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 .

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