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.

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