesday. RBS are very generous hosts and we dine in one of their Board room dining suites. Hard times may be upon us but standards are maintained . The white Meursault Premier Cru is magnificent . Nick turns up late as he was voting at the Commons and by the time he had arrived the 30 or so acevo Chief Executives were in fine fettle ,mellow and expansive and thoroughly relaxed . Nick gave a great speech about his priorities and thoughts on the sector's role .It went down very well indeed . As I have blogged before , this guy is going far and you read it here first! I had also been chatting to George Eustace , the Tory's Director of External Affairs in the lunch break at the annual confernece of Social Enterprise London ( I was chairing a Panel session) . It is clear that the Conservatives do see a major role for the third sector if they win the election . How this will change with the trappings of power remains to be seen , but the intentions seem firm and it is our role to encourage them . Now the new Third Sector Minister Kevin Brennan must show his mettle by delivering a deal on Icelandic deposits and a package of support for the sector to face the crisis . Stuart Etherington , John Low and I will be seeing him next week to ram home this message .I agreed our general line with Stuart on Monday . We will both be pushing hard on behalf of the sector.

I also met the administrator for the Icelandic Kaupthing Bank (from Ernst and Young) this week . It is clear from my discussions with him that the process of liquidation of the Icelandic banks will be lengthy and protracted .it is also not possible for them to give a particular priority for charities. This adds urgency to our demand of Government that a guarantee is given . I would argue that we should get priority above local councils as they wont go bust , but our charities need theitr reserves . I have written to the Local Government Association asking for a meeting . Local Councils have a clear duty to protect the sector at a local level . In the past , when times are hard , they cut grants to the sector. This must not happen now . We talk about this with Nick Hurd ;he completely understands the need for Tory councils to set an example for what a Conservative Government might do . Their actions could undermine their good intentions to us , so he is thinking about how we can work together on this . We talk about how we might discuss this further. Members would very much welcome that so we will do so .

Arts and Heritage are very much needed at the present . Our country is much improved by the presence of so much world class creative industry . ACEVO has a good number of Chief Executives from arts and heritage organisations . They are a fantastic bunch and we have a special interest group where the CEOs get together .I go to meet them on Tuesday and we have an interesting discussion about how much this sector contributes to "well being " . So we must resist the temptation to cut back on our arts spending in a recession . A few years back ACEVO produced a pamphlet on happiness and well being by the brainy Nick Aldridge , former Deputy here at acevo and now CEO of Mission Fish , the ebay charity.

To purchase our Wellbeing, happiness and third sector leadership publication click here

And I shall end with my appearance in front of the august Commons Select Committee for Work and Pensions . They are reviewing the DWP commissioning strategy . I am giving evidence on behalf of the Third Sector . This is the third time I have appeared before a Select Committee . It was somewhat nerve racking and i woke up in the night thinking of my lines. In fact it went rather well and I soon got into the swing of things . I think they liked my description of DWP as an old fashioned state monopoly run on Stalinist lines , though as one of the MPs quipped Stalin had a rather good record on cutting unemployment . I lavished praise on James Pyrnell and the Right to Bid . I pointed out that Full Cost recovery , the DWP Code of Practice were ACEVO invention and that James had launched his Right to Bid guidance at an ACEVO lecture. I suggested that the problem with the implementation of the new scheme will lie in the difficulty of marrying the notion of innovation to an anally retentive , risk averse bureaucracy .

And at the end the Chair ,Terry Rooney MP, said that " the record would certainly show you advocated well for the Third sector".

Saturday 18 October 2008

Keble College in the sun ; Gloom on recession

Keble is a very glorious High Victorian building by my favourite architect William Butterfield. His chapel; and grand Dining Hall are particularly splendid. The buildings positively glowed in the autumnal sun as I waited in the Lodge for my nephew Julian to appear ( this is my hearty nephew rather than the poet , though I did note books of Rilke and Shelley on hearty's bookshelves, so perhaps a closet poet ? ). Julian is in his second year at Keble,reading History and German , but is now also Captain of Boats so he is the guardian of the Keble College's reputation on rowing . This apparently means getting up at 6 every day ! As I recall the only time I saw 6am when I was at Oxford was on returning from a party! Times change clearly.

Julian has asked me to dine in Hall . We sit appropriately enough under a portrait of Cardinal Newman . He was a very fine Anglican cleric , but converted to Rome . Now the Romans were aiming to disinter him for reburial in birmingham Cathedral . Their plans were thwarted when they discovered the body had completely decomposed . All that was left were a few items which , undeterred , they put in the newly constructed marble sarcophagus ;it is poetic justice for Newman as he had instructed that he be buried with his close friend and so they were violating his wishes by trying to disinter him .

It was curry in Hall , washed down with a passable Montepulchiano. It meant a somewhat slow start to Saturday. And now I need to settle down and think through our strategy for coping with a recession . It appears that the recession may be deep and long . This will change the plans for most charities . They will need to review and probably change their strategic direction . We need to think of the challenge of growing unemployment and what this means , not just to the economy but to society . there is a great article by Polly Toynbee in today's Guardian and a good interview with James Purnell ( this lad is a star ) . We cannot yet know the full extent of the problem . but we need to plan for the worst and hope for the best . And I want ACEVO to be there helping that process.

And we are also looking at this from the perspective of Futurebuilders , which I chair . How can we support third sector bodies in rising to the challenge of service delivery through help to upscale , to merge and to develop partnerships. We must look at bridge financing and loans to organisations to help surmount challenging financial times . With banks retrenching from loans the work of Futurebuilders becomes even moor important in providing capital for the sector. And we need to make progress with setting up a Social Investment Bank using unclaimed assets . The capacity of the sector must be strengthened . i talk to David Freud about our tactics on this and how we can get capital to flow to support more delivery .

We will also need to work with the Office of the Third Sector on plans they are drawing up and I text Campbell to set up a discussion . We are also in touch with Government departments and with the Local Government Association . the last thing we need in a recession is to see local councils cutting back on grants and support for front line charities and community organisations. They have done this before and we need to stop then doing it again . I have written to the new Chair of the LGA to ask for joint talks on how we can prevent this.

A heavy week ahead . But the suns shines brightly .

Friday 17 October 2008

Global and local; James and my tie

Our Third Global Leaders Forum takes place at RBS Bank London HQ . Somehow appropriate in the middle of a global financial crisis that has serious ramifications for the third sector internationally . We are looking at the lessons to be learnt across borders on how different countries tackle service delivery reform and the use of the Third Sector . It also marks the publication of a new book by acevo on this . the book causes much comment . Prof Murdoch from South bank University seems ecstatic , in a very academic sort of way ,and is promising to get it reviewed in various international journals. the speakers at the Forum are drawn from across the globe to reflect on different experiences of delivery through the sector. It is clear the UK has a strong leadership role in the way the Government is explicitly promoting our sector's role in delivery.

To order the Global Learning Forum publication click here.

I slip out of the conference to head off to the Commons ; tea in the Pugin Room with Nick Hurd , the Tory lead on the third sector. over 3 decades I have met many many MPs ; indifferent or useless , inspiring and visionary , achingly careerist or just plain great . Hurd is in the later category . He is headed for a Tory Cabinet . He is charming with a strong intellect and a real fee Flor our sector. Indeed he tells me he had once considered a career as a charity CEO. He would have been a good one ! He has already the strong distinction of having been one of the main MPs behind the passage of the Sustainable Communities Act. We run through where acevo is on the current crisis and I ask him to do what he can to highlight the problems and the need for Government action . He agrees this is essential . And we talk through his take on the job and how we can support that . He is also doing one of acevo's dinners next week , again with our friends RBS ( hope the Government have not closed down their wine cellar ! )

Back to the Conference where we have a euclid Board meeting to review the spread of our European network .Membership is growing , but its a slow job building the network and the infrastructure. But the idea of a cross Europe network for sector leaders has to be a good one and it will catch on . Already the EU is giving it strong backing.

My Chair John Low and I have to leave our European colleagues as we have the first of the ACEVO lecture series on public services in a 21st century .Held at Schroders so maintaining the international capitalist theme of the day! . James Purnell is our first lecturer . I'm afraid that when I was choosing ties to wear for the day I managed to go for something a little less than than the usual highly stylish . And he notices ; " boring tie" are his first words as I great him in the sumptuous foyer of a great investment is a great contribution . James now clearly knows his brief. He is a master at the detail when he answers questions from members. But what is particularly important is that he announces the introduction of a " Right to Bid " . This is an important further step towards more delivery by third sector organisations. But in my contribution I make the point that with growing unemployment the work of the sector grows and becomes even more important . Yet we face rising costs , rising demand and falling income . That is not a recipe for sustainability. I repeat the message that Government need to act to support the sector.

To order the Lecture Series publication click here.

The recession has been the leitmotif of the week . My team in acevo have been at work on our plans to support members . We will be launching a number of initiatives next week . This is the time when sector CEOs will expect their membership body to get stuck in and argue and cajole Government to act for them . They will also want us to look at what support we can give . But as I say at the Lecture , more opportunity to deliver citizen responsive public services is a chance to buck recessionary trends.

At least our constant bashing away at the issue is getting through . More and more MPs are raising questions and wanting action . We have now been able to make our case with Purnell and Smith as well as our own sector Ministers.I know the Office of the Third sector are working on the problem and a Government response . We are also making contacts in government departments who are also working on departmental responses . The next few months will be testing for us . But in the face of the unfolding crisis for our members we need to redouble our effort . And we will .

For full details of our lecture series on the sector's role in Public Service Reform visit our website here.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Board strategising!

In Leeds for our ACEVO Board Strategic Away Day. We are meeting at our Leeds office and have a board dinner last night. I am lucky as a CEO to have both a supportive Board but also one where there is real input into strategy direction. Inevitably we spend a lot of time thinking how the recession will affect us as an organisation and our activity as a sector Leader. We share experiences and views. Its a mixed picture. We agree there are opportunities in public service delivery and there are also challenges of scale. An interesting discussion on mergers; we agree this is not the only model but we also agree advice is needed to CEOs to review their strategic plans and to think about partnership and alliances.

My article in The Guardian has been published. It's provocative but intended as a wake up call to Government to come up with a package of support. It is no good the Government resting on the laurels of achievement over the last decade if they don't now provide help in testing times. But I also pay tribute to the substantial record of the last decade. The UK is now the global leader in the third sector. A huge change in the relationship between sector and Government has brought great benefit to us and our beneficiaries. The huge investment in capacity building, the pioneering establishment of the Third Sector Ministry and Office, the drive on service delivery though the third sector. It's a proud record. Now we want it capped with help in troubled times and a renewed partnership for delivery to the victims of recession.

To view the article click here

Tuesday 14 October 2008

At Cabinet Office

Meeting this afternoon with the new team at the Cabinet office - Liam Byrne, MP, who is the new Cabinet office minister and Kevin Brennan, MP, the Third sector Minister.

It's a sitting on sofas type of meeting so I know we are going to be getting along fine!

My key message is that we are hurting. Our beneficiaries are hurting and as partners we need to work together sorting it. I phrased it a little more eloquently. Obviously!

I came away clear that this message is understood and there will be action. There was no way they were going to commit to specific money or action but I'm confident we will get action over the coming months. Liam wanted to know what areas and group would be hit particularly and how this might roll out

We had a long discussion on Gift Aid. They quite understand how difficult it is for us when large sums lie unclaimed. If we could crack this we would unlock large sums to support our members. I wouldn't be surprised if they take this up with HMT.

We also talk about service delivery. And how we need to drive forward public service reform and increase the sector role. I know that Liam is a strong believer in the role the sector can play delivering responsive services. He championed this when he was a Health Minister. He was at our key meeting with Blair when we persuaded him to go for a third sector service delivery action plan. The fact is that service delivery will continue to grow. It is an area of opportunity for our sector. I said we would be promoting this to members. Its a fact that in a recession it is more crucial to secure contracts. Grants will be cut back. Foundations will retrench. Local councils will cut their discretionary spending and regrettably that often means their grant programmes. Not good. But a fact of life.

I also urge them to push ahead with establishing a Social Investment Bank. Now that we the people own the banks there should be no problem in disgorging unclaimed assets and putting them to work as a capital injection into the sector through a Social Investment Bank

I'm there with Dr Kyle, my trusty Deputy. He worked in the cabinet Office so wanders around like he owns the place, meeting and greeting old friends and colleagues. I bump into Nick Pierce, who ran ippr and now runs the Policy Unit in No 10. He looks remarkably healthy for someone who must have been in the thick of things.

So slow progress. But I'm more hopeful. Our Ministers are on side; we referred briefly to an article I have written in tomorrow's Guardian. It is deliberately provocative so I gave Minsters a heads up.

Now I'm on the train to Leeds - my Board Strategic Away Day!!

Stephen Bubb

Appointing Chief Executives

I was sent an advance copy of the press release about the new Chief Executive of NSPCC, Andrew Flannagan from one of my members. I was pleased to see it in Third Sector today…..another stunning bit of private sector search work by Executive Headhunters Rockpools. Running a high profile public company in the commercial world for over a decade like Andrew has done, is no easy task, but neither is running a high profile national charity….I have sent him a note of congratulation and aim to meet up soon. I’m sure he will be an active ACEVO member like his colleagues in the other major children’s charities.

I ring David Fielding who lead this work at Rockpools to congratulate him successfully bringing across someone of such talent. This can only be good for the sector and the NSPCC. David tells me that he was running a training session with a group of future Charity Chief Executives at our ‘Next Generation Chief Executive' programme last week, says what a brilliant bunch they were but wants me to remind current sector Chief Executives and rising stars that they do need to ‘up their game’ so as not to lose out to folk from outside the sector when competing for the very big jobs… a message I fully support, professionalism etc.

Despite the problems of the recession the drive to professionalise the sector goes on. Indeed it becomes more crucial. It is great to see that top class commercial folk see the sector as a real alternative career. But there is also talent in the sector. It is just we do not exploit or develop it. That is why ACEVO also runs an associate membership scheme for aspirant sector chief executives. Indeed we run what we describe as a "next generation" CEO course. As a sector I think we have an enormous pool of talent at the top. It is why our sector achieves so much. If anyone can get blood out of a stone, it is a charity CEO. That is why, despite the difficult times with a determined and professional approach we will win through.

But Government support and encouragement is essential to this, and I am now preparing for my meeting with Liam Byrne, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cabinet Office Minister and Kevin Brennan, our new Third Sector Minister. I shall blog further.

Monday 13 October 2008

Talking to bankers

A great meeting this morning with CCLA , the biggest investment banker to the sector. They have 45000 clients in the charity sector and importantly , they are a mutual . So they are part of our sector. Michael Quicke , the Chief Executive is a member and the splendid Andrew Robinson is one of their key advisers ( not sure what his title is , you know what they are like! ).

We do a lot with them ; for example they sponsored and hosted our recent Governance review. So we were there to chew over the recent developments and to consider how we both help provide support and advice to the sector . It is clear that acevo now needs to review its plans for events and publications for next year and we agree that providing sound advice to third sector bodies in preparing their budgets for next year and reviewing their business and strategic plans is crucial given changed circumstances.

In this crisis the lead sector bodies need to work together and so Stuart Etherington ( ncvo ) and I have been in touch on issues . Stuart has called a summit to discuss how to move forward. And we are working with ncvo , the Charities Aid Foundation and the Finance Director's group to compile a full list of the losses from the Icelandic banks. By mid day our tally was up at £60ml from 20 charities , but much more is to come.

I'm glad to say the press are still interested in our story , and I try to steer them onto the need for an emergency package of support in advance of my meeting with Liam and Kevin . I point out that the Charities Aid Foundation estimate that £700 ml lies around in HMT in unclaimed gift aid . And I push home the point on higher rate tax earners. Lets see if we can get action from Government on this. We have an opportunity . Lets use it . Stuart will be seeing them this week too , so we will be pushing the message home that support is needed . And it is a longer term project , as the Summit in November Stuart has called, will discuss .

I also put the finishing touches to an article for The Guardian . It will be provocative . And set out a challenge for Government . Read it Wednesday .

An amusing interlude as I rush from meeting to meeting ; I get an email from a good friend Keith Smith , who works for Compass , the sector consultants . His partner is Barbara Frost , who is CEO of WaterAid and a very effective former Vice Chair of acevo . They live in Marston Biggot , which also happens to be the last resting place of my Great Great Great Grandparents , George and Elizabeth Chambers. Its a gorgeous part of the country ; just outside Frome in Somerset. I have stayed with Keith and Barbara when I tidied up their grave. Elizabeth was born in the year of the Battle of Waterloo and lived into her 90s so I have photos of her with my grandfather ! A bit wizened looking she was , but a character . I have photos of their house in the village . I gave one to Keith and he has located it . In fact it is currently being sold ; a marvellous place it looks too. Regret ably sector salaries do not run to buying splendid houses in Somerset.

It is always interesting to pick up comment from other Blogs. I note some interesting ones on what is described as " CentreRight" which is hosted on " . There is an attack on me in a pompously entitled comment headed " Not in my Name" ( what , am I supposed to have started the Iraq war ? ) . This attacks my call for an emergency fund for the sector . According to this particular right winger this is "An enormous bung" and a comment further down attacks this as , "greedy and insensitive ." Well you guys , consider this . The Treasury has around £700ml in unclaimed gift aid relief and a further large amount in the unclaimed higher rate tax reliefs . So asking for some of this back at a time of serious decline in donations seems entirely reasonable . Unless your on the centre right of course where presumably we are supposed to suffer in silence and not complain like good little charities ; seen but not heard.

But I guess you have to sympathise ; in times when Gordon Brown implements Michael Foot's election manifesto promise to nationalise the banks and the Tory Leader denounces city types and their fat bonuses it must be difficult to work out what being centre right is these days !

Sunday 12 October 2008

The crisis and the glorious English Autumn

I must have made a curious sight ; striding across the fields , puppy running afor and a mobile glued to my ear. It was such a glorious day I decided to head off to the Plough Inn at Finstock , an ancient hostelry , thatched roof and fine beers. But on the way I get a call from The Guardian for an update on the financial crisis. It is one of many . And although the Sundays did not give us a lot of coverage there was a very good piece in the Business Observer where I get the chance to make a wider case on tax relief .

I venture the opinion that the Government will compensate the charities for their Icelandic losses . The meeting at HM Treasury went well and though no firm promises I think it is inconceivable this Government would not put charities at the top of their list for money back . I trust I will not be disappointed . The key is now to get emergency support . I point out that there are large sums in HMT in unclaimed gift aid . That should simply be handed over . And a reform of the system by giving all tax reliefs to charity , including the relief for the higher rate tax payer. Most higher rate payers don't claim the extra tax back so again the HMT benefits from a windfall that really ought to go to charity . A reform here would make a great difference to those charities losing donations.

It is time we heard a statement from Government on this . The pressure must continue . We cannot be satisfied till we get support to see us through .

Robert Peston is now an inescapable presence on the news bulletins ( I like his Duchamp ties , but he appears to only have 2 and they are getting boring ), and today I was reading he is an inveterate blogger . It was his blog apparently that revealed the banks view that Government was not acting fast enough and so caused a further fall on the Stock Market . Blogs have power it seems ! But somehow I guess he has more readers...

But what a great weekend .Charlbury in the autumnal sun , the glorious colours in the trees , is a marvellous place to be . After the strains of last week its rejuvenating . Ready for more battles. Next week will be action packed ; my annual Board strategic away day on Tuesday and our International Global Leaders Forum on Thursday and meetings on the crisis in between times.

Saturday 11 October 2008

Getting through ; pushing our case.

At last the story about the trials and tribulations of charities is getting through . A .lot of good publicity yesterday about our plight . But it is concentrated on those that have have lost millions in Iceland ; the children's hospice with 6ml gone and the great Cats protection league with 12ml gone. This is great . But it is only part of the story.

A good meeting at the HM Treasury where Lord Myners says they want to help on Iceland . We have to go back to them with a more detailed position on the actual losses . We think it is much larger than being reported simply because many charities are keeping quiet about it . My Deputy did a brilliant job yesterday in the studios and with the press in talking about the problem and what Government need to do to support us . Our worry is that the Government will think that if they help out those charities who have lost deposits that is all they need to do . But that is a first step . We are all determined they must guarantee our losses. The meeting shows the key sector bodies working together ; Charities Aid Foundation , acevo and ncvo . This sends a powerful message.

But The Guardian and The Times carry main stores about our plight with good quotes from me . Dr Kyle is utilising his considerable media and networking skills to get on the airwaves ; ITN, Sky and BBC. And we both speak to most of the press , including the Sundays . The reality of politics is that unless it is seen as a major news story it is more difficult to grab a politician's attention .

We have had lots of messages about the other effects of the financial crisis .One member emails me to say they have lost a big commercial sponsorship from Lehman Brothers . Others report a continuing decline in donations , falling value of legacies and worries that corporate support will simply disappear.

So acevo carries on demanding an emergency fund of £500 ml to support those affected . I will be seeing Liam and Kevin as part of the getting to know you sessions that new Ministers have. So whilst normal business must continue ; I want to talk to them about driving forward service delivery through the sector , but I will also be stressing that action needs to be taken .

It is simply not good enough that the demands of councils and small businesses seem to be getting a strong airing and we are struggling to get our cause recognised. I also get a nice email from Nick Hurd , the new Tory sector spokesman . If you can get an idea of a person from an email he sounds a good guy and keen to support us , though I did notice in his email to my Policy Head that he wants to " hook up" , I guess an Oxford expression not current in my day ! I am seeing him Thursday and will brief him fully . We also need the Tory Front Bench to push our case .

My team back in the office have been fantastic in gearing up support . I end the week by emailing everyone to say thank you . We have seen a dramatic rise in requests from members to use our financial surgery . And members contact us in increasing numbers for advice .

It has been a gruelling week . But we all take great pride in how we have shown leadership on in this crisis . We have led the demands and promoted the story . Its not surprising I guess , as the Chief Executive will be the first person to realise the dangers and want to take action . And the CEO has the leadership role in taking steps to protect the staff and volunteers in their organisations , and crucially to see that services are protected.It is also greatly heartening to get emails from members who say thank you for the work we are doing to push the third sector case .

Now we will work with our colleagues in the sector to push home the message that we need support for our role in providing support to victims of the recession . I have responded positively to the call for a sector summit from Stuart Etherington . It will be held on Nov 24th .

As Dr Kyle puts it ; we are in a perfect storm where we face rapidly rising demand and falling income . It will not be long before charities start going to the wall if we don't get stuck in . So next week the campaign will continue.

But for now I intend to get out into a perfect English autumn and take the happy and sweet Sparkles , my puppy ,for a walk on Clapham Common. She has been bust untying my laces as I blog and shows signs of wanting to eat my toes , so time for walkies , as they say. I am in London this week as the Gas Board want to dig up my kitchen in the Stockwell flat . that will undoubtedly not be fun .

Thursday 9 October 2008

Icelandic chill and Jacqui warmth

Bad news from some members today . We hear from 5 charities that they have had investments in Icelandic banks which are now lost . These total over 30million. One major national charity has lost £12ml and another £4.5ml which amounts to 21% of their total reserve . This is serious news . I send off an urgent letter to the Chancellor , as does the Charity Finance Director's Group , asking for charities to be compensated for these losses.

But this is only the " tip of the iceberg " as my policy guy in felicitously puts it . There will be others who have lost out. And in the meantime demand for charity services rises . Just one example from a member who phones me today ; his trust have a scheme of providing financial help to people . In the last 4 months he has seen a 400% ( yes , that is 400% ) rise in applications over the same period last year . They cannot cope with supporting people at that level . And this is before the real recessionary problems hit .

So today I make a strong plea to the Home Secretary for the Government to step in . i outline our proposed package ; £500 ml in emergency support to organisations , a rapid reform of gift aid so we get all the unclaimed tax breaks the Treasury are sitting on , guarantees of deposits lost and a voice on the national economic council .

She understands the problems we face , I tell her on the way up to the lunch in the RBS lifts that we have members who have lost large sums in the Icelandic crash . She says she will ensure this is passed on . Although she did arrive with a large handbag I'm afraid it did not contain the money I want . But she is on side. We have 30 chief executives present .

Jacqui is a really impressive politician . She is very much on message with our mission as third sector and out desire to work to cut crime . We talk about how best to tackle extremism by working in communities and with radicalised youth . We talk about how we must tackle the root causes of gang culture , and how that requires intensive work by third sector bodies who need to gain the trust of alienated youth . Its a good session .

What is particularly impressive is the passion and conviction of my members and the professionalism of their approach . Not one whinge . It was all entirely positive in wanting to work with Government to sort major social problems. What can be so depressing with some third sector meetings with Ministers is that people come with their whinges and demands and fail to engage at the level needed . A professional approach always wins . That is what acevo stands for . It's what works. And Jaqcui will go away thinking this is a bunch of people who can deliver . Its a positive image. I know from Ministers that they hate it when all they ever get is people dumping their problems and moaning about how useless Government is , when what they would like is to hear how we can work together on solutions.

That is what we need to do in the current recession . So I get back to the office and me and our policy team get down to planning how we can support members best through the crisis.One aspect of this is to stir up the media and get them reporting on the problems w face and how the sector can be used to support the victims of this deepening recession . The Times and The Guardian are interested. And I give the wonderful Today programme a full brieifing on the problems we face. This is not about media for media's sake , but about how we grab the attention of politicians - they all listen to Today and read the press. At least the national news tonight picked up on the charity losses , even if the main focus on local authorities , who are much better placed to cope!

Tomorrow I am going to brief people at the World Economic Forum in Geneva ; this is a global problem for the third sector too .

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Recession again,.but we will see it through!

Our campaign for support in the recession for our sector continues. Yesterday we sent a Briefing to all MPs on the need for emergency support for the sector to help the victims of recession . This was in advance of the Cabinet Office Questions in the Commons today . It was gratifying to see that a number of MPs used our briefing so there was a question about a voice for the sector on the National Economic Council and the need for financial support . It was Liam Byrne's debut as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He should have used it to announce a package of support , but he didn't . However I suspect we are pushing at an open door and we will carry on this campaign .

We now need to broaden it out across the sector and get the key players engaged . We have alerted our members to the need to tell us the effects for them , whether in the big national charities , or local or community organisations .

Listening to the Today programme the sums of money being banded around are mind boggling . As they point out the package for the Banks is 4 times the annual spend of the entire NHS. . In the meantime our proposal for £500million seems modest . In fact these days anything without a billion after it seems positively modest .

We have an acevo lunch tomorrow with Jacqui Smith , the Home Secretary. i am going to use that as an occasion to push our case for action . And it is ironic that we are having lunch at RBS , our strategic partner in the City !

The other key event for the sector this week was the successful second reading of the Unclaimed Assets Bill . This is a crucial piece of legislation which will ensure that the money that lies around in dormant bank accounts , unclaimed over the years , can be put to use for the benefit of the country , rather than the narrow advantage of the banks. We have been arguing for the establishment of a Social Investment Bank , to use the money as capital for the broad third sector. As a sector we have poor access to capital . Futurebuilders was set up as a way of getting capital into the sector. But even with Futurebuilders , venturesom and the Charity bank the supply of capital is modest in the extreme. yet if we can unlock more supply we could see healthy expansion and a virtuous circle of increased investm,ent and growth .

I have agreed with Sir Ronnie Cohen that Futurebuilders need to work with him and his social investment vehicle to support the Bill and to promote the Social Investment Bank . We will work with others to do this . It would be too easy for Government to pass the Bill and then simply leave it to moulder whilst the Banks avoid taking any action to disgorge the money . Yet at this time the Banks need to ensure they regain the trust of the public. Establishing the Social Investment Bank could be one of the finest achievements of this Government for the sector. Lets ensure they don't bottle out.

And ending the blog I can't but fail to note the rather splendid comment posted by Damian on yeasterday's blog. He spoke of optimism that our sector will see through the bad times because of our passion , imagination and determination . That is , for me , the hallmark of today's modern professional third sector chief executive.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Oxo Tower and more recession gloom

Its a 2 dinner evening , or rather would be if I were that gready! It was the Office of the Third Sector's strategic partners meeting. Held at Coin St ( which is rapidly becoming venue of choice for the third sector ) ; there is a reception afterwards , at the Oxo Tower and then dinner . The Oxo Tower is actually run by Coin St as part of their social enterprise so one can wine and dine in the knowledge that profits return to the local community . As it should be at this time of economic crisis.

It is my first official meeting with the new Third Sector Minister , Kevin Brennan , so i wish him well before he disappears to vote . it is Cabinet Office questions tomorrow . We have done a briefing for MPs on the crisis that looms for charities and so hope this come up . We have done major press briefings on this and we are asking government to set up an emergency fund of £500ml to support charities that face both rising demand at a time of recession , as well as falling income . we also want to see a voice for the sector on the new National Economic Council .

It is hard to get our voice heard amongst the insistent demands of the Bankers. I was glad to see a good piece in the Times that highlights the Charities Aid Foundation and acevo survey . It was good also to see a supportive comment from Stuart Ethrington of ncvo on the need for the third sector voice to be heard . less delighted to see someone denouncing our calls as a " gimmick " . Why does the sector find it so hard to come together at a time of serious trouble for us all ? Somehow I doubt if anyone in the business sector denounced the recent £12billion package for small business as a " gimmick " . But strong signals from members that this is important for them and we should keep going in arguing for support . It is the CEOs of smaller organisations , with weaker finances and small reserves that will be particularly worried . We owe it to them to do all we can in our various leadership positions to support them .

This will be a long term campaign . We are already planning how we can push further . We must get action .

The evening at the Oxo Tower is fun and I get a chance to chat to various of the sector luminaries ; Ben Kerrnigan from ncvo , Julia Neuberger , Jill Pitkeathly, Bert Massie , the Fundraising Institute , a number of my members like the great Cambridge House and UnLtd.

I talk to Lindsay of the Fundraising Institute on gift aid .With falling donations it is a scandal that much of the potential tax back that charities should be getting goes unclaimed . Lindsay points out that most higher rate taxpayers do not claim back their charity donations . Why do they get this back anyway . A simple reform would be to ensure all the tax is returned to the charity , We agree we need a further push together on this and we will meet to discuss further.

I eat the first course , but as I have Australian friends staying back at the flat I go back for the rest of dinner !

And news today of changes on the Tory front bench . Greg Clark is moving on to shadow Ed and we have a new shadow Third Sector Minister , Nick Hurd , son of Douglas who was the Charlbury MP before Cameron . I'm looking forward to meeting him ; Classics from Exeter ,Oxford I note but this must not be held against him .

And talking of Oxford, my nephew Alexander has finished his exams for a Fellowship at All Souls . This is such a prestigious post there is huge demand and so fingers are crossed . The exams are famous . The question in one paper is always just one word on which you can write what you like . This year it was " novelty " . The question in another paper was " Does the moral nature of an orgy change if the participants are wearing Nazi uniform? ".

Saturday 4 October 2008

and what of the victims of recession?

I wake to a text from Phil Hope telling me he has been appointed the Social Care Minister ( Ivan's old job ). It is fantastic Phil has this post . It is one of huge importance for many of us in the sector . Ivan has done great work in promoting the third sector and in supporting the introduction of individual budgets for social care clients. This is radical and important work . Phil will carry it on . He has been an extremely effective Third Sector Minister. I like him and acevo has worked well with him . So it will be good that we shall stay in touch in the new job.

Liam Byrne takes on Ed's job in the Cabinet Office . This is also great news for the sector. Liam is a true believer. He strongly backs more service delivery through the third sector. He will give this agenda a renewed push . I have known Liam for years and he was one of the Ministers at the now famous meeting between acevo and Tony Blair in Downing St which led to the creation of the Office of the Third Sector and the public service action plan. So an early meeting beckons.

And I send a text to Ed to congratulate him on a really exciting appointment. It will be a real challenge , and he has the intellectual skills needed to master a brief that is important to all of us; climate change. It will require decisive and firm action . So go for it Ed . Just follow the advice of all the superb third sector environmental groups and you will not go far wrong.

All the talk is of the problems of the banks and building societies , bail outs and support for people who , in the good times , gave little thought for their actions beyond the next bonus. And now we are absorbed in their probl;ems and their insistence on being supported. Of course we need to ensure a recession does not turn into a depression ,.Of course we need to bolster our economy . But what of those who are now losing their jobs? Those who have real struggles to meet rising bills? The elderly or disabled who have rising panic about how to meet the winter fuel costs?

Where is the emergency support for them ? We see a Government providing guarantees for savers. How about a gaurantee no one will die this winter because they cant afford to heat their house?

I am staggered that in all the plans for the new National Economic Council there appears to be no role for the third sector. It is essentail that this new council also look at what needs to be done to support those who will suffer as a result of the recession . I am on Sky News on Friday calling on the Government to look at an emergency funding package ; to support more debt counselling , fuel poverty , unemployment and homelessness support. I am being interviewed on Bloomberg on Monday to make the same point.

This is crucial because , as I was telling Polly Toynbee ,who rang on Friday ; demand on the services of charities is rising at the same time as our costs go up and donations go down . acevo and the Charities Aid Foundation conducted a survey of Charity CEOs 4 weeks ago . At that stage we found;
* over 70% reported rising demand
* over 70% report significant increases in costs
* one third report a fall in donations.

I guess it is not surprising that donations will fall , but this is coupled by a likely fall in commercial sponsorship and support . This is the time when we see whether all those "corporate social responsibility " statements that companies like mean anything! I shall be using my Monday interview with Bloomberg to ram this message home.

And if public spending starts to decrease then we can expect many local authorities to be cutting grants ( always the problem of grants not contracts ) .

So I am writing to the PM to ask him to ensure the new Economic Council look at how to support the victims of recession and crucially ; to look at how we use the Third Sector and how to channel more resources through us to those most in need.

It is not just that Government needs to do more in emergency support . We need to redouble efforts on giving . Persuade the public to keep up the level of donation . And how about the Government getting a grip on gift aid and the huge problem of the unclaimed tax benefits . I have long argued for action to increase take up .. The Tories have said they will act on this . So now is the time for the Government to act itself.

At least those with contracts have more protection , particularly those with 3 years or more . And I would hope TSOs look at opportunities to expand and promote their delivery of public services which are clearly needed at a time of growing recession . This has always been a problem with grants : the upside is the relative ease and lack of bureaucracy . The downside is that it is a form of patronage that can be as easily removed as given . How many Foundations will continue to give grants I know of one London grant maker that has stopped making any more grants. Others may follow , adding to the gloom in the sector.

The sector now needs to gear its loins and demand action . acevo will be taking this forward next week . We have already set up a series of seminars for members " Leading through a recession". They are intended to provide practical advice and support to those CEOs now feeling the pinch , or worried about how sustainable they are . In Futurebuilders we are looking at how we can support TSOs who want to merge or form alliances. You can expect a big growth in mergers ( and acquisitions ) over the next few years . We need to ensure this happens in a structured and effective way .

But to end on a positive note. I have always been struck by the inventiveness and resilience of the third sector CEO. If anyone is able to cope with falling resources and rising demand it is our sector. We are experienced in extracting blood from stones. We will carry on in adversity . And show the public and private sectors our mettle.

Its a cold chill day in Charlbury , but the sun is shining. Its a metaphor for us , chill times ahead but the sector will keep on its brilliant work .

Friday 3 October 2008

Honours and the great blackberry hunt

Disaster . I arrive in Charlbury and my blackberry goes dead during a phone call . I have left the charger in London . Horror strikes as I realise that a weekend of no emails and phone calls looms. So I set off in search of someone who might have a blackberry . I try the local pubs; I am greeted with a mixture of bemusement or horror. Blackberries grow on bushes up here . Why would I be wanting to pick them in the dark . And why with a charger ? So no joy . And then it is off to find the one and only local public phone . It looks decidedly disused .I feed it large sums of money which it eats with alacrity. People walk past and stare at this solitary figure , puppy in arms in a phone box. Sad.

The hunt resumes in the morning , and this time with success as I find someone in GWP , a mining consultancy . Joy unalloyed . Yet perhaps the news , relayed quickly to my staff, is not as warmly greeted ? Gone the thought of a Friday without insistent emails from the Boss.

Anyway I discover that my Blog is now being read in Charlbury . The proprietor of the excellent Evenlode Books , a marvellous little bookshop , indeed a minor national treasure these days ,has put a link on his site to other Charlbury bloggers . So when I go to buy a loaf in the other minor Charlbury national treasure ,The Good Food Shop , I am warmly greeted with the news I have another reader!

I enjoy Desert Island Discs. This morning it was Miriam Margoyles. A star. I have followed her career since the early days when , 36 years age, she signed my nomination papers to stand for Lambeth Council in Clapham Town . My other proposer was none other than the formidable authoress Angela Carter. Clapham is like that ; full of assorted literati and glitterati. The rest is history as I was elected , rather a surprise to me as I only stood at the last minute! Miriam is such a treat this morning. The voice and the mimicry , and her ironic self detachment mark her out as a real marvel.

I have received a letter telling me the Cabinet Secretary has approved my appointment to the Honours Advisory Committee for another 3 years. I have been on the committee that makes recommendations on Honours for local government , the police and fire services and the voluntary sector. It is an interesting appointment and one I take very seriously as it has huge responsibility to ensure effective and proper recommendations.

The Honours system is wrapped up in more secrecy than it need be ; yet that is often only a perception The reforms of the system introduced a few years back were aimed at making the system more open . It meant that the committees that make all the recommendations were opened to non executives to bring in outside skill and knowledge to supplement that of the Permanent Secretaries and others who had been the lead members making the decisions. It is easier than people think to make a recommendation and I have encouraged my members to put people forward they think deserve national recognition.

I am a strong supporter of the system . Indeed I am an opponent of those who argue fora change of name from" Empire " to something else. This is a system that brings enormous joy to the many in the sector who are recognised for the contribution , usually largely voluntary , they make to the nation and to society . To receive an Honour from the Monarch is a source of enormous pleasure and pride to those fortunate to be selected . I know this from my good friend the Talented Mr Fielding who was awarded an MBE after he had become the first non Japanese person to win the international aikido championships .

As well as the many brilliant examples of voluntary work and contribution I also believe that those professionals who work in our sector should be rewarded too .So I have argued for effective recognition of the many talented CEOs and workers in third sector bodies. They deserve recognition in the same way that Police Chiefs or Local Council CEOs get recognised .One of the criticisms made is that people sometimes just get the gong as part of rations . I know , from the very strong scrutiny that every individual honour gets ,this is wrong and does not happen .We are always clear that we want to award for more than just doing the job . There needs to be a real personal commitment and achievement . But I also agree with the Prime Minister , who has argued for more recognition of the "unsung heroes". People who selflessly contribute to society over the years.

So I encourage acevo members to make recommendations _ and you can do this as well . In fact it is easier than you might think . There is even a form on the Government website under "Honours ". If I had more dexterity on the blog I would put in a link.....go for it.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Working with the Civil Service

Last week we held a Strategic Away Day with top civil servants; thinking about the role of the sector, the day had been co- organised by acevo and the Cabinet Secretary, Gus O'Donnell (who attends for the whole day, despite having just flown back from Afghanistan). There are eight Permanent Secretaries and other senior civil servants and 15 drawn from acevo's CEOs. The day starts when we pick up the Perm Secs in a bus in Whitehall. This is organised by Hackney Community Transport; we are off to Coin Street - a fantastic social enterprise in Waterloo. Ian Tuckett , the CEO there starts the day off by talking about how he has built up Coin Street into a powerful social and economic force.

My presentation sets the theme for the day "The power of the Third Sector ". I am unapologetic about our role, our strength and our future. I tell them they often underestimate how big we are- 1.5ml staff and a £42billion turnover. We are an economic and social force. So what stops Departments making more use of this force? And what problems do Government Departments find in dealing with the sector?

Clare Tickell from Action for Children and Tony Hawkhead from Groundwork UK produce superb presentations on their work. The discussions that follow are what I later describe as "high octane, high content".

There are a number of discussions; on the need for more mergers partnerships and alliances, how to promote interchange between civil servants and the sector, how to encourage civil servants to become trustees and how we ensure our input into policy development continues as well as our delivery role.

There is debate about potential changes in government but the civil servants are models of propriety here! We merely point out it is our job, difficult though that can be, to work with government, whilst helping the opposition to develop their policies. There is also interest in our global leadership role as a sector. I point out the growing links acevo has built up with other governments and our role in developing leadership in civil society in the Balkans and in Africa. It's an area I say we can be proud of and a little flag waving for the UK third sector is definitely in order. There will be further such days and indeed I am now pursuing other such Departmental initiatives. This is very much about the practicalities of leader to leader peer learning.

Campbell Robb, from The Office of the Third Sector, and I are drawing together then themes and actions to make sure the day translates into practical progress. But already I know various of the participants have made links and intend to follow up contacts. Rob Owen, the dynamic ex Investment Banker, (bet he is glad he got out) who runs the St Giles Trust gets the prize though, he has asked the Cabinet Secretary to visit the Trust. Gus will be following a long line of Ministers and Shadows who have beaten a path to the door of this great organisation finding work and support for young kids at risk of criminal activity or having been in prison. Rob makes a rather simple point; his project can demonstrate stunning outcomes. If he was in the private sector people would he throwing money at him to replicate and to up scale. But as it is he struggles for every penny and whilst he could expand the capital and the contracts limit his ambition. This cannot be sensible.

We have an interesting discussion on whether you can up scale innovation. What is it about great local projects that can be up scaled, or do yes the unique passion and commitment when you do that. It's an interesting point and I'd welcome feedback from blog readers.

Getting back to work yesterday from an intellectually charged lunch with the egregious Nick Wilkie (who runs London Youth; we discuss the benefits of National Service!) . I discover a very flattering review of my blog "this ever popular blog". See link.