Friday 30 October 2009

Eyes, partnerships and mellow fruitfulness

Sitting in the Eye Department at St Thomas'. Plenty of time to Blog and catch up with emails. My eye Op on the left eye has gone well, so now they will do the right eye. Fixed for December 10th so a bleary Christmas beckons!

Sit there also reading sad news of "Phil Archer's" death - Norman Painting the actor who plays the character on The Archers - a very fine radio programme I have been listening to on and off for decades. He has died at a good age of 85. He was also at my old Oxford College - another rather strong recommendation!! The Archers is a rather civilised programme - unlike dreadful Eastenders. I shall be away and so will miss his final broadcast on Sunday 22nd November.

It is always useful to see Hospitals at work and to realise just how bad our Health Service is at health promotion, prevention and care outside of the purely medical. My Chair, Lesley-Anne of RNIB, tells me that on any day in the UK several hundred people are told they will be losing their sight. They are then left to their own devices - very little support or advice on how to cope or what to do about what is very difficult and distressing news. Yet this is exactly what RNIB and other sight loss charities are good at.

What we need is a joined up approach where the NHS works in conjunction with the third sector; a public - third sector partnership where we combine our expertise and skill with advice, support and practical help with the skills of the clinicians. So when someone is given bad news they are taken straight away to people based in the clinic from a third sector charity. Lesley-Anne tells me many people simply go home, upset, depressed and unadvised and their general health takes a step backwards as their eye sight goes. We can do better than this.

So with these dreary thoughts I make my way to La Pont de la Tour, that gorgeous Conran restaurant on Butler's Wharf where one eats and drinks well, whilst admiring the great views of the Tower Bridge. It is where Tony brought Bill and Hilary for dinner once. So a shameless opportunity to add a photo of me and Bill to the Blog.

I'm here to meet with Paul Emery, of the great Insurance conglomerate Zurich. They advice many charities on risk and general insurance matters and have a high reputation in the field.

So a good lunch before heading back to magnificent autumnal Charlbury. It's at its best at present - no mists but lots of mellow fruitfulness (that's a poetic allusion to those schooled on the national curriculum and so unaware of poetry. To show it at its best here is the hound there last weekend.

Enjoy a relaxing weekend all !

Thursday 29 October 2009

A Lambeth Third Sector Dinner!

It was quite a trial dragging myself out of bed at 7.00 am this morning. I had to be at a meeting in No: 10 with Andy Burnham and Tessa Jowell, so obviously it was important to be there fresh and bright as a button. However, that is not how I felt.

Last night I had a "Third Sector Dinner" at Clinks, my Brixton house. My local Councillor is Steve Reed, who happens to be the Leader of Lambeth Council. He has a strong interest in the third sector and how the Council can develop better links and relationships, and use the sector more dynamically. So I got together two of my dynamic, nay brilliant, Lambeth third sector Chief Executives: Nick Wilkie, who runs LondonYouth, and Matthew Thomson, who runs London Community Resource Network (LCRN) and we were joined by the irrepressible and irreplaceable Director of Strategy, Seb Elsworth.

And the champagne was flowing! Matthew was celebrating the birth of a new baby boy, just one week ago. He was describing how his commitment to the third sector meant that he and his partner decided the birth would be at home, in Brixton, and that they would use a third sector midwives' organisation to assist in the delivery. What commitment! Of course I was explaining how my brother, sister and I were all born at home and couldn't understand all this business about having to have births in hospital. Though I did admit I am not an expert in this area (nor do I want to be).

I think during the course of a rather wonderful dinner, prepared by my partner, we solved some of the major challenges facing our sector but I fail to make a note of these.

This week has been somewhat full-on. It started off with an Away Day for the Social Investment Business (Futurebuilders as was). And where better to hold an Away Day than the gorgeous Cotswolds town of Charlbury. The Bell Hotel provided us with comforts and enjoyment at an extraordinary reasonable rate. I am a strong believer in the need for Boards to have time away informally in order to discuss strategy and direction. So we had 24 hours where we came up with the plan of action to expand our ability to loan social finance into the sector. We produced a one-pager setting our ambitions, which I have now been able to talk to various Ministers and advisors about. The Social Investment Business now has the strength and depth to be able to capitalise on its loan book and really expand our operations supporting and developing the third sector from community enterprise to big national charities or social enterprise.

I was able to talk this through with our Third Sector Minister, Angela Smith, over an extremely pleasant lunch at The Commons. I very much like Angela's style. Her commitment and engagement with the sector is first class.

And then at a different level I joined Peter Housden, Permanent Secretary at DCLG, and some of his colleagues to discuss leadership in the public sector. Peter has asked me to join a group that is examining the role of leadership academies and leadership development across Government. Leadership development is core to our ACEVO purpose. It has always been an area of huge interest for me, even before I joined ACEVO. And of course we have mixed experience of our own with the Third Sector Leadership Centre. In ACEVO we have just appointed a new Head of Professional Development, Julia Richards. She has a fantastic background and I am looking forward to working with her to develop further our professional leadership programmes for Chief Executives. Julia will be based in our ACEVO North office in Leeds. It's a strong indication of our commitment to operating across the UK and our commitment to our ACEVO North members. Our Leeds operation is central to ACEVO's operation nationally and basing our Head of Professional Development there is an indication of how we want to ACEVO to develop its links across the UK and in the English regions.

Saturday 24 October 2009

"Learn to tolerate inequality"

So said Lord Griffiths , Vice Chair of Goldman Sachs. And Angela Knight of the British Bankers Association advises us all to " move on " over bonuses. I guess these people don't bother with PR Departments ? And I suppose its refreshing to know that they feel no need to spin their views. If only we could " move on ". As taxpayers we will be paying the price of the mega bucks poured into the Banks for decades. The NIESR say that to correct the deficit we need a 7p income tax rise, retirement at 70 and a 5 year pay freeze. Oh Angela, I do so wish we could just " move on ".

And for us in the third sector , facing cuts in our support , we and our beneficiaries will be bearing the brunt of the failures of bankers. So forgive me if I feel that the way the Banks have rushed back to bad old habits is gut wrenching. I hope we don't "move on" because to do so would allow those who are guilty of plunging our economy into recession will not just escape scot free, but continue to be rewarded for bad behaviour. Of course there is nothing wrong with rewards for performance- bonuses are a way to do this. But the eye watering sums currently talked about could hardly be said to reward performance?

At least Obama has got it right. And I like Polly Toynbee's article today in the Guardian when she reminds us of a war time " excess profits" tax that prevented profiteering. As an illustration of what we may face in our sector I pass on an email I received form one of my members yesterday." Just to make you aware of the wide ranging cuts being imposed on the prison service. 6% in many cases. The prisons' answer has been in many cases to look at cutting all offending work and programmes provided by third sector organisations.This means a total rethink of drug policies and targets - in other words not doing any testing, so not worrying about drugs being taken. A complete rethink on re- offending targets - in other words not trying to meet any. We provide an accredited programme in several prisons to reduce reoffending- hard external research showing big reductions in re-offending and have figures showing huge costs both to the prison service and the tax payer, by reductions in return to prison but also by re-offending costs in the community.

There is a huge round of cuts currently being made. It is not just us that will be affected but many other third sector providers. It is total lunacy as the end result will be greater costs to the Prison Service all round as more re-offend back into custody and new prisons and more places have to be found for an even greater prison population. " Perhaps Angela Knight might care to consider how we might " move on " here. I'm happy to arrange an opportunity for her to discuss her views with members. Might be a useful opportunity for both sides.

Friday 23 October 2009

Grants, Fundraising and a Tribute.

ACEVO has a number of strategic grants. They provide valuable support for our leadership development work with members and for our role advising Government. So I surprised when a member said to me recently "but ACEVO's opposed to grants".

Hardly!! Grants are an important mix in the wide funding spectrum for our sector. Strategic grants have been able to support development. Many good Foundations have made grants to new start up organisations or for daring and innovative projects when the State did not want to know.

But they have their downsides- as do most funding streams. Grants are a gift or a form of patronage- what is given is as easily taken away as we are now seeing in local Councils. The difference with a contract is that a contract establishes obligations on both parties.

The sensible third sector body aims to have diversity of funding streams; earned income, grants and donations, contracts and loans. Being over reliant on just grants or one single contract is problematic.

As we move into an era of large spending cuts we will see grants being savaged. So our advice to ACEVO members is to prepare if grants are the main source of funds.

And for those who preach the dangerous message that grants good, contracts and loans bad beware. I have a salutary lesson for them.

Some years back the DH reviewed their Section 64 grants scheme - a major source of funds for many health charities. They told organisations they were stopping their three year grants after the first year. Whilst others were whinging ACEVO sprang into action. I got M' Learned Friend in Farrers to review the terms of the grants. She said that the conditions in the grant letters actually turned it from a grant into a contract which could be enforced.

So armed with this I threatened DH with legal action if they tried to renege on the three year deals. They backed down. If I had not been able to prove it was a contract rather than a grant a whole heap of charities would have lost their funding. So don't give me blarney on grants good, contracts bad!

The lesson for a CEO is balance. Good fundraising. Good contracts with a variety of tenders . Long term grants. Loans to support growth.

Steve Wyler of the Development Trusts Association said at our Spelman meeting that Development Trusts were reporting overall that grant income is down and declining but earned income has gone up 20% and they are getting up to 12% return on assets. That a lesson for many community organisations.

And ACEVO has battled successfully to get longer term contracts and to ensure commissioning reform. Of course contracts can be problematic too. Too many are for one year only. We have got Government to accept three year contract must be the norm though I think we need longer ones that enable strategic planning and investment. And Full Cost Recovery must underpin contracts. All this will be a challenge next year.

And talking of fundraising I'm getting the train to Charlbury this afternoon with delightful hound and bump into Lindsay Boswell, CEO of the Institute of Fundraising and ACEVO member. He is off to a Memorial Service for the first fundraising Director of Oxfam, Guy Stringer, being held in Oxford, naturally. Guy was one of the pioneers of the modern professional third sector. A former soldier and entrepreneur he helped hone the fundraising and commercial activities of Oxfam. ""More shops than Sainsburys" was his cry. And he was one of the pioneers of Fairtrade. His Obituary ( see here) makes marvellous reading. What a superb example to us all working in our incredible sector.

Breakfasting with Bankers, media and The Community Channel

To the beautiful Goring Hotel for breakfast with Hugh Biddell from RBS. They have been key sponsors of ACEVO for many years and support our main Annual Conference which is taking place soon - on November 5th - looking at the challenges we face nest year. We have Tessa Jowell and Francis Maude so a good chance to hear and compare both political parties outlooks for our sector. Aimed at CEOs and Chairs and Trustees it is also open more widely to those of interest in our sector. Readers of my Blog can book at the special rate - see here.

Do hope to see my good friend Robin Bogg there , though he has not yet signed up. Where are you Robin?

Whilst there are clearly avaricious and arrogant top bankers, impervious to their responsibilities to the wider community who have bailed them out, this should not hide the fact there are many very good people working in the Banks and Hugh is a fine example of that. He is also a Trustee of Crisis and a good advisor to many of the Bank's customers in our sector.

This week has seen lots of publicity for the Tories so in the interests of balance I want to report on an important speech by Liam Byrne. He talks about the Social Investment Bank and how to invest in communities. It is an important and. Interesting contribution from one of the most impressive of our current Cabinet. Liam has been a strong supporter of our sector - he was at the historic meeting in No 10 with Blair that led to the establishment of the Office of The Third Sector and the Delivery Action Plan that Ed Miliband delivered.

The Progress' lecture by Liam Byrne was Tuesday night- you can read the full speech <> on Progress Online where Liam challenges the Broken Britain argument and sets out how new economic growth can lift all - not just some - communities.

After Hugh I had a fantastic meeting with Caroline Diehl, CEO of the Media Trust and long time ACEVO member. The Media Trust run the Community Channel and we talk about how we can publicise the work of third sector organisations delivering essential services to communities. You can see the Community Channel if you get Sky or Virgin it's on 24 hours. Sky is 539. Try it. Caroline is such an enthusiast for the sector and has done superb work promoting good Communications training and mentoring for charities on becoming media savvy. We talk about doing some work together.

As I leave I buy my Poppy. I wear it with pride. Partly as the Royal British Legion is one of my members and because I remember with gratitude the war service of members of my family and of the many other families who fought fascism. How disgusting that on the day the Legion launch their Poppy Appeal we have the abhorrent spectacle of the BBC giving publicity to a Fascist.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Caroline Spelman MP at ACEVO

Yesterday we had one of our ACEVO lunch events for Opposition Front Bench members to meet with CEOs from across the sector. It went brilliantly. Caroline spoke about her brief as the Local Government spokesman for the Conservatives. She shadows DCLG.
What was particularly impressive was she spoke about her experience as a hands on trustee of two charities based in her constituency. Both she helped to start. One tackles the problems of domestic violence and the other drug problems. So she spoke with passion about the problems of short term funding, the hassles of CRB checks and the power of partnership working.

It is interesting that of the most likely Tory MPs in the new Parliament 55 have backgrounds in the third sector. This is a radical change from the past. It bodes well for a good relationship. It was the same in 1997 when amongst the new intake of Blair MPs a large number had sector backgrounds and this helped ensure a strong engagement with the sector.

So having a Minister who has such hands on experience of our work has to be great news. She was keen to see the third sector taking advantage of the new Conservative localism; moving power from the centre, scrapping the regional bureaucracy and engaging with local authorities on a positive approach to the third sector.

We had a number of respondents to her: Dame Elizabeth Hoodless spoke about the challenges faced in volunteering, my Vice Chair, Allison Ogden-Newton, on social enterprise, Steve Wyler on community development and Jonathan Lewis on the Social Investment Business. There were strong contributions from a local London training group, the magnificent Paul Martin of the Gay and Lesbian Foundation, the YHA , Faith Action etc.

I have to say it was a lively, humorous and engaged event. Caroline clearly enjoyed it as she stayed an hour longer than she planned.

The photo shows Caroline in the ACEVO office with Steve Wyler, Jeremy Swain (one of the sector's great CEOs who runs Thames Reach) and the gorgeous Allison of Social Enterprise!
Our next such event is with one of my Tory favourites, Nick Herbert MP. Though not sure I'm keen on his promise to re-run the hunting vote... That will go down badly for one of my more prominent members!!!

Then off to a Board meeting for the Adventure Capital Fund. One of our Trustees, currently a very senior civil servant is off to Washington as a senior fellow with one of the top US Think Tanks, the Centre for American Progress. I promise to pop in next time I'm there. And Dame Denise Platt leads an interesting debate on Local Government and opportunities for the sector. She referred to the Barnet Council decision to move to totally outsourced services with only a very small core staff at the centre.

It brought us back to the points being made by Caroline earlier. ACEVO is appointing a new Policy researcher to undertake work in developing sector strategy in Local Government. As we face a period of cuts in councils we need to ramp up our engagement here. And we shall.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

The Power of Social Investment, Part 2.

Social investment is not just for big organisations! A large part of the portfolio for the Social Investment Business (SIB) is support for community enterprise. Indeed it's where we started out; as The Adventure Capital Fund, some 8 years ago. An interesting example of the power of loans, for small community based organisations is provided by the Alt Valley Community Trust. This is a Liverpool-based community anchor and one of the largest community based providers of training and education in Liverpool. It serves one of the poorer areas of Liverpool, itself one of the most deprived parts of Europe. The immediate area that it serves is largely made up of social housing and it experiences many social problems with a worklessness rate of 23% and 12% of the local population claiming incapacity benefit.

This is a dynamic and progressive community enterprise with a solid track record of asset development and delivery of community benefit. I went to visit them 2 years ago! They have set up:

*The Communiversity – a community education resource for adults, including a community cafĂ©, dance studio and serviced offices;

*The Skills Centre – community education for 14 to 19 years olds specialising in alternative curricular and vocational skills such as health and beauty and holistic therapies;

*Randles Bridge Farm – a farm providing fresh food to local primary schools and training opportunities for people with special needs;

*Hebden Parade – retail development providing training and employment opportunities in construction skills.

They now employ over 80 people full-time, provide 45 paid training opportunities and have a combined turnover in excess of £3 million. For the local community, this growth has resulted in better and more diverse training and education facilities, and a greater chance of securing employment.

Over the last four years the SIB has invested £3million (£2.7m in loans and £0.3m in grants) in this organisation. And the key lesson is that community organisations can have big ambitions and can grow to deliver those for their citizens. This was a group of people who saw the depth of the local problem and determined to do something about it. With loans we were able to underwrite this ambition. And we have done that with other community groups. We have gone beyond grants. Beyond contracts. Gearing up for scale.

So just as the commercial sector grows through access to capital, we now have a chance to do likewise. SIB is currently running the Community Builders programme to make loans to groups that want to expand through investment. So whether it is a large national charity or a small community group access to capital can transform ability to grow and support beneficiaries in a way we have not had before. It's an exciting prospect.

That is why I am so passionate about getting Government to set up a Social Investment Bank now and to get the Banks to cough up the unclaimed assets. If only our dear friends in the banking sector could pause a minute and consider that handing over these assets now might help win them a few friends. They need them and to put it in context we want £460ml in unclaimed assets (almost certainly an underestimate) whilst the Banks are proposing to to distribute Billions on bonuses.

And so on to dinner at the Carlton Club.... now it is not often that I dine in such a distinguished and elegant bastion of the established Conservative Party (a sign of the times you might think?). I am at a dinner organised by my SIB Vice Chair , the great Harriett Baldwin, soon to be MP for Worcs West (and I suspect future Cabinet member, who knows!). Francis Maude MP and Theresa Villiers MP are there. In the Disraeli Room. Great food and wine and an interesting group of other SIB trustees, investment bankers and the like. It is Chatham House as Harriett reminds us as per Bubb will not Blog contents! So I won't!!

Tuesday 20 October 2009

The Power of Social Investment

Monday evening saw me with a bunch of balloons at Tower Hill ...... the launch of 3SC! This is a new and exciting venture, supported by the Social investment Business. It's a consortium of third sector bodies - set up with the aim of competing big scale to win public sector contracts. 3SC has already won a Future Jobs Fund contract and aims to go for others. We need to be able to compete with the big private sector firms like Serco and Capita. To do this we need scale - and the Social Investment Business has been able to capitalise this development. It brings together a wide range of small and large service providers, community organisations and social enterprises who will be able to deliver jobs to unemployed youth under the £1bl DWP jobs scheme. But the aim is to tender for other DWP and MoJ contracts.

I have a feeling that last night's event may be one of those where the sector has been able to take a big step forward. And our launch event was in a splendid social enterprise "Beyond Boyle" based at All Hallows. It's one of the leading social enterprise hospitality business. I liked their manifesto:

" We believe good food can transform the way people interact, work, socialise and have fun together. It can be the glue that mends, maintains or enhances a conversation and nourishes a relationship. "

It's a philosophy we rather believe in at ACEVO. We nourish the body and the mind!

The food at the launch was indeed rather good, so forgive the advert: "beyond chocolate" goes on sale in Waitrose from November 2nd! Good to enjoy chocolate and make a difference I think!

So like the balloons taking off over the Tower of London our hopes are soaring. Our sector can deliver cost effective and targeted services, contribute to a healthier economy and give voice to the aspirations of the millions of our beneficiaries and communities!

Saturday 17 October 2009

Standing up to an over weaning state and responding to comments

Shocked to see front page story in today's Guardian which indicates , if the reported stories are true , that the Government's "Prevent" programme, which is aimed at preventing muslims being drawn into extremism is now being used to gather intelligence about things like politics and sexual activity of quite innocent people.

What I find deeply worrying from this story is that third sector community organisations are reported as having their funding linked to providing this type of information to the State. The Guardian reports on a number of youth groups, and even a mental health project. Whilst anyone working in our sector would feel it a duty to report on what they saw as a potential terrorist threat it is a quite unacceptable breech of the independence of our sector to illegitimately use funding to try to extract and pass on information on clients outside this concern, and without their knowledge. It is not simply that this breeches the trust and confidence that we must have working with clients, it could undermine the very work we are trying to do among Muslim communities which helps promote good community relations.

I regard these allegations as so serious I am writing to Third Sector Minister Angela Smith MP to ask her to review these allegations and for an explicit assurance that sector funding will not be dependent on complying with the Prevent Programme. I am asking the Compact Commissioner and Compact Voice to mount an immediate enquiry into whether the evidence in the Guardian article amounts to a breech of the Compact which underlines the independence of the sector from the State. Obviously we must first gather evidence to see whether what is reported in The Guardian on third sector bodies is correct. To this end I will be emailing ACEVO members to see if they have encountered problems or have concerns. I have always believed it important to work with government at local and national level to promote the values and interests of our sector and for our beneficaries . But this relationship must be based on a respect for our independence and an understanding it underpins our role in society and the economy.

Mike Chitty has left an interesting comment on my Blog which I want to respond to. He argues one of the problems of public service delivery is that the State is determining what services should be provided. He said, "a lot of people who could be doing good community development work (facing the community and working for them) end up doing 'good work for the state - delivering public services. This is not community development. At the community engagement strategy workshop in Leeds recently the practitioners forum was full of frustration at delivering public services that did not reflect local needs and priorities. The solution to this is not smarter commissioning by the state. It is establishing a culture where community development workers face the community rather than the funder. " I don't believe this is an argument against the sector doing more service delivery but I do agree that the State can sometimes fail to commission the right things.

Our sector has had a proud tradition of challenging the way the State often delivers services. Mental Health is a good example. Or many services for people with disabilities. There are a wide range of charities set up to support people who have rebelled against the way the state has treated them. And Mike is right that communities of place as well as of interest must be supported to deliver what their communities or beneficiaries want even when a local council or quango or health authority has a different view. But this is perhaps too stark a picture. Our role in delivering services has always been tied to our role in advocacy and campaigning. The recent campaign by Action for children which I highlighted last week is a good example of this. A4C has a strong role in delivering children's services across the country. It does so in a way it believes is good for children , but also works with Government and Councils to ensure effective policy on child care and development.

So the sector should never become mere mechanical arms of the state , passively delivering a service. They learn from, and use, the lessons of delivery to ensure policy change nationally and locally. Helen Edwards, who used to run NACRO, always argues that NACRO's strong programme of delivery of rehabilitation services helped inform and guide their policy development and campaigning. It is also important that we engage strongly with commissioners in debating what services need to be commissioned. Again our record is strong here. The mental health charities have fought long and hard for better community support for people with mental health problems and to ensure services are tailored to beneficiaries . And the Guardian story today perhaps rather underlines Mike's point.

Friday 16 October 2009

Full Cost Recovery Goes International.....

Meeting this morning with an interesting group of academics and local government officials from Japan; most of them involved with the third sector and some working with JACEVO. An impressive array of mechanical gadgetry around the table greeted me on arrival. Great interest in Full Cost Recovery and our template so my dynamic Director of Strategy, Seb, ran through the concept with them. He is off to Toronto tomorrow to launch the Canadian version of the FCR template which has been developed by Seb with the Canadian non-profit sector based on our own model. We are also working with the Americans similarly. And the upshot is we will be doing this in Japan too. How incredible: FCR goes international! The Empire may be dead but the UK's third sector is influencing the world!

And Europe too: this week Euclid Network released the ten recommendations on how European funding can better work for our sector. The recommendations were based on contributions of ACEVO and Euclid Network members and other networks across Europe. With an official from DG-Budget committing to consider all recommendations and introduce them in the new EU procedures as appropriate, our views may well make a difference in an incredibly problematic area.

The ten recommendations reflect common frustrations with European funding: high levels of administration, difficulties with co-financing and complicated process. It's good that Euclid is already making a difference in the relatively short time it has been running. As a network of leaders across Europe it was clear that funding headaches are a very common problem whatever country you operate in!

FCR was developed with that great organisation NPC led by ACEVO member, Martin Brookes. They email me to say they are keen to find out what people really want to hear NPC writing about on their blog, so they want people to send them any questions they want debated on the future of the charity sector. And they say, "to add a bit of credibility to this, we’re also asking a couple of prominent bloggers from the charity sector, such as yourself, if they would mind contributing a question to the debate". So I shall: I want to hear about Martin's dog!

And if there is any particular question you think could be interesting for debate, regarding the future of the third sector, post a comment here and the good folk of NPC will see it.

The Japanese were also fortunate to be introduced to the Hound! Sparkles came with me to work en route to the Cotswolds and sniffed and licked her way round my lucky staff. Gives a whole new meaning to the idea of "dress down" Friday!

Thursday 15 October 2009

Conferences, Away Days and Surveys

Spoke this morning at a conference on "Public Service Delivery Through Social Enterprise". ACEVO, the Social Investment Business and Social Enterprise London were partners in running this interesting conference looking at the opportunities for more delivery of public services. I spoke with Richard Litchfield, who is a Director with Eastside Consulting, but is the interim Chief Executive of 3SC. This is an interesting consortium that has been established with the support of the Social Investment Business and is a consortia involving some 250 third sector organisations who are delivering a big contract under The Future Jobs Fund. The aim of 3SC is to bid for large scale prime contractor tenders in competition with the big private sector companies. It is a fascinating development and I suspect has real potential for ensuring that our sector can scale up and take on the big private companies who usually take prime contractor contracts in the employment and welfare markets in particular.

One of the most interesting markets for the sector over the next decade will be prisons and probation. On Monday, we held an ACEVO Away Day with our leading members from the prison and probation side with all of the regional Offender Management Directors and the Head of the Offender Management Service. It was great to get the key commissioners and sector leaders together to talk through how we can a develop services that meet the need to reduce crime and rehabilitate prisoners. These sorts of meetings are particularly valuable in exposing commissioners to the range, variety and value of what the third sector can offer. We had various presentations about the work of third sector organisations and it was particularly telling when Rob Owen, who runs The St Giles Trust, said that their intensive one-to-one work with offenders saves the Treasury £2.5m per person each year. Their work is based around the simple concept of peer learning. Their programmes are all run by ex-offenders who are able to talk to people coming out of prison on their terms. They meet prisoners at the prison gate and then interim support them through the difficult process of getting back into life outside the prison.

And I immodestly pass on the comment from one of our members attending the day who suggested that really we should call ourselves "ACHEVO" as apposed to ACEVO because we are an organisation that gets things done.

Tonight it's off to the launch of the ACEVO Pay Survey at The Caledonian Club. (Jokes about pay restraint and Scots not allowed). ACEVO has been conducting a pay survey amongst its members for over 15 years. It's a valuable source of information about the pay, conditions and benefits that Chief Executives get in our sector. Its often used by organisations as a bench marking guide when they set their own Chief Executive salaries. This year it shows that the stress and strain on the Chief Executive has grown as a result of the recession and also that 28% of our Chief Executives have had their salaries frozen in the past year. To purchase a copy of the Survey click here.

This shows admirable restraint on the part of members and contrasts rather sharply with the behaviour of those in the commercial sector, who clearly feel that a mere recession should not interfere with their increasing salary, perks and bonuses. How sickening to hear the news last night that Goldman Sachs may be paying a bonus of £0.5m to each of their employees.

However, the point I shall make at the launch is that whilst clearly we need to exercise restraint in the current circumstances it is important not to lose sight of the need for proper professional rates of pay in our sector. The labourer is worthy of their hire. Our salaries must remain competitive and set at a level that properly recognises the talent and the effort required in a Chief Executive job. I would certainly not want to see a continuation of frozen salaries over any lengthy period.

Members, Boards and Palaces

There have been a range of ACEVO members on the airwaves recently highlighting the work of our sector.

"Save the Family" is a dynamic charity run by ACEVO member Tim McLachlan and on Monday night was featured on 'The One Show' on BBC 1. The programme was reporting on 'mending broken Britain'. As the recent political announcements by both the Conservative and Labour Party Conferences have highlighted - they want to focus on the family. Save the Family is showcased as the alternative to smashing failing families apart by taking children into care by taking the whole family into a caring environment instead.

And then on Tuesday Clare Tickell, one of the sector's greats , ACEVO member and CEO of Action for children was on The Today programme launching their " Wake up to neglect" campaign.

Serious neglect kills - and, worryingly, studies suggest that up to 10% of children experience neglect.

That's why Action for children are launching an urgent appeal to make the UK wake up to neglect, and raise £17 million over the next three years to help neglected children.

Clare had followed ACEVO member Mark Lever, CEO of the National Autistic Society, on The Today programme talking about the problems of autism .

Together these show the great contribution we make to building a better society and indeed shows how crucial our role is.

And this was one of the issues we were discussing in our ACEVO Board Awayday on Wednesday. A good discussion on how we tackle the potential of change that will be posed by a new Government facing public spending cuts. There was strong agreement that ACEVO has to be there to provide support and advice to members in a potentially challenging and changed economy. There will be opportunities, particularly in service delivery, but also dangers if there are major cuts to grants and other supports to our sector. What will Local Authorities do, for example? How can we protect the most vulnerable smaller charities in our membership? How do we ensure we provide solutions to Government which enable more cost effective delivery? But whatever happens ACEVO has to be there to put the sector case and provide solutions, not whinging (however tempting that might occasionally be!).

And to round off the day I went to a reception at Lambeth Palace thrown by His Grace The Archbishop (occasional Charlbury resident!). Heaving with ACEVO members from the CEO of the Imperial War Museum and the General Secretary of the Church of England, to the CEOs of CAFOD and Christian Aid to mention just a few. I managed to speak to most of the Bishops there, as you do, and gained merit which I then dissipated by gossiping with Nick Robinson and Jim McNaughtie. The story about GB I could not possibly repeat on my blog. Got home in time to see same Nick Robinson on the BBC News outside No 10 talking about Afghanistan!

Monday 12 October 2009

Harvest Festival and Gift Aid

We celebrated Harvest Festival in Charlbury on Sunday. There is still a large farming community in this part of Oxfordshire and the gently rolling fields and farms define the gorgeous scenery in what David Cameron MP has described as " the most beautiful part of England".( No , that wasn't in his Conference speech but in a local leaflet he has sent out to his constituents in West Oxon! ).

The Hound and I were out enjoying long walks in the fields around Ditchley ( though I needed some skill in persuading Sparkles not to practise sheep herding at one stage).

An interesting account of "zakat" in the Parish newsletter was an interesting counterpoint to a deeply fruitless meeting last week at HMT on Gift Aid. Zakat , or alms giving, is the 3rd pillar of Islam and is a systematic approach to giving for the benefit of people in need. The Koran insists that worship is not just about religious observance but also the way believers use their wealth and treat other people. The proper way of paying zakat is prescribed. People should calculate their wealth annually and set aside 2.5% to be distributed to people in need, though further charitable giving is encouraged.

Gift Aid in the UK has been a considerable support to our charitable sector and is worth a considerable amount to many of ACEVO's members. The UK has always had a generous system of support for giving, but the Government can and should do better. Which is why they launched a consultation some 2 years ago. But since then it has been mired in an interminable Treasury maze where it appears we will never emerge into the daylight. On Gift Aid we have spent many hours reviewing ways to improve the scheme , cut bureaucracy and ensure charities get a better deal. We know that many millions are lost to charity through the way the current scheme operates. So money that rightly should come to us stops in HMT. So the message is simple. The time for talk is now over. Give us our money guys!

ACEVO has been interested in the " opt out" system for declaring you are a taxpayer and also for higher rate taxpayers to contribute gift aid at the higher rate. An interesting idea has been pur to HMT that gift aid should be based on a " composite rate" ie a balance between basic and higher rates based on the statistical breakdown of hoe many people pay basic v higher rate.

But we do now need to see what the Government will do on gift aid. I have told Stephen Timms MP , the HMT Minister responsible , that we expect a response in the PBR announcement in November. Movement on gift aid will demonstrate that the Government want to show support and help to charities as they face higher demands on their services and uncertain finances.

Friday 9 October 2009

"Carpe Diem"

A quick note from Andrew Holt, Editor of Charity Times asking for my view on the fact that David Cameron did not mention the third sector in his speech made me wonder; does that matter? Gordon Brown similarly did not mention the sector apart from the reference to his volunteering in a hospice.

But underlying much of the thrust of the Cameron speech, and indeed the many references and discussions during this Conference week, has been the notion that the State should deliver less and the third and private sectors should deliver more.

I thought it was unwise of opposition politicians to deride this. The Guardian reported:

" Labour and Liberal Democrats dismissed the speech as the work of a man determined to kick away the protection of the State, leaving the most vulnerable dependent on charities " .

A gross caricature of today's modern enterprising sector, where we deliver mainstream services to contract. Yet it does seem to reflect a lazy and ill-informed view that is more prevalent than we think; that charities are small scale, volunteer bodies doling out soup and sympathy to the poor. It is one reason I am convinced we need a major public awareness campaign in advance of the election so that politicians, analysts and commentators understand we are now a sector that earns more than it is given, employs more staff than all the banks and turns over £126 billion a year. Why not look to charities to deliver more state services? So a smack on the hand to whatever labour wonk came up with that nonsense. But it may be a warning to us that in the coming campaign the role of charities may become an issue for debate. Let's ensure we are prepared with our case and shout loudly about the role we play and the power we have to make a difference.

I thought the case against state provision was very deftly put by my dear friend and ACEVO member Craig Dearden-Phillips, who runs the brilliant and innovative body "Speaking Up" and is also a Lib Dem Councillor in East Anglia. He argues in "Third Sector" this week that the 2010s will be the decade that, "Councils stop doing things, or rather start focusing on their core business of making sure things get done". He leads the charge for Councils to stop delivering services and to fund others like the third sector to do that.

And he ends his perceptive article with a clarion call.

"By 2015 the Council I sit on will have a third less money to spend than it does now. A new line will be drawn between what we do and what we ask other sectors to do better and cheaper. The third sector needs to recognise it is time to seize the day and run out, determined to win- not for ourselves but for the people we are here to serve. "

That argument must also apply nationally. So if a new Conservative Government wants to push ahead with a downsizing of State provision and an expanded service delivery role for us and the private sector then let's accept the challenge that brings - to do what we do best for those we serve.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Local Government

Local Authorities play a major role in the work of our third sector. Whether in grants or contracts, in policy development or strategic partnership. Relationships though can sometimes be difficult. And testing times are ahead.

I have a long history of work in local government - both as an elected Councillor and as a Director at what is now the LGA. I have a deep affection and attachment to local government though also aware of their drawbacks. Over the next few years our relationship will become more critical, especially if the Conservatives win with their plans to devolve more and abolish the regions, against big spending cuts.

We have a contract to develop a third Sector strategy with Lambeth Council and we intend to grow our work in building a stronger link with local authorities generally. Jenny, our ACEVO North Director is spearheading that. As Councils review their spending they will inevitably review spending on the sector and their grants programmes. They will want to see demonstrable bang for their buck. And so they should - its all our money. So it is our job to demonstrate value added and impact. A knee jerk "no cuts" approach will not work. But a strategy based on constructive dialogue though strategic partnerships and building better links could. We must demonstrate how we will deliver for the Council. How our impact can often be more effective than the Council itself. We can deliver more services and play a bigger role in regeneration, greening and community development. There is a big opportunity for us if we set out our stall effectively.

One of my members, Tom Flood of BTCV, has been having very constructive discussions with Essex CC about playing a much bigger role for the Council in achieving their sustainability goals. So whether we are large national charities or local community groups and enterprises we need to engage. At one of the NLGN fringes in Manchester, two Tory council leaders spoke of a bigger role for the sector in delivery and providing joined up services. Its what organisations like MIND and the "Age Concerns" or WRVS and Groundwork do so well. It's what the Adventure Capital Fund do through their innovative programmes of loans and development grants, which have underpinned the growth of community enterprise.

And we will develop our Lambeth work - we have appointed a new Policy Officer for that. Will be exciting. When I was on the Council after the Brixton riots it became very clear, following Scarman, that regeneration could only take place if the local community and their organisations were fully engaged. It was the first time that the Council had properly engaged with the thirs sector. It worked. Brixton is now a dynamic and thriving community - still with its problems and issues but a great place to live. Why, we even have our own currency these days!

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Enjoying Manchester and Governing the Future...

Well, Team ACEVO certainly know how to enjoy themselves! Our 7 strong contingent took themselves off to the much publicised " Tory Pride" evening and indeed found ourselves with a range of ACEVO members. First to be mentioned must be the indomitable Paul Martin , the CEO of the Manchster based Lesbian & Gay Foundation, which advocates for the lesbian and gay community on a national level and provides excellent, innovative services. Then there was the tireless campaigner Sir Nick Partridge who has run the Terence Higgins Trust with such distinction. He is an advocate of the value and need for sector mergers and has led over 13 mergers in his time as CEO. And not forgetting Simon Blake of Brook, also known as chair of Compact Voice and currently engaged in a major reorganisation in Brook (not to mention the Compact refresh campaign !).

We had done a range of the fringe meetings over lunch and then the evening - with our team of 7 we were omnipresent pushing the third sector line. Why , we even had a presence at a Taxpayers Alliance meeting where I am reliably informed many attendees were clearly 10 shillings short of a pound in the intellect department and not greatly focused on the third sector which was clearly viewed with deep suspicion as the last refuge for woolly liberals and do gooders!

So as a reward it was off to the Hilton's 23rd floor champagne bar where one imbibes looking out over the delights of Manchester. That Master of headhunting and search David Fielding was with us though there is a strict embargo on him offering even a morsel of advice to any of my Team who are not allowed to leave ACEVO.

All work and no play makes Bubb a dull boy, not to mention his team so we got into the party mood (no member money spent incidentally I hasten to add !).

So a rather tired CEO got on the 9.30 train back to London for the somewhat more prosiac but important task of the Honours Committee where we decide on recommendations for people to be recognised for their national and local service. There is a strong bunch of recommendations for third sector people, both professionals, volunteers and philanthropists. There may be critics of the system but I am not one of them. An award gives enormous pleasure and is a particularly good way of recognising selfless service. The reforms of the system have swung the balance to recognising service in the third sector and not just for the usual suspects. For more information click here to visit their website.

And we have been putting the finishing touches to our big Annual conference where the leading Chairs and CEOs of the sector get together to debate and learn. Its the biggest gathering of CEOs on our sector and always a good event. This year its on guy fawkes Day ( nov 5th) which is a distinguished day , not to mention my birthday! The snappy title of " Governing the Future; capitalising on political and economic change". Highly relevant in the current circumtances! Tessa Jowell will be making a key note speech- she tells me it will be her only speech on the third sector and she has already started thinking of the key themes. Not to be missed if you are a CEO or chair and for all those with a deep interest and involvement in out sector. Click here to book a place.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

The Pub Quiz... and the cuts puzzle

I am afraid to report the combined might of the ACEVO team failed to carry off the prize at last night's pub quiz! I guess all those odd questions on sport and popular culture? So the case of champagne goes elsewhere! But at least the Barnadoes team fared equally as poorly so we weren't shown up by a member! The event was "chaired" by my old mate from local government days, Eric Pickles. I saw him later " how are you comrade" was his warm greeting!

I tried to get into the Conference hall this morning as my vice chair on futurebuilders was speaking, Harriet Baldwin. She is soon to be MP for Worcs West.But all the seats were taken so had to watch on screen insteed. She told me later that just before she spoke she had managed to tip coffee all over her jacket! But the "frighteningly efficient "(Sunday Times) Harriet made a strikingly effective contribution!

Then listened to George Osborne MP ( on the screen at the BBC stand- which seemed sufficiently ironic) He pledged a major reform of public services: " Decent public services" - reversing the dramatic fall in public service productivity, getting more for less. The reform of services will be driven by those who use them.

Went to a WWF reception (excellent ACEVO member) at lunchtime , just before the sustainability debate where they announced a major campaign on retro fitting across the country. Greg Clarke MP , the Tory Environment spokesman , asked me whether I was still blogging...and was that other chap too? I assured him we both were and he promised to visit! Greg continues to be an impressive speaker and thinker and spoke enthusiastically about proposals for a Tory sustainability programme , where third sector organisations will play an important role in delivery and advocacy.

He was followed by the equally impressive Nick Herbert MP . " You cannot live beyond your sustainable needs" was his message and he argued we must move from a negative agenda to a more positive one- involving TSOs , people , businesses in promoting a green Britain. He urged us all to help him , "Keep the green flag flying above the Tory party ". I assured him later that we would certainly do that but he said he was not sure he would use the line in the actual conference hall. He said I was welcome to Blog it...I said it was already in my draft. It is such good news for ACEVO that my Blog appears to be widely read in Tory circles. But then, why wouldn't it.

But again a day where it is clear the third sector (or will I soon have to call it the social sector? ) is seen as central to delivery. The issue for us as a sector is how will we respond. Will we take up the challenge to think of ways we can deliver more cost efficient but better services? Are we prepared to engage in the cuts debate? Will we think how we can team up with the private sector to deliver contracts? Will we rationalise, think merger and alliance and cooperation. Tough times are ahead for our sector. But also opportunities. Its up to us to make the best of difficult times. ACEVO will work with our members to do this. Already we are talking with members about proposals to put to Government of whatever colour that helps meet national objectives of cutting debt. I talk to Nick Hurd about how we input this into emerging conservative thinking. Always best to be on the front foot. Its what a Chief Executive has to do.

Monday 5 October 2009

All go on public service reform!

Great to hear Francis Maude MP play up the role of the third sector at the Tory Conference this morning. A very clear endorsement of the power of the sector which we can put into play in delivering services. He was enthusiastic about the private and third sectors ability to deliver better outcomes in prisons. He was keen to see more third sector people on the Departmental Boards in Whitehall.

In a fringe meeting later he argued that the need for public spending cuts will force us to think about how we provide services; and pointed out there is now a lot of work going on in think tanks about how to do this.

Acevo has been working closely with Francis on the outsourcing agenda. The Conservatives have always been clearer that reform of public services means more delivery by non state providers. Labour has always been equivocal on this and indeed we heard nothing about it at the Labour fest in Brighton.

Seeing Francis afterwards I congratulated him on an important speech and encouraged him particularly on prisons. In the Fringe meeting he also said that what often stands in the way of TSOs delivering more is finance and so we need a Social Investment bank; "an urgent priority" for the tories. He says all that is needed is for the Government to "pull its finger out". There is a growing market for social investment which they want to encourage. Excellent. And note he talks of a social investment bank- none of this wet woolly wholesale nonsense!

In the 2020 Fringe Stephen Dorrell made the point that there are 2 approaches to cuts; salami type slices of existing programmes or a fundamental review of spending overall. This is very much the approach acevo has been arguing and why we think that spending cuts are not necessarily a bad thing for our sector. A fundamental review of public services would allow many TSOs to argue for a bigger and expanded role.

Ben Page of Mori made the rather telling point that the public want Swedish style levels of public service but American style levels of tax!

Philip Blond argued that the solutions of the 80s on outsourcing are not now appropriate so there is a need for alternatives, for example employee share ownership in public services. How do we cut intelligently? The answer lies in innovation. Let employees have a stake in a spin off public service organisations and set them up like John Lewis! He also said that the TS is more productive than the public or private sectors! He argues that the TS is not only more productive than the FTSE 100 but that employees are happier in their work. Powerful stuff!

And the innovation point is rather tellingly made later; "We didn't have any money so we had to think" as the leader of Westminster Council said. He also argues the need for Job centre Plus to be tied into the local economy with local councils and health authorities. A good point.

What is already becoming clear from this Conference is that our sector will be playing a central role under any newly elected Conservative Government. Our job in acevo is to prepare our Members to take advantage of this change if it happens! And so I had a meeting with the CBI this morning to explore ways in which we can promote third sector and private sector partnerships to deliver services. Its happening in prisons and in welfare to work. It will clearly grow. Its a way to ensure effective and efficient public services that work for citizens!

Thursday 1 October 2009

Dreaming dreams

"Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men" Goethe. It was the quote Gordon Brown used in his speech though he mangled it somewhat. But what a fine sentiment for our own great sector. And many of our finest charities amd social enterprises have emerged from the dreams of individuals. Francis Noel-Baker who died last week was a good example. Driven by a passion for human rights and a campaigner against Governments who abused their citizens , he was one of the forces behind the founding of Amnesty International, an organisation that has done so much to alert the world to human right abuses. Many moons back I was the Secretary of the Medway Towns branch and we campaigned for prisoners in South Africa and in the Soviet Union. Kate Allen , their CEO is a long time and fine ACEVO member.

I was remembering all this last night as I sat in the magical setting of the Christ Church Hall. One of my friends reminded me I had had a fundraising party at College for the mother and sister of one of our adopted prisoners who was being held on Robben Island. It was one of many envoked memories as I joked with my colleagues from the '72 PPE course, William Ewart Gladstone glaring down at me as I eat and under the benign presence of the mighty holbein portrait of our Founder King Henry V111.

We were celebrating the retirement of the philosophy and the politics tutors, Jonathan Wright and Hugh Rice who had both taught for 40years. Lord Lawson gave a valediction. He said that philosophy had taught him to discern the nonsense in the grand speeches of politicians ! My 2 old tutors gave the most eloquent, erudite and witty speeches. Such a contrast with the fare offered up in Brighton. A joy to listen. Hugh Rice taught me Logic, or as I must be correct here, attempted to teach me Logic. Jonathan Wright I remember from my first tutorial when he gave me a long reading list that included 2 books in German ( I can't read German but no matter ).
David Willetts MP was there. Amusing to think that both he and I were taught by the same politics and economics tutors!

David is a very fine Tory. He gave a great speech at an ACEVO chief executives lunch and talked about the book he is writing on inter-generational contacts. This is now finished and it is off to the publishers. Out in February. I also gave him my take on the Labour plan for fallen women. Be interesting to see how he responds in his speech to the Tory conference on tuesday.

Other luminaries present among the 200 or so old students were Peter Jay , Neil O'Brien , the head of the Tory think tank Policy exchange ( who was reprimanded for his poor economics in his recent Newsnight interview!) Former MP now author Robert Harvey and James Robbins the BBC correspondent - also ACEVO contributor!

I was struck by some of the conversations with friends now in finance or commerce and their attitude to mergers, or," mergers and acquisitions" as they call it. Are we too delicate in our sector about this. Why should we not also be talking about aquisitions? Perhaps we need to be more aggressive on the need for rationalisation in the sector? With tough times ahead there is scope for this?

But it was interesting to just pick up the conversations of 35 years ago with old friends. College days are magical and none more so than in an institution of such venerable age and distinction. I'm afraid they have fallen on hard times as the wine was of a distinctly less good quality than I recall (my senior tutor was in charge of the wine cellar and had a good nose for a fine claret- a philisophical skill he taught me) and we even had a fundraising speech!

I slept on the same staircase I was on in 1974... The magnificent Victorian pile of the Meadows building, staircase 4.

But back to the real world now...