Saturday 29 November 2008

India , Green and hope in a recession?

It was a bizarre moment. I was online and in the process of booking flights to Madras when the 10 pm BBC news came on . The atrocities in Bombay were being reported. I thought , perhaps time for reflection on that ; so i did not book . But then in the morning felt ashamed at such wimpish and irrational behaviour and went ahead and booked up . I am going to Madras and Southern India for a holiday next year . I am intending to follow in the footsteps of Great Grandfather x4 , who was a Colonel in the East India Company and fought with Wellington in his Indian campaigns. And the beeches of Tamil Nadia are supposed to be superb . And the British High Commissioner in India was on Today saying no reason not to continue going to India ; and he is right.

The events surrounding the arrest of Damien Green MP are truly shocking. I knew Damien well at Oxford . A good guy ; on the civilised wing of the Tory Party and a dedicated and intelligent MP. The heavy handed behaviour of the police is frightening . All the more reason for us to value our third sector organisations who campaign for our civil liberties and protect the fabric of our civil society . There is something rather sinister here and suspect we have not heard the last of this. The performance of Phil Woolas MP on the Today programme was lamentable . Can one not expect our Labour Government to be on the side of the people against the intrusions of an over mighty State? I have dropped Damien a note wishing him well after his 9 hour ordeal with Inspector Knacker of the Yard.

ACEVO is now working on its ideas from members for the action plan from Government for the sector . I got a feeling from members at our Annual Conference that there is a strong streak of determination that we can use the recession to strengthen organisations . There are opportunities for us to expand our role in tackling rising unemployment and the fall out of a downturn . And the continuing role for an expanded sector service delivery is as strong as ever . So we will need to review those challenges and opportunities . This reinforced my belief that we need to support restructuring through more mergers of charities , more alliances and partnerships , and exploring the scope for partnership with the private sector in delivering services. The downturn ought to encourage Government and local authorities to think what more can be delivered through the third sector . So I expect that in the new year we will see government pushing further on reform and the outsourcing of public services. And as I said at the Conference we have a strong relationship with Government and can expect them to support us . Though it would be nice if they could be prompt about it .

One of our keynote speakers at the Conference was Chris Banks , Chairman of the Learning and Skills council . He announced that they have commissioned ACEVO to undertake a study of Chief executives attitudes to the " Train to Gain " programme .Take up in the sector has been slow . Chief Executives tell me the bureaucracy is problematic , so we will review this and make proposals to the LSC. We have established a small steering group of senior members to guide the review and appointed Nick Carey , a bright young guy form Cambridge ( and who we rescued from a deathly career in accountancy )to handle the work stream .

We all know that upskilling is a vital part of any organisation's response to recession . CEOs need to ensure that the skills of their staff and volunteers is strengthened .It will be an interesting piece of work .

But now I am looking forward to a no nonsense relaxing weekend in Charlbury .The sun is faintly shining . There is a sharp cold in the air but a brisk walk to the magnificent Pub in Finstock , across the fields and woods around the Cornbury Estate will be invigorating . And the pint of Hook Norton Ale refreshing. Sparkles will enjoy the run and the ferreting around in her new coat!

It is my Board meeting next week and we too are looking at how we ensure our organisation , as well as the sector comes through the next decade strengthened.

Friday 28 November 2008

ACEVO's Annual Conference

In Docklands - at the Excel Centre - for our Annual Conference. It's the biggest gathering of third sector CEOs and Chairs in our sector. Our focus is on strategic planning; the top job for a Trustee Board and Chief Executive.

In the way we do things in ACEVO, our conference always marks a publication to provide the background for discussion. "Creating change: Chief Executives on governance". Click here for a link to ACEVO's publications.

The value of the document lies in the examples and tips from Chief Executives themselves on how to do it, rather than giving hand me down plans. Jackie Ballard, the CEO of RNID, was closely involved in putting it together and she gives a keynote speech on how she implemented new strategic plans in RNID. Her top tip from the speech is that any plans have to meet 5 tests; Simple, Clear, Credible, Motivating, Unique.

We had two respondents to Jackie. Harriett Baldwin, who is the Tory spokesperson on Social Enterprise and the Chair of FBE Investment Committee. Harriett was previously Managing Director at JP Morgan and talked from a private sector perspective. Her key point was the need for energy behind the process as well as "buy in". And Stephen Remington, who runs Action for Blind People, made the same point about how there has to be energy and dynamism in the process. And we are a sector who ought to value the loose cannon - or as Stephen said, "for at least 3 days in the week!"

And one of the key lessons from the book; you have to communicate well.

Inevitably our conference turns to the recession. How long? How deep? What effects on us? We have a couple of economists and an insolvency practitioner! Mixed messages. But the key for me is that a Chief Executive has to review any business or strategic plan to take account of the problems a recession throws up, as well of the opportunities. As I said at our annual black tie dinner last night, in introducing Kevin Brennan, the Third Sector Minister: the Chinese character for "crisis" consisted of 2 pictograms - one for danger and one for opportunity.

But the highlight of these events is always the chance to talk to members - to gossip and reflect. And learn from your peers!

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Lets hear it for Large and Good, Crime and Awards

The Guardian Public Sector Awards was a glittering affair . At Billinsgate .I had been a judge for some of these awards . Though I arrive late because I come straight from the futurebuilders Board meeting in Highgate . We have had our meeting at Treehouse ; brilliant charity who provide education and care for autistic kids . Futurebuilders have invested nearly £5 million in helping them put up their brilliant new building . As well as the direct service they provide to autistic kids- from 4 up to 19 - who would otherwise probably be in resident Care , they run national research and support services which draw on their experience with autism . It is great to see the results of an FBE investment . Made under the previous tender so all credit to them for a great decision .

I get a quick tour round by the Chief Executive , who is also an acevo member . It is sometimes good to see the effect that the investments we make and remember that the majority of our investments are brilliant contributions to growing the sector , even though some,times the media want to concentrate on problems . Stephen Cook , you know what I mean!

But it does mean that I arrive having missed the champagne reception and the networking. But not too late to have a word with the great Ed Miliband.Good to see him . And obviously I make up for the missed networking by doing a round of the tables. Good to see some of our members there.

The morning started badly. I see a press report that Ian Duncan Smith has been attacking large charities again ( see Third Sector ). He apparently argues the fact that the larger charities have grown by more than smaller ones is an indication of that bizarre phenomena he calls " tescoisation" . Now this sort of small: good , big :bad approach makes my blood boil. Larger charities have got large and are often growing because they are good at what they do ; productive and efficient, meeting client need and delivering good things . He makes an attack on large charities for campaigning . And this is the nub of the problem I suspect. He appears not to accept that a core purpose for many charities is to campaign for a better life for their beneficiaries. So the great NSPCC was set up in the 1820s to deliver a better deal for abused children and to campaign against child abuse . Thank goodness they still do this . They both provide child protection services as well as fearless campaigns against abuse . We need them against continued evidence that child abuse is present in our society . And it needs a charity with the strength and the scope of a large national organisation. You may disagree with them , but it seems to me just wrong to argue they should not campaign . It is how we secure change . And how we ensure that a vibrant civil society ensures a healthy democracy.

And what is it with this jibe about Tescos? I am old enough to remember the days of the old fashioned High Street . The shops that opened at 9 and closed at 5 as well as an hour for lunch . And you bought your bread at the bakers and meat at the butchers and candles at the candlestick makers. And now we have Tescos. Open at weekends . And in the evenings. I wonder if Mr Duncan Smith shops at Tesco ? Perhaps he is like me and goes there for the wide range of choice ,well priced and decent quality products . A store that aims to deliver what customers want . And because it does that it has grown . And if charities do that is it a problem? And if a great small charity has a service people need and it grows because people want what they have to offer does it turn into a bad charity ?

I know some fantastic small community enterprises and local charities through the work I do as Chair of the Adventure Capital Fund. We invest in small organisations . We invest to help them grow. They want to expand . They want to upscale because they believe in what they do . Other organisations want to stay small . This is a diverse and a rich sector where there are big and small , campaigning and delivery third sector bodies. I know of the tremendous work of the large national charity Chief Executives. Their dedication and professionalism . I hate to see this work attacked in this way because somehow large is held to be bad . I want to see a sector that grows in strength and influence . That means stronger and bigger organisations with the capacity and infrastructure to challenge as well as to deliver to scale what they do best .

Ian Duncan Smith has done some brilliant work on behalf of the sector. He has championed the role we play and his work in the centre for Social Justice and the work he has done with Graham Allen MP on social exclusion is a real advance . He has helped the Tories understand the important role this sector plays . But he lets himself down when he attacks large charities. And I urge him to stop .

A phone call later in the day from David Hanson MP, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice who is handling work on offender management . Our members working in this area have been increasingly upset at the lack of progress in ensuing they can deliver more services in prisons and in probation . The lack of progress in harnessing the talents of the many excellent third sector bodies that work in rehabilitation of offenders is a scandal . The entrenched interest of the prison and probation establishment who have scandalously opposed the sector in their desire to expand their work has meant that opportunities to deliver better services have been stymied and thwarted. David made a statement in the Commons today and was keen to talk me through it .

I had proposed to Jack Straw that we set up a working group to look at the role the third sector could play in dleivering services. It seems our work has borne fruit . Although we had argued for the retention of a national target for outsourcing the new scheme they are planning to open up to competition may well offer better chances for us to compete and win contracts . He tells me they will make further announcements on how the new competition and better value scheme will work . It is clear he has taken on many of the points we have made in our working group . So I feel a quiet sense of satisfaction that an acevo initiative may well have advanced our sector's interest . Of course the entrenched powers in the state service may still fight a rearguard action I think we will see progress . And if that means we get better and more targeted rehabilitation services that is good for the country . We can only reduce crime in the long term through recognising most crime is committed by those who have been in prison. And the third sector has a unique role to play in this great quest .

So the cross mood lifts and I get home in time for The Archers and Coronation Street. The only night in this week so Im allowed a little soap!

Tuesday 25 November 2008

The summit and Action Plans

So the week began early - at 6.00am Monday. Not sure quite why Stuart Etherington called our Recession Summit for a 8.00 am start? To emphasise the serious purpose I guess though Stuart is not normally a man of Puritan streak!

Still - a productive event. I think if I was honest I was hoping for some actual announcements of money but the fact that the PBR was to be later that day made it unlikely. But Kevin Brennan, our Third Sector Minister, came and co-chaired and did announce an action plan for the sector to deal with the recession. This was welcome news and, as I said to Alison Benjamin of The Guardian, no point in them launching an action plan that has no actions.

So I am optimistic. As I said at the Summit, we enter this recession as a much larger and stronger sector. We have a better relationship with Government. We can expect support and we must get that from an action plan. ACEVO has been promoting an action plan and already fed in its ideas. My previous blog sets those out. We asked members what were their priorities for action and they went for:-

- payment by statutory bodies for third sector services within 10 days, as offered by the government to SMEs.

- Reform of VAT, allowing charities to recover more of what is currently irrecoverable VAT. Irrecoverable VAT currently costs the sector £500-600 million a year.

- Reform of Gift Aid. Currently around £700 million goes unclaimed as a result of the flawed system.

- The establishment of a Social Investment Bank to kickstart more investment into the sector

- Support for the difficulties many third sector organisations will have with their pension schemes

- A Thriving Local Third Sector Fund to enable local authorities to invest in securing their National Indicator 7 target of a ‘thriving third sector’.

The contributions at the Summit were good and there was a strong sense of united purpose. A feeling that in trouble we need to pool ideas and get action from Government but that also means us all using our own channels and media outlets to push the message. I did an interview on LBS in the morning just before the Chancellor came on. I made clear the demands we have on him!

I know that members are increasingly saying to me that if Government can act so swiftly for small business, why not for us? It's a fair point. We have called for an emergency package of £500m and it is needed. Small business have been much more successful in demanding, and getting money out of Government. You would have thought we would have more clout than small business. But apparently not.

So we wait and see. And still no news on Icelandic bank deposits. What is going on? I know there are other priorities but we need to know what is being planned.

On the wider front of the sector itself we need to think how we as CEOs plan for recession. Reshaping budgets and business plans and seeking new opportunities. Kevin Brennan, MP, made the point at the Summit that this is a time for innovation. He is right. This is a sector that can be great at innovative ways round problems. But we also need to consider issues like mergers and acquisitions,m alliances and partnerships. So we will also need to look to organisations like Capacity Builders and futurebuilders to grow capacity and. Infrastructure in the sector.

I am on my way to the Board Meeting of FBE. We are looking at ways to support market shaping and helping third sector bodies up scale. Its essential. And the office of the third sector will want to encourage those organisations to help support this process.

We are due to have a joint meeting of the two Boards when the new CEO of Capacity Builders takes up his post. I am meeting him soon to talk about what we can do together - combining the capital funds of FBE with revenue from CB in packages to support merger and partnership.

And to lighter matters. The church Bazaar on Saturday. I was in charge of the book stall and had roped in my nephew Alexander to help. Now in Charlbury we have an eclectic mix of books, ranging from trash to high brow and bizarre. Of course running the stall you get first look! And one of the privileges of volunteering is a unique access to the bric a brac and cakes.

The book pricing policy follows a vague plan. Trash cheap and hardbacks and interesting books more. And I operate a social justice policy so the cut of ones jib is vital in determining prices. Pensioners get their Mills and Boon at knock down. And as someone says to me taking away their large Maeve Binchy "you get a lot of words for 30p". Indeed. I pick up some gems. A 30s book entitled "Foreigners". I think it would not be published nowadays containing as it does outrageous statements about the French, Australians etc. But a period piece from a time when they really knew how to do recession! I missed the letters and journals of Byron - going for an amazing £2 but got a folio edition of the "Father Brown" stories and an old guide to Oxfordshire.

And not forgetting a grand rum pot I intend to use for the fruit in next year's Christmas cake. It was, of course, "Stir up Sunday" - the last Sunday of the church year when traditionally Christmas cakes and puddings are made. I remember the tradition from the distant age that was my youth - I used to stir in the silver sixpences. The term comes from the collect for the day from The Book of Common Prayer which begins "Stir up O Lord".

It's a message to Government methinks as they decide on the action plan.

Monday 17 November 2008

Catz Club , Baby P , Tyra Henry and the lessons to learn?

The decision of Futurebuilders to invest in an innovative child care charity , the Catz club , has been exciting comment in " Third Sector " magazine . I even had a call form a Sunday Times journalist about it . There have been problems with this investment , and it has been frustrating for me as the Chair of FBE because neither I nor my CEO were involved in the original decision , but having said that we have to learn the lessons .

We are having a debate on this at the next FBE Board on the 25th November . We need to ensure that when dealing with public money our decisions are transparent . But there is a strong danger that the sensationalist reporting of the case has the effect of making investors or grant makers more risk averse . The yards of coverage in Third sector , who clearly thought ( wrongly ) they had hit on another Watergate , may make people less likely to invest in innovative or bold projects . If you are working at the edge then you have to take risks . That means there will be failures. It was interesting that at last night's acevo Public Services for the 21st century Lecture , Francis Maude MP made the point that the media seem not to be able to differentiate between failures that are culpable and ones that simply represent a project that in the end did not work out. And in discussion with members after the Lecture a number were saying that it is a huge pity Third Sector have added to the risk averse culture , as well as ignoring the fact that the Catz Club have actually been delivering good child care in the clubs they have managed to establish .

The last of our lectures last night was held at the BT Tower. A brilliant venue and a sparkling evening . Francis gave the lecture and the respondents to his lecture were a brilliant bunch: Tom Flood ( Mr Green Volunteering ), Sir Bert Massie ( Mr Compact )and Harriett Baldwin ( Ms Futurbuilders Investment ). The debate was top class , with great contributions from acevo members and friends . but I was particularly impressed with the contribution by Francis Maude . The conservatives have been showing they have listened to the sector . As I said , there were whole chunks of the lecture I could have lifted and used as a speech to my members. The Lecture ,as with the other 3 , have been filmed and will be available as podcasts on the acevo website.

I get home to hear that , at long last , Haringey Council have issued an apology for the errors they made in the case of Baby P. This is long overdue . They have shown inept handling of this case . Whilst I am sure the Director of Children's Services, Ms Shoesmith , is an excellent professional , she made a serious error in both refusing to apologise , and not immediately having an independent inquiry . And the ruling group of Councillore were negligent in not understanding the deep public revulsion this case caused and immediately ordering an inquiry.

This took me back to the days when I too had to handle the media in the fall out of a similar very tragic case of a child murder ; the case of Tyra Henry , a baby battered to death whilst under the care of Lambeth Council . this was back in 1984 and I was the vice Chair of Social Services and in charge of the children's and care side of the work .It fell to me to handle the response from the Council . I was under a lot of internal pressure to not apologise but " stick up " for the social workers . I remember in particular the threats from NALGO ( now Unison ) not to criticise staff. I had read the case files and believed we had a case to answer . And felt the tragic death of an innocent child deserved an apology from the Council in whose hands that baby was entrusted . So we did apologise . And we established an independent Enquiry , the report of which was one of those that helped develop policy in this area.

But again it is important not to let the media seduce you from doing what is right . It would not be correct for all children in care to be taken away from their families. There is very clear evidence that children in the care system away fro the care of parents or foster-adoptive parents fare badly and show up disproportionately in prisons ,as drug abusers , mental health problems etc . I used to see this from the other side as a Youth Court Magistrate in South London for 20 years up to 2000 when I took on the acevo job. The endless sad procession of kids from care homes who ended up in trouble with the law . Not bad people . But they had lost out and been poorly done by at the hands of the State .

These are difficult decisions . To leave a baby or child with parents or parent , or to remove them . but once a mistake is identified lessons must be learnt and apologies given . The public sector is sometimes so bad at understanding this.

Debating recession action for the sector

In tackling the recession the third sector needs to maximise on its ideas and innovation, our creativity and determination. And so we have been asking our ACEVO members for their ideas and thoughts and now we have put together a 10 point plan which we are launching next week in advance of the sector summit on the 24th November. We need to get buy in from members and the wider sector as well as from our sector colleagues in NCVO etc.

Here it is. We want a debate so we can garner other thoughts and ideas too.

1. £500m emergency cash-flow support
- In times of economic downturn TSOs find themselves with less income which can dramatically affect their cash flow
- Government should provide an emergency £500m fund to support cash flow to enable charities to remain solvent.

2. Thriving Local Third Sector Fund
- Third sector organisations play a vital role in society, and the Government has recognised this by making one of targets (National Indicator 7) for local authorities a ‘thriving third sector’. In a recession the third sector’s role is even more important but the danger is that local authorities will reduce funding to cut costs.
- Government should provide ring-fenced funding to support local authorities in their efforts to encourage a ‘thriving third sector’

3. Guarantee existing CSR programmes from nationalised banks
- Some ACEVO members have reported newly nationalised banks are considering shutting existing corporate social responsibility schemes.
- Newly nationalised Banks should honour commitments made to their communities.

4. Greater bank lending
- third sector organisations have been finding it harder to access funding from banks.
- Government should ensure that third sector organisations have opportunities to access capital as they have done in the past.

5. Public Service Action Plan 2
- third sector organisations have massive un-tapped potential in delivering public services, and despite the progress made under the first Public Service Action Plan (created by the Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office) there are still barriers to be overcome.
- A second Public Service Action Plan should be drafted in consultation with the sector to give another big push to third sector delivery of public services.

6. £250m Creation of a Social Investment Bank
- third sector organisations have historically had difficulties accessing funds from mainstream banks.
- As called for by the Commission on Unclaimed Assets, Government should provide £250m to start up a social investment bank to provide charities with access to capital.

7. Reform Gift Aid
- Currently £700m goes unclaimed.
- The system should switch from the current administratively burdensome system to one where charity’s accounts are used to calculate the amount of Gift Aid they are entitled to.

8. Reform VAT
- A huge cost to third sector organisations comes from irrecoverable VAT
- Government should compensate third sector organisations for all irrecoverable VAT.

9. Charitable Remainder Trusts
- Lack of tax incentives for Charitable Remainder Trusts is inconsistent with the general tax approach towards the third sector, and is resulting in lost funds.
- Government should demonstrate its support for Lifetime Legacies through reforming their tax approach to Charitable Remainder Trust giving.

10. Payment in 10 days from statutory bodies
- Many third sector organisations can be particularly hard hit by late or non-payments to them by statutory bodies.
- Any and all payments from governmental bodies to third sector organisations should be made in 10 days, as offered to Small to Medium-sized Enterprises in the Government’s recently announced SME support package.

11. Free health checks
- Third sector support organisations face a unique combination of falling income, rising costs and rising demands.
- Government should match the offer recently made to SMEs of free health checks from an organisation such as ‘Business Link’.

12. Access to training
- The crucial role third sector organisations will play in the coming months and years will require a motivated and skilled workforce.
- Government must invest in the training of third sector staff and volunteers for the future, mirroring the £350m announced by Government for small to medium-sized enterprises.

13. Icelandic bank deposit guarantee scheme
- Up to £200m could be at risk and some third sector organisations could be forced to cut services to the most vulnerable as a result
- Government should offer 0% interest, unsecured loans to all organisations affected until their money is retrieved from failed banks by the administrators.

14. Double the Grassroots Grants scheme to £260m.
- Smaller third sector organisations could be badly affected by the downturn as donations and funding streams dry up.
- The Grassroots Grants scheme (funded by the Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office) should be doubled, there should be an active campaign for matched corporate funding, and the scheme should be extended beyond 2011.

15. Mainstream third sector organisations into the Government’s response to recession
- Government has announced various measures to support people through the recession (e.g. household energy packages), but the potential for third sector organisations to contribute to that support has not been maximised.
- In a similar vein to the public service action plan, the Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office should work with other government departments to enable charities are able to play their full role in supporting people through the recession.

16. Support for the difficulties that many third sector organisations will have with their pension schemes.
- Numerous third sector organisations face serious difficulties with their pension schemes as a result of the economic downturn
- Government should work with the third sector to address these difficulties.

Our Summit to discuss what action is needed takes place next Monday at NCVO. Monday is also the day of the pre Budget report . So we must be hopeful that the Government will use this as an occassion to announce what it needs to do to support the sector .

In the meantime we also need to be using the current problems in the economy to review our own startegies and opportunities for growth , for example in service delivery or in forming partnerships and alliances with other third sector bodies or with the private zector.

but we are interested in views more widely . this is the time for those with innovative aproaches or ideas to help us develop the sector so we come through a recession strengthened .

Sunday 9 November 2008

The wretched banks

Well , you have to hand it to the Banks . Their public relations has just about hit rock bottom and they are now a classic case study in how not to win friends and influence .

So we read today that at the meeting with the Chancellor they told him they would not be passing on further interest rate cuts becuase , as reported in the Sunday Times , they are " not charities " . This insulting and patronising remark is deeply offensive to the 1.5 million staff who work in chariteis and the many millions who volunteer each year . It is yet another example of how business people look down on charities and assume we are not business like . i would really like to know the name of the wretched Bank Chief executive who made this remark so I can hold him up to public vilification. Or the scoundrel in the media department who thought this was amusing.

An acevo moleskine as a reward for indormation leading to the exposure of this outrage . Fat lot of good banks running corporate social responsibilty programmes if this sort of attitude is prevalent amongst the CEOs of banks.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Barack and Hope for the UK ?

Trevor Phillips has been stirring the pot again. I guess he does this deliberately , though he sounded a bit defensive on the Today programme this morning. I am not sure I agree with him on all his comments on how different the American system is from our own ,and how the Obama election could not happen here. I think it is a bit difficult to imagine a young black person becoming PM for a very long time . That said I think our record on equal opportunities and good race relations puts America , and most of Europe to shame . For example the comment from the wretched Italian PM about Obama being " tinted" shows how far away Europe is from understanding what makes for a strong multi-cultural society .Trevor is giving one of our lectures in the current acevo lecture series on 21st century public services. He will be the third lecturer and this one may well be very interesting! Good pre publicity for it . The last Lecture is Francis Maude MP to spelll out the Tory solutions.

One thing for certain though . Our next general election will be tedious and dull in comparison with the recent American President election . And it is hard to see how either Gordon Brown or David Cameron could possibly arouse the sense of hope and optimism that Obama has . His acceptance speech was a triumph . It was inspiring in a way no politician in this country has achieved for so long, though it did bring back memories of 1997 and the great Blair victory and the hope that inspired.

Good to see there will be a puppy in the White House. I stand ready to give advice on the correct choice . My puppy is now snoozing in front of the fire as I blog from the library . And good also that Obama began his career as a community activist . So I guess that must be the first third sector person in the White House? Acevo has sent congratulations and best wishes to the newly elected President . We all wish him well . it has been exhilarating to see the response world wide to the election . I heard it from a Libyan stall holder who was clearly delighted . I then watched the speech on BBC World . The top moment of my 56th Birthday! A better present than the 2 pairs of slippers methinks.

It was great to see that Nick Hurd MP, the opposition spokesman on the sector got in a question to the Prime Minister on the Icelandic losses. GB hinted that solutions were being examined. That is good .But frankly , this is only one aspect of the current recession problem for charities . The Icelandic losses affect up to 100 charities . The looming recession affects practically all . We need a more comprehensive response from government . I have had various replies to letters from the HMT and now from Gordon himself . I do wish they would stop telling me how much they have done for the sector already . i have always acknowledged this . I have been at the forefront of leaders in the sector to point out the huge achievements of the last decade .I have defended the record from the cynics and the whingers . I made that clear in my Guardian article. But that was then . This is now . I notice that when dealing with small business Peter Mandelson does not hark on about what the Government has done in the past . He outlines what needs to be done now.

We have our sector summit on Nov 25th. We will be watching carefully to see what package of support is offered there . One thing is certain , if we get a repeat of the line about what has happened in the past with nothing for the now then the Government will forfeit much support from our sector .I do hope they don't do that .People are watching and waiting.

To help this along acevo is now consulting members on the type of package that would be of most practical use .For example ,one effect of the recession may be to punch big holes in some charities pension funds . If they are told to rectify these deficits this could have devastating effects on the sustainability of some of the country's biggest and most loved charities . This would be a disaster of a much bigger scale than Icelandic bank losses.

We will be submitting proposals to the Summit . But we have already been clear , we want at the least an emergency fund of £500ml to support those third sector bodies most in need of support to face rising demand and falling income.
So lets take hope and courage from the election of Barak Obama . Time to be bold . Innovative .reaching out to those most in need . And using our sector to its full potential .Liam and Kevin ; time to be decisive not timid . we are counting on it .

Charlbury in the Autumn is a magical place ; the Fall colours of the woods and the smell of the many wood fires . England is a glorious country . And always greatly appreciated when you return from abroad . Yes ,the Sahara is magnificent . But sand is sand. I'm going back for a coffee in front of my wood fire . And catching up on emails.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

postcard from Libya

I'm blogging from Tripoli - on my birthday. I have always thought Guy Fawkes a suitable day to be born . Perhaps explains why I'm fond of the occasional pot shot at authority ! I thought it would be nice to take a week off on holiday to celebrate yet another year . And Libya has always appealed ; though a difficult place to visit . Visas and screening , and you cannot travel independently , and have to have a guide . An English speaking guide , though in my case " sort off " . Full of the most excellent explanations as in : "that's a hospital . school , mosque..." but a little more vague on the details of the historical sites . When was that built? "Oh , that old". Or occasionally ," that very old ". Now I don't want to appear picky , and I didn't want the actual year , but a vague idea of century would have been nice .

But one of the highlights was when I managed to slip out of the hotel in Tripoli and go exploring on my own , trusty Lonely Planet in hand . The souks in the old Medina are fascinating , and I was able to stop and stare at the mosques and pause for a mint tea unaided. I was off in search of the old British Consulate , a major place of pilgrimage for students of colonial exploration . This particular building dates from 1744 and until 1940 was the British consulate and centre for the exploration of the sub Saharan Africa. It was from this building that Major Alexander Laing set off in search of Timbukto , which he found in 1826 . He also married the daughter of the then British Consul Colonel Warrington.The building has been preserved by the Colonel Qaddafi , but it now comes complete with plaque announcing the wicked deeds committed by the colonialists.As it says this is a site of, " so called scientific exploration which were in essence and as a matter of fact intended to be colonial ones to occupy and colonise vital parts of Africa."

So a must see , and when I found it down a dusty and dark street in the heart of the old Medina I found the massive wooden door closed . But a colonialist is not to be deterred and I began to knock loudly . And I was answered. So I was able to get in and look at this historic site ; a rather beautiful shaded courtyard surrounded by elegant 2 story rooms and verandas .

In the evening I went to the early 17th century Turkish baths . Still in their gorgeous old state , marble floors and beautiful Iznik tiled walls. These baths were built in 1604. Just how many backs have been scrubbed , how many joints massaged and manipulated since then; And in such elegance . I emerged tingling and refreshed to the sound of the evening call to prayer echoing out across the Medina.A wonderful evening preparing for my birthday the next day.I wish I could say that was followed by a fabulous meal , but, alas , it was not .

And it is somehow rather appropriate that I am in Libya to hear the election news form America. the first black president of the USA. change has come to America. it was here in Libya , in Leptis Magna , in AD 145 that Septimus Severus was born . he became the first black Emperor of Rome.septimus has sometimes been known as the Grim African . A superb soldier , he died and is buried in York . but visiting Leptis to see the magnificent Roman ruins you get an idea of the grandeur that was Rome .Septimus was generous to his native country when he became Roman Emperor. leptis is one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world . A must see.

And an added bonus ; the country is dry . my liver is pleased !