Monday 22 December 2008

A Chronicle of Zanzibar and The Times

I suppose it must be possible to tire of fresh papaya and mango for breakfast but I have not yet reached that benighted state. But a bitter disappointment was the discovery that my wonderful bottle of prophylactic Bombay Sapphire has emptied. A cruel deception; I thought the kindly Gin fairy kept it topped up.

It took 11 hours by our non air con coach to get to Arusha. We reached there in the dark with a burst tyre en route. Some kindly passengers remarked how lucky we were not to overturn as often happens - apparently the safety record leaves much to be desired. Fortunate indeed: for as I looked around, the glorious African bush stretches for miles with no sign of a human habitation, but undoubtedly animal ones!

Arusha was once known as the capital for safari but now has a grimmer reputation. It is here that the International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda is sitting. I passed the buildings where the grizzly tales of genocide are unfolding and saw a convoy of the prisoners. A creepy moment as it is difficult to imagine the crimes these people stand accused. And remember unspeakable crimes continue in the Congo.

We were staying in a glorious Lodge on a coffee plantation. So glorious I'm afraid it proved impossible to tear ourselves away for safari. I saw all those people in their uncomfortable clothes gearing up for their predawn excursions and thought - actually the pool looks more inviting.

We flew to Zanzibar. As one gets older one doesn't need to indulge in too many backpacking eleven hour coach journeys.

The Dhow Palace Hotel is a marvellous old place. Lots of wooden balconies and boxes and gloomy dark wood furniture that one's Victorian ancestors would have found agreeable. It is just up the road from the old British Consulate: a building of poignant memory. Here are glorious memories of the great explorers; Burton, Speke, Stanley and the incomparable Livingstone. They all stayed here as the memorial plaque attests. Indeed Dr Livingstone's body rested here on its way back to London for burial in The Abbey.

Livingstone in particular deserves our thanks. It was his entreaties, supported by money from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, that persuaded the Omani Sultan to close the slave market. Whilst Wilberforce had campaigned to end the slave trade in the Empire, it went on unabashed in East Africa. Zanzibar was its hub. It was not till 1875 that the slave market was closed. And on the exact spot they built the Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church. The High Altar is the site of the former whipping post. The first Communion was celebrated here on Christmas Day 1877. I shall take my Christmas Communion here 131 years later. It will be evocative. The Crucifix above the pulpit is made from the wood of the tree that Livingstone died under. It may be fashionable to run down the Victorian missionaries but the Cathedral memorial to Livingstone, and all those who gave their lives in a higher service, reminds us how much is owed to those British pioneers who fought for the ending of slavery.

That was true leadership.

A Drum is a symbol of leadership for the Omani Sultans. A particularly intricately carved example is in the national museum. One of the carvings is a verse, I believe from the Koran,which states:

"Ye shall judge a Leader by his actions"

So none of that woolly liberal Western stuff about motivation or inspiration. It's results that count. True. And how ACEVO should be judged. Our achievements in funding, on contract terms, on the OTS and Third Sector Minister, and the role of third sector in service delivery. That was ACEVO. That is real and lasting achievement on behalf of the sector's CEOs.

And on a depressing note I get an email telling me the Charity Commission have launched an inquiry into the Catz Club. Interesting. Pity they don't finish the inquiries they have ongoing. We await the result of the inquiry into The Shaw Trust. It has been months. What is happening? We should know. I suspect this is of more profound importance for the sector. So when shall we expect to know?

And good that ACEVO continues to make the case for the sector in the current recession - great coverage in Saturday's London Times with an article from me and news coverage of ACEVO's case.

To read the article please click here.

Stephen Bubb

Happy Christmas

Christmas is a wonderful time of year . however cynical we get about the commercialisation of this Festivity it is still a marvellous time to share with loved ones , to relax and to forget the work travails. Even Charity Chief executives deserve some fun and frivolity at Christmas.
So enjoy . I shall . I raise a metaphorical glass of champagne to all my readers . Lets look forward to a great 2009 . The third sector rising to challenges , refreshed by a great Christmas break . Happy Christmas .

Tuesday 16 December 2008

On becoming a Millionaire

Unfortunately only in Tanzanian shillings. I am in Tanzania on holiday. Escaping the bustle and commercialism of an English Christmas for the sun and relaxation of Africa. I'm heading out of Dar es Salaam up country towards the Serengeti. On a supposedly deluxe coach which advertised "air con" but which turns out to mean "windows open". But the reward is that tonight I'm staying on a coffee plantation with views out over the bush towards Mount Kilimanjaro.

The last few days have been spent in idleness by a pool, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the discovery of "Gin and Tonic". It was invented as a pleasant way of taking quinine in The Tropics so I regard its consumption here as medicinal. And I came out with a large bottle of Bombay Sapphire and small cans of tonic to ensure protection!

Then at the weekend it's Zanzibar: that magical island of spice and intrigue and a week by the beach. I will celebrate Christmas Day at Mass in the historic Anglican Cathedral in Stone Town. It's built on the site of the old slave market and here they buried Livingstone's heart before shipping his body home for burial in Westminster Abbey.

I have my trusty shortwave radio so I can get both the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's, as well as The HM The Queen's speech, without which no self-respecting Englishman can truly enjoy Christmas - whether on sunny beach or snowy hill.

It's a shame that Dar es Saleem has GPRS. It has meant that my compulsive need to check emails has continued, but I suspect it won't work up country and I can relax. One of the problems I find being a CEO is that it is always difficult to entirely switch off: it is not that I do not have an impressive team at ACEVO to support me, so there is no real need for this compulsion (though amusing to read that Obama also has that problem).

The last month has been pretty hectic by any standards and it is just good to be able to relax now - though the BBC World Service continues to relay the doom and gloom from home!

Last week we celebrated Human Rights Day on the 60th anniversary of the U N Declartion of Human Rights. I was at the reception at Lancaster House and heard the PM's stirring defence of the need for a Human Rights Act. In Africa it's particularly important and Gordon used the example of the genocide in Rwanda to make the point. In countries surrounding here there are daily atrocities of the kind it's hard to imagine. That is why I always find it hard to stomach the idiocy of those who attack our Human Rights Act and make fun of this as "PC". We should be proud of our record in promoting the universal nature of Human Rights. I trust that the Conservatives will think again about the pledge to scrap this Act. It would be setting a bad example worldwide.

I have made contact with the head of the main civil society umbrella body in Tanzania. He is coming out to Zanzibar to spend a day with me so we can talk about growing links with ACEVO.

It's increasingly true that leadership learning cannot be constrained by national borders. ACEVO has been working with the leaders of various African organisations to support the development of leadership of chief executives. We have already helped the establishment of a Nigerian ACEVO and there are links with Uganda and Kenya. The fact is that in Africa a thriving democracy will depend on the leadership of civil society. When governments are so often corrupt we need to ensure that the leaders of civil society are supported. And I believe we can learn from our colleagues here.

But now it's back to enjoying the unfolding countryside as we bump along the potholed roads. It's amazing to think that with the ubiquitous presence of the mobile phone I'm able to blog you from Africa!

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Milton , Cameron and dogs.

" The mind is it's own place, and in it self

can make a Heav'n of Hell , a Hell of Heav'n."

Paradise Lost

As it is the 400th Birthday of John Milton I was determined to quote him , and Paradise Lost is his masterpiece . But somehow it also seemed appropriate to the theme i used at the big Action Planning - ACEVO Funding Conference in Central Hall this morning . I was arguing the recession offers, the sector dangers and opportunities and it is the job of a Leader to make those opportunities , to plan strategically and prepare . So our job to make a Heav'n of Hell? But lets not be too gloomy in celebrating the birth of one of our greatest national poets .

The Annual Roadshow in Central Hall has become a real fixture in the third sector calender , attracting over 600 delegates . I open proceedings with the marvellous David Senior , who compares me with Napoleon . Kevin Brennan MP , our Third Sector Minister whispers in my ear , " well lets hope you are not facing your Winter in Moscow ". A sobering put down ! Kevin speaks after me , then Peter Wanless of the Big Lottery Fund . Peter last appeared tieless in my Blog but was today sporting an excellent Paul Smith which almost outmatched my silver Versace , but mine had the distinction of having been warn by Elton John! I bought it at one of his charity clothes sales, so neatly combining charity and style in a manner I like to emulate.

Public Service Reform remains very much on the Agenda . I go to the launch of the Commission on 2020 Public Services . This is being Chaired by Sir Andrew Foster and a cast of luminaries , including our very own Clare Tickell of Action for Children . They aim to publish in 18th months and to think differently about the way services are delivered . They launch the Commission with a rather alarming survey from Ipsos Mori which reveals that 52% of the general public " now expect more of Government than of God " . Only 26% disagreed . What a shocking reflection on the Godless nature of the British public . All down to taking Milton of the school curriculum one suspects ?

They have a drinks reception but I have a better offer ; David Cameron MP at the Policy Exchange Christmas Party . Both my Chair John Low and I get to have a long talk with Cameron and he quizzes us on the nature of the recession for us . We also talk of the great role we can play delivering services . He has a real interest in the sector and when he makes his speech he mentions the importance of the sector and that there are "eminent representatives of the sector " present . I nudge John .

John and I also have a fascinating chat with the new Director of the Policy Exchange ; we discuss the relationship between dog and cat ownership in a recession and the problems owners face if they can't really afford the bills .Apparently the incidence of pets being put down rises in a recession. This appalling thought propels me to the door and to return to my very own much loved puppy who spends the evening demolishing what remains of my right slipper while I watch that excellent BBC series " The Survivors ".

Monday 8 December 2008

Social Enterprise and celebrations

Its the 10th anniversary of Social Enterprise London . The magnificent Allison Ogden Newton is their CEO and is a real inspiration to the organisation and to the wider .She has been a great support to me as Vice Chair of ACEVO and it was therefore a real pleasure to go to the Anniversary Celebrations at RBS on Thursday evening . The denizens of the social enterprise world and the Third Sector Minster in evidence enjoying the RBS celebratory champagne. It is important to attend events like this ; there is too much noise around social enterprise being somehow different or special . In fact it is a clear and important part of the third sector. Many top charities are strong advocates and practitioners . And the fact is that social enterprise has been a welcome boost to the case for professionalism and business approaches in our sector.

And a added bonus is that I walk home with no less than 2 boxes of gorgeous chocolate from the Divine chocolate company ; a social enterprise that exemplifies the notion that you can run an ethical and top quality business and be totally committed to a third sector approach in putting back profit into the company for the wider good.

It was a 2 lunch Friday . The first with Nick Hurd MP ( the Tory Third Sector spoke ) and a discussion on housing associations at the RSA and then onto our staff Christmas Lunch . The later a really relaxed and convivial occasion , which ended up with a bunch of the staff in a local pub till all hours , the younger lot as you can imagine . I was on the train back to Charlbury and my cocoa !

Its Christmas and the round of receptions has begun . DCMS at the Wallace Collection last week , and tonight the Cabinet Office at Admiralty House . Admiralty House is a very special place; redolent of the glorious maritime history of our Nation . The Cabinet Office Ministers were there and it was good to have a long talk with Liam Byrne MP on public service reform . I know from many years back that Liam is a strong believer in the importance of the reform process and the real value of the third sector in delivering citizen focused services. I think we can be clear that under Liam this agenda will be driven forward strongly . With Ministers like Liam , Hazel and James we can be clear the sector will be playing an increasing role in delivery and that this will grow , not diminish from next year , recession or no .

Thursday 4 December 2008

Charity Heroes

2 interesting charity pioneers have died recently ; Richard Corr - Gomm and George Lee . We can learn from them.

Richard Carr Gomm was the founder of the Abbeyfield Society , a charity and housing association which works with the elderly in housing and in social care . The last Chief Executive Foster Murphy was one of the founders of ACEVO and the current CEO Paul Allen is also a member .

The tale of Richard's life is fascinating .When he came out of the army at the end of the war he resigned his commission and used his gratuity to buy a house in Bermondsey to accommodate some lonely pensioners and where he said he would care for them too . It was a great success and soon other South London Boroughs asked him to set up similar schemes .This grew into the large third sector body that Abbeyfield now is.

He later fell out with the management of the Abbeyfield , as so often happens with Founders , though Paul tells me there was a reconciliation later on .I'm afraid the well known " founders syndrome " is a problem in charities. We have seen a recent example of the problem in the sector . It is often difficult for the great founders and pioneers to know the time to move on and to let others develop and grow . It is often the case that those best suited to begin an organisation are not those to take it through the established " steady state " .

In fact ACEVO had Richard speak at a conference on governance and the relations between Chairs and CEOs . He was fairly frail then but fascinating . And in particular he told us about his great friendship with Lord Willliam Beveridge . He said that Beveridge had regretted later how his radical reforms of welfare had pushed the voluntary sector to the very margins of provision and how he felt voluntary sector service delivery was so important . Indeed as i remind politicians he also wrote a marvellous report on " voluntary action ". I gave Ed Miliband MP my copy of the original Beveridge Report as a reminder of the importance of the role of the third sector in public services !

George Lee was the very first General Secretary of MENCAP. This great charity is now one the top 20 largest charities in the country . In 1957 when George took up his post it was no more than a loose network of volunteers.In those days children with learning disabilities would be isolated in long stay hospitals . The term " mongol " was common . In particular George realised that for the charity to grow they needed patronage and support at top levels and so he got Royal Patronage ( Queen Mother ) and relentlessly pursued top people to become involved and show support. He was also involved in the creation of the concept of the charity Christmas card . He was also strongly involved in developing the policy and campaigning role for MENCAP and argued for reform in the law and changes in people's attitudes to disability. He handed over the reigns to Brian Rix who still remains as their active and energetic Life President . Their new Chief executive has recently taken over from Dame Jo Williams , always a source of support and advice to me as an ACEVO member .

It is always worth us celebrating the lives of these great charity pioneers . It reminds us that this is a sector of talent and innovation , and above all sheer determination to do good but also to change the world for the better.

And these tales are a standing rebuke to those who argue that only small is beautiful for sector organisations. Both of these great people started small scale . But they were determined that the work they do had to scale up . And they both knew that campaigning was a core role for the third sector .

It is also a cheering thought that in a recession we should still remember the power of innovation and determination for a Chief Executive.

We should reflect back on our sector's great history and the lessons of our pioneers .

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Heritage , Queens and Boards

The wisdom of taxi drivers! Coming home tonight I had a savvy Eastender telling me he has been listening to Speaker Martin explaining the Damien Green arrest . He said as he was listening he was reminded of an old Scottish work mate of his who , whenever anything went wrong, would explain, " F all to do with me mate " !

I just cannot imagine a Sector Chief Executive getting away with that one in front of their Board !

I left the office under strict instructions from my staff today . I was on my way to the Wallace Collection ,where the Department of Culture , Media and Sport were holding their annual reception for stakeholders. I was told I had to tell Andy Burnham MP, the Secretary of State ,that acevo members in heritage and arts were upset at the dropping of the Heritage Bill from the Queens Speech today .

And I faithfully did so . I must say I like Andy Burnham , and he said that he too was disappointed that thye could not get the Bill in but it was pressure of time . he did say though that he thought there was cross party support and that it might even get in depending on progress on other Bills. But it is a big bill ; and there has not been a heritage Bill for some time so a lot to sort and tidy . ACEVO has a big membership amongst the arts and heritage industry , and we have an active special interest group for the Chief Executives here . So we are asking Andy to come and meet with us so we can tell him ourselves how important this is . DCMS have a very large and strong group of third sector bodies they work with and we have good relations with the Department .

The Wallace Collection was a very splendid place for a reception . The art collection is very fine , and I stole off from the chit chat to look around. A chance to reflect on the ACEVO Board meeting this morning . We were discussing the arrangements for our new Chair election . One of my Board members said I was looking reflective . And that was true . I have had a very good Chair in John Low , the CEO of the Charities Aid Foundation . He has been a friend and counsellor to me for the last 4 years . In many ways an ideal Chair ,and a figure who has earned mush respect in the sector at large. We now will move onto a new Chair and a new and different relationship next year . I am very confident we will have an excellent new Chair ; the person concerned will be unveiled at our Annual General meeting in the Commons on January 19th. But today marked John's last board meeting . So like many of my members in a similar position ,it has been a time of reflection . At the core of a successful organisation is a good Chair and CEO. So as well as being a time of reflection it is also exciting to be moving into a new relationship and a new beginning . At a personal level I think I have gained a lot by having taken on the role of Chair at Futurebuilders . It has certainly contributed to me having a clearer view of the respective roles of a non executive and an executive ; the strengths of a good relationship and the power that comes from a good partnership at the top.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Compacts and Commons

Walking along the South Bank of the Thames is always a wonderful thing to do . It might be bitterly cold but the views across the river are uplifting . And as a South Londoner I glory in the history and majesty of the views. I even pop into Southwark Cathedral for a quiet moment on my way to the Annual General Meeting of the Compact (being held at the Tate Modern ). Now this meeting , and I have been to many , can be a bit of a "whingefest " as someone described it , but today was actually purposeful and optimistic. This has a lot to do with the indefatigable Bert Massie , the Compact Commissioner and the attractive but tieless Simon Blake , Chair of Compact Voice .

We are finally to get statutory powers for the Compact Commissioner.ACEVO has argued strongly for this reform so we rejoice!This will give the Compact a needed boost . And we also need a revamp and rewriting of the document. The Compact was a huge advance for the sector and all credit to NCVO for having pushed this reform . It is now 10 years old and in need of a refresh . There has been cynicism about the Compact amongst members but giving a statutory base for the Commissioner , with Ombudsman powers may help us give the process clout . We will know when the Compact has real power when we see a local authority CEO being arrested for conspiracy to subvert a public official !

Jeremy Beecham , from the Local Government Association makes a great speech which is both thought provoking and supportive . He used to be my boss when I ran the local government pay negotiations many years back .He has always been an inspirational figure. He said that local councils will want to ;look to the sector to support more efficiency savings though this should not be about a cuts programme . This will be a challenge , but he is right to demand that we are transparent and open over what we do and also that we show we can be efficient . I said to him afterwards that efficiency goes hand in hand with effectiveness and that perhaps the third sector should be bidding to run more council services because we can sometimes do this more effectively . But with local government cutting spending next year there will be real challenges to the third sector. The worst councils will protect their own services whilst seeking to cut support for the sector locally .

But difficult to be gloomy when looking out from the 7th floor of the Tate Gallery and overlooking the marvellous vista of St Paul's Cathedral. Having walked there from London bridge I made my way across the futuristic Millennium Bridge for the tube to Westminster and the ncvo annual Christmas reception. So from one great gathering of sector glitterati to another . Had a good chat with the Big Lottery CEO , who was also tieless ( a habit that appears to be spreading and must be discouraged )and was joking that perhaps I'll end up as his Chair if Mr Blunkett's plans to merge BLF, capacity Builders and FBE come to fruition . He took that remarkably well !

But the Blunkett plan is interesting . Although I think there is much to it we need to examine the case for the merger with BLF more closely . I can see huge logic behind a CB and FBE merger . Indeed I suspect this will happen . But there may be a case for the lottery arm to be as a distinct Foundation . I certainly agree with the Tory line that it must stop being an NDPB and become an independent charitable Foundation;I have argued this for years. But it is good to review all this to see what works for the sector.

To really drive up the sector capacity and infrastructure we need a strong central body to invest and support in development . I have always been a fan of the local government model of an Improvement and Development Agency ( IdEA ). Again , an idea ( forgive the pun ) that ACEVO has supported .

The great Patrick Butler is there ; he has been promoted from Guardian Society Editor to a bigger role across health , third sector etc and Alison Benjamin is the new Editor of our favourite Wednesday reading . The Guardian did us proud on Monday with a full page on the crisis charities face . it is essential we get media coverage ; it helps us push the politicians and move the debate on . So lots of warm words form the politicians about our superb role and our wonderful people . Now give us the money and support to do more .

Monday 1 December 2008

Advent Carols , Recession , World Aids Day

The second day of Advent and my first Carol Concert ; an event laid on by the headhunters Harvey Nash in the glorious St George's Hanover Square. A mixture of Gospel and traditional choral ; and all in the place that was Handel's own parish Church . I am going to be away for Christmas , in Tanzania ,so I shall miss a lot of the festivities so this was a real treat .

And it helped lift the mood from the recession . A report from the accountants PWC is showing a potential £2.6 bn black hole in funding for the sector as donations , sponsorship etc fall. The Guardian gave this report good coverage and highlighted acevo's call for an emergency fund of £500ml to support charities at a time when demand on us grows. I know that the Government have promised an action plan in the new year and we await that with huge anticipation .Today acevo received a response from the Third Sector Minister to ideas we are putting forward for the recession action plan .

We are very clear that we must secure additional funding . The letter points out that the implications of all our proposals add up to £865 ml , as though this sum is outrageous and out of the question . Now if it were "billions" I feel that might be stretching it but frankly this is a small sum in comparison with the sums of money that are being poured into the financial sector , SMEs , the PBR changes on VAT etc . We must be clear any Action Plan that contains no new money or reforms of , for example , gift aid will hardly be worth the name. And I strongly suggest to the civil servants who continue to add into letters to us that they have already found £515m for the sector to pack it up now . The small business sector don't get patronised about how much the Government does for them . So don't do it to us. One assumes the Government put money into the Third Sector because they believe in what we do not as a charitable gift ?

The good part of the response is a clear indication that much of the government's package for small business will apply to the sector . For example ; one of the things members fed back was that if public sector bodies paid their bills within 10 days ( as promised to SMEs )this would be a real help on cash flow. Of course for any ministerial letter one has to read between the lines . And Liam and Kevin now have December to put together the cation plan we deserve . We can expect much because that is what we both need , but also , because as Kevin Brennan MP has pointed out ; we have a joint mission and endeavour to help those who will increasingly suffer the downturn in our economic fortunes. this is crucial ; I spoke today to a CEO who is one of the first victims of the recession in our sector .I'm afraid there will be more ; for their sake I hope this Plan will be a good one .

But I must avoid being too pessimistic . At the weekend conference of Progress Liam Byrne , The Cabinet Office Minister made clear the drive for public service reform continues and that the third sector has a huge role to play in achieving more citizen focused services. this is an area where the sector can expand its role . And a recession will test our mettle in finding new ways of working and innovative ideas .

Today is also World Aids Day ; an event that deserves to be well marked though other events have somewhat pushed it off stage . Back in the 80s a number of us set up a small charity in South London ; Lambeth Aids Action. A small charity but with a big ambition ; to set up the equivalent of the wonderful " Lighthouse " that had been established in North London and which the Princess of Wales had made so famous. We did that and "The Landmark" was opened in Brixton in 1988. I was the first Chair and we even got Diana to do the opening- and that as a pretty memorable day . These 2 centres are now one . The HIV-AIDs sector has been an exemplar of merger and alliances in the face of falling statutory support and the need to continue to provide a focused and relevant service in the light of changes in the virus and its treatment . the Terence Higgins Trust under Nick Partridge ( CEO and acevo member ) is a good model of how a sector can handle change . It shows that merger can be a good response at times of funding challenge.

Advent is a time of hope and expectation of a better time to come . It must be so for us .