Wednesday 16 September 2009

Civil service, cuts and progressive austerity!

It was back to work with a vengeance! We had our annual Awayday get together with the senior civil service - an event that ACEVO co-hosts with the Cabinet secretary and OTS. It's a chance for a group of ACEVO CEOs to get together with the Permanent Secretaries of the big Government Departments and talk through future plans and see how we can work better together. We had no less than seven Permanent secretaries as well as Sir Gus. A pretty powerful group to get together and discuss the sector's role.

We always run these on Chatham House rules so I'm not going into details, except to say it was a useful interchange about the modern day professional third sector, economic recovery and future public spending plans. I was keen to show that the sector can engage positively and in a way they can help improve delivery of services, both more cost effectively and efficiently.

One of the values of this type of event is that we can have an honest interchange, but also ram home the message that the sector is now a big economic player, as well as being crucial to delivering social change. I believe that the top civil service do want a strong engagement and do understand how professional and committed we are. Collectively they are impressive bunch.

I followed this with meetings of the Boards of the Adventure Capital Fund and of Futurbuilders. We agreed on the general outline of how we are setting up "The Social Investment Business". The ACF and FBE will be merged into a new group structure and we were talking though our vision statement and our governance structure. We want a new professional and business like structure. We are officially announcing all this tomorrow at our big Conference in Central Hall - over a thousand people coming. .

Cuts! Did you see the shots from the TUC conference with delegates holding up posters saying "NO CUTS". Oh dear, I thought, how retro; back to the eighties! Let's dust down those placards. Get out the flares and platform shoes and start planning those marches down Park Lane. The problem is it didn't work then. And won't work now. I know. I was there and have the scars. So let's get wise and think about a more constructive approach.

I made a speech on this subject at the Development Trust Association Conference in the QE2 Centre in Westminster.

I said the third sector cannot afford to rush to man the barricades over impending cuts to public spending. Instead we must propose constructive solutions to Government. I believe that our sector can often provide more cost effective ways of delivering services and we must tell Government what they are. So I have asked all ACEVO members to think about areas where we can make proposals for cost saving through sector delivery. This is a real opportunity. We will waste it if we descend to oppositional posturing like we saw at the TUC.

I'm so pleased that not all trade unions are as ostrich like as the Bob Crowes and Mark Serotkas of this world. We have the General Secretary of Community as an ACEVO member and we are doing a fringe meeting at Brighton with him. We have also been awarded a grant from the Government's modernisation fund to do work with them on developing third sector and community relationships.

We also had a dinner for our top 100 CEO members last night. The splendid lawyers, Bates Wells Braithwaite, laid on a superb meal and fine wine which was greatly enjoyed by the assembled panjandrums of our beloved sector. I was speaking on the future of capacity-building for the sector. I said that with spending cuts inevitable, the sector could not demand the same level of investment in infrastructure that had taken place over the past decade. I suggested that we should lead the discussion about the support we need in future. This means we must seek strategic conversations with politicians and commissioners, and avoid allowing these to descend into arguments about cuts. It is likely any Government will want to review the spend on capacity building and the grants that have gone to umbrella bodies and for what.

Capacity-building programmes for the sector have been generic up to now, but in future it will need targeted interventions more tailored to the needs of individual organisations.

I proposed that TSOs should receive individual budgets from the state and then find support from providers that catered for the specific needs of different organisations.
This would allow for capacity-building to be integrated into contracts with private sector providers in more complex supply chains, and for developmental support for the sector to be a mainstream corporate social responsibility activity.

There is a real leadership role for ACEVO here. The danger is our sector has had ten good and relatively easy years. We have grown. We have achieved. But now we must operate in a time of austerity. We better get our heads round this. And ACEVO has to be there to support and protect, as well as to warn and advise our members on how to cope in a changed climate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I really like the individual budget idea for TSO's. I think that this tailored approach would really achieve a greater impact in delievery than the one sized fits all websites that we seem to be currently offered.

A couple of questions. what is the definition of Top 100 ACEVO members I didn't know you ranked us? Secondly would one have got invited to the very interesting sounding meeting with senior civil servants - was this based on the ranking system too?

Mark Santos
Positive East