Wednesday 15 July 2009

Prime Minister, Gulbenkian and Board

Just back from an interesting session talking to the key folk in Brook, the sexual health charity, run by the dynamic and engaging Simon Blake, their Chief Executive. He had asked me to give an outline of where the sector is heading and our opportunities against a background of recession and looming public spending cuts. I was clear about the need to use this to radically review the role purpose of the organisation and think of different ways of doing things and how to form mergers and alliances.

One engaging discussion was around commissioning. It was clear that some of the Brook contracts Commissioners still feel that, even having been awarded the contracts, that they are able to come back and ask for information like the pay grades of staff or the spend on stationery. Questions that they would never dream of asking a commercial company, and if they did they would get a dusty answer. I said we need to be robust in this. The contracts being awarded, quite a lot of this information they are requesting is simply not relevant. And actually some of it may be commercially sensitive. If that information is handed over it is of course then potentially subject to dissemination or freedom of information requests. In any case I am not sure why public sector bodies need to know this sort of thing. The usual approach - shall we look at what they are spending and see if we can cut it. Why do they need stationery anyway? This sort of practice is something we simply have to stamp out.

Went to Brooks straight from my ACEVO Board meeting. My new Chair, Lesley-Anne Alexander, who is the Chief Executive of RNIB, is getting into her stride. Her greatest moment came when she spoke about the need for a "veneer of transparency". Previously we had been talking about "shades of grey". When we find the veneer of transparency we shall we marketing it.

All this activity on the back of a fascinating evening. It started with champagne with our young Chief Executives Special Interest Group. We were meeting in the incredibly brilliant new headquarters of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (charming and exotic Andrew Barnett, an active member!). We were having dinner there in their very first week of opening. The building, in Hoxton Square, is stunning. Designed by a top architect it also displays some great art work by British and Portuguese artists. These are marvellous offices. We should all have offices like these. If only. Nick Hurd was speaking at the dinner and I had a good chat with him about the Social Investment Bank and his thinking on that, but I had to run along as I was then going on to dinner in the Prime Ministers' office. Along with a number of Cabinet Ministers we were there to dine with Professor Amitai Etzioni, the academic and progenitor of the communitarian idea. Professor Layard from the LSC (the guy behind all the "happiness index" stuff) also spoke. We were examining the role of civil society in a 21st century. My contribution was along the lines of communitarian is all very well but actually what we need as third sector is power. Power to grow. Power to deliver services. Power to influence change. Power to speak on behalf of communities large and small. I was the sole third sector voice in this interesting gathering and I hope I gave a good account for us. I am certainly following up some of what I am saying with the newly appointed Head of the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit. And so to bed. I have to say I am feeling somewhat jaded and I need to go off to ACEVO's birthday party and media do. Champagne and string quartet. And all provided by our commercial partners. The problem is I am not sure whether I am going to get to drink any as there is also a potential that I will be on "Newsnight" this evening talking about youth unemployment - that's if I don't get ditched in favour of some politician.

Interesting to read about the staff's activities on "Twitter". To read the article in Charity Finance, click here.

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