Tuesday 29 December 2009

Combating DH charity asset grab and a Christmas reprise

So its over for another year . My turkey remains are already a glorious soup . The presents put to use ( or not as the case may be ). Sparkles appreciated her Christmas stocking...she chewed it to pieces. I have been going through my pile of cards . I'm glad to say people do still send cards . I deplore those rather pathetic email Christmas greetings .

And I have had some splendid cards . Top prizes go to Barbara Follett MP for a card designed by one of her Stevenage constituents , Simon Gillespie of Multiple Sclerosis for a gorgeous photo of frosted berries , Alun Michael MP whose used a photo he had taken of " Mandela's Gold" , a variety of the bird of paradise flower , and Gordon and Sarah whose card was a superb photo of a Downing St Christmas tree decoration photographed on holly at Kew Gardens . Proceeds from the Downing St card sales go to WaterAid . This marvellous charity is also one I support. It is run by the great Barbabra Frost , acevo member and my former Vice Chair. ( And as you are asking the other charities I support personally each month they are : Christian Aid , Action Aid , VSO , my local Churches and my old Oxford college naturally . )

The booby prize for the worst Christmas greeting goes to the Third Sector Research Centre , who sent me an email wishing me a " Happy Holiday" as though I were about to pack my bags for a jolly week in Alicante . They followed it up with a postcard with a supposed festive scene of their office in the snow emblazoned with the words TSRC. This ridiculous 60s hippy like concern to be PC and pretend we are not actually celebrating the Festival of the Nativity of Christ is actually quite offensive . An end to all this " seasons greetings " nonsense I say! I wonder if they wander around wishing Muslims a " happy holiday "when its Ramadan?

But it is back to work with a vengeance . The Times today brilliantly exposes the attempted grab of hospital charity assets by the DH. I have blogged on this and am delighted it is now being exposed more widely as a result of an intervention by Jenny Wilmot MP , the Lib Dem third sector spoke person . The DH want all NHS hospitals to account for the assets of their hospital charity in the main hospital budgets and accounts . This would , as the Charity Commission have pointed out , " can be viewed as tantamount to a form of nationalisation of the gifts and donations of the public". As I said in my comment printed in the Times story it would be just too tempting for any government to look at those combined balance sheets and tell hospitals they can use them to pay for things that previously would have been bought by the NHS itself . This could make it easier for future governments to make cuts and we would find that charity donations are substituting for state funding . A slippery path . And this will simply undermine trust in the work of the many great hospital charities. I want the Charity Commission to be robust and stop this , just as they did in 1948 when the then Government tried to nationalise the assets of the 1000 charity hospitals . Of course Andy Burnham could tell his Department not to implement this accounting changes . He needs to do this now; he cannot afford to further alienate the third sector after his disastrous policy u-turn on preferred supplier . So go on Andy , make my New Year a happy one!

It was ironic that as I went into St Thomas' this morning for a check up on my eyes ( very good progress , Thank God ) I walked past the statue of King Edward VI who endowed the hospital in 1553 along with a large gift from his Treasurer . The fantastic fundraising of the Guys and Tommies charity , building on centuries of public donations and legacies have enabled many pioneering works like the development of a centre of excellence in foetal health and the new Evalina children's hospital. ; works that the DH had ruled were not priorities and would not fund.they also do much needed work in supporting the health needs of the local community in South London . I don't want this major asset swallowed up in the hospital accounts and then some future Secretary of State telling Tommies they have loads of money so we will cut your budget and use it elsewhere.

I'm asked onto Radio 5 live for an interview and then do a piece for BBC Radio 4 , my favourite news station. I get several emails from members saying well done . one , headed " theft" asks me to ensure acevo "campaigns against avaricious plans by government to lay their hands on charitable money". We shall . I'm proud that acevo is there to speak out on behalf of our sector when that is needed. It may be the Christmas break but we are ever vigilant on behalf of our members.

Thursday 24 December 2009

A Happy Christmas

Today we shut down for the Christmas break and return refreshed for the New Year. And to send staff off on their merry way I laid on a lunch time champagne amd mince pie lunch. It's the least my brilliant team deserve. They have worked superbly over the year to support and advice the sector's CEOs. I am lucky to have such talent. Though a team of only 40 we seem to do the work of a hundred. And that is because of dediction and commitment and sheer intelectual brain power. It's the likes of my Head of Policy who came up with what must rank as the quote of the year , "ACEVO is keen on evidence-based policy making, but we are not keen on procrastination-based evidence making." As a summary of what the Treasury have been up to it could not be excelled ! It is with people like this we demonstrate leadership on behalf of the sectors glorious band of chief executives...

I will be off for another Nine Lessons and Carols at Westminster Abbey and then Midnight Mass at All saints, Margaret Street.

Have a Blessed and Peaceful Christmas. And, as the Bidding Prayer for christmas Eve says,

" Let it be our care and delight to hear again the message of the Angels and in heart and mind go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass".

Let me end by pasing on the email card from the great Rob Owen at the St Giles Trust.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Patients First, though not in parts of the NHS .... Me and Gus.

Well our complaint to the DH Competition Panel has set the cat amongst the pigeons, particularly as we made the complaint with the NHS Confederation.

I was amused at the press coverage of the reaction of the Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT Chief Executive. In the Health Services Journal he expressed "disappointment" but "hoped the challenge would soon be "disposed of" to end uncertainty for staff."

So there you have it. Important we are disposed of! And I had a vague feeling PCTs are there for the benefit of patients and carers and better health outcomes? This is a very Freudian response. It reveals exactly why we have a problem. The interests of staff are put above the interests of the best care for patients regardless of which sector the provision is from.

And he compounds the offence by suggesting the sector may have a role as sub contractors! Clearly does not see us as having a role in mainstream provision.

It will come as no surprise to read in the HSJ that this particular PCT, was named as one of the two worst performing PCTs in last year’s world class commissioning document. Perhaps the better course might have been to welcome competition to drive up standards.

An amusing email from Peter Housden, the Perm Secretary at DCLG, who reveals that there is a photo in the Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell's office featuring me! He even takes a photo to send me.

Well here it is. Myself, Gus and the CEO of Amey. We were celebrating the anniversary of the civil service Top Managers Programme which is one of the finest leadership programmes in the country. ACEVO can nominate a third sector CEO to each programme. And we do.

And I even have this photo in my own Office!

Last night was special. I braved the snow and went to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at my church, All Saints Margaret Street. Beautiful singing. Traditional readings and carols. One of the choir, Ian Lyon, has been helping ACEVO with its contacts and policy towards the Conservatives.

And let me finish this blog with the words of the chorus of the Yorkshire Wassail song:

"For it's Christmas time, when we travel far and near,
May God bless you and send you a happy New Year
. "

Saturday 19 December 2009

Challenging Burnham

This government was elected on a Manifesto that promised the third sector would be treated " on equal terms ". This promise has been comprehensively and dramatically torn up by Andy Burnham. In his policy u- turn he has decreed that the " NHS will be the preferred provider" , caving in to producer interest and the demands of unions like Unite who have been quick to trumpet their victory.

ACEVO has been working behind the scenes to row this back. I have had a number of conversations with Andy- who I like. We have had this extensively discussed in Government at the highest level.

But after a month of discussion we have not been able to achieve as much advance as our members would like or need. Our job is to advance the best interest of our beneficaries. Whilst we like to move forward in consensus. When that is not possible we do what the third sector must always do at such times and campaign.

So we move from the patient argument and discussion stage to the offensive. Yesterday afternoon we submitted a formal complaint of anti competitive behaviour against a PCT to the Department of Health competition Panel. See more details in the Financial Times' story here.

This is one flagrant example of action being taken to discriminate against the sector since the Burnham decree. But there will be others and there may be other complaints logged by other organisations as well.

We shall be taking all steps necessary to show our opposition to this policy u turn. I'm glad to say the Tories have promised to reverse it immediately.

It seems incredible that the interests of the organisation are to be put above the question of which body can provide the best service for the patient and client. We are being told that even where we can offer a more cost effective service that better meets the need of the patient they will in future favour in house provision.

And as the NHS needs to review spending and try to meet expanding need against more constrained public sending the third sector is to be cold shouldered. We are the unpreffered.

There is very little point in government talking of a bigger role for the third sector in delivering citizen focused services when its actions demonstrate this is but rhetoric.

And if the NHS is now the government's preffered provider which department will be next to discriminate against the third sector. Will DWP or MoJ now try to reverse recent commissioning changes to involve our sector more widely ?

Can you pursue one competition (anti) policy in one Department and not others?

Members are pretty disgusted by all this. It is objectionable in principle and impractical in application. It must be reversed.

Friday 18 December 2009

The 132nd Bishop of London and "Giving"

So my very first official engagement since the OP! One of ACEVO's "Learning with Leaders" lunches. And this one is particularly fantastic. Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, is one of the most erudite, learned and amusing Prelates in the land. It was a real joy to listen to him speak. And he looks exactly like an Anglican Prelate should look. None of this modern day nonsense with jeans and blue shirts in an apology for being a priest type approach.

Our lunch was at the offices of the great CCLA ,who so splendidly look after much of our sector assets. The food, and a fine Chablis, were much appreciated.

The Bishop spoke about the strong links between the Church and the sector of which it is a part, and yet how often Governments marginalise or ignore religion and the role that churches play in local an national life. He made the point that many ministers and politicians will readily acknowledge the strong role of churches in their locality but divorce this from the role of churches more widely. He did however admit that the Church has had some part to play in his marginalisation by its apparent obsession with gender and sex.

The Church does indeed have a strong role as a "community hub" as he described it. Indeed he pointed out that the CoE has a huge infrastructure of buildings and personnel in 24 churches there are sub post offices for example. Every day the priests of the church are supporting and nurturing people in communities in difficult times. The Church works across communities and in them. They have links with other community organisations and with the wider third sector. It's a real force that we often ignore because we find religion embarrassing (speaking generally that is - as I don't!)

I have blogged before about the work of Saul Alinsky, the Chicago community organiser guru (his seminal work is "Rules for Radicals). He used the power of church congregations in Chicago to get real force behind various community campaigns. Obama has written about this from his own work as a community organiser (and he was tutored by Alinsky).

The Bishop commented on the theme of Christmas as a time of giving. The CoE gets 9% of all gift aid contributions. Interesting! We may need to enlist them in our campaign to get Government to move its arse on this.

I receive a letter from Ian Pearson MP, Economic secretary to HMT today (Click here to read it.)

He suggests; "I hope you find time over the Christmas period to read and consider the report so that our discussion of Gift Aid reform in the New Year is informed by its findings."
Always fun to be patronised.

Actually I think it's Ian who needs to remember he is the Government so perhaps he would like to read the research and then tell us what the Government is going to do about it. I shall be replying to say we will come to the meeting in the expectation of hearing their proposals for reform. And I shall be suggesting that as Christmas is a time of giving they decide they will introduce gift aid changes on higher rate tax payers.

Next year every ACEVO member will have to pay higher costs in increased VAT and National Insurance. We need the higher rate reform to help us meet those costs and to carry on our much needed work with our beneficiaries. So Ian, what is your Christmas present going to be?

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Leadership ... and Gift Aid again ....

What a great story in The Observor : "how a little champagne really does lift the heart". Scientists have shown that a couple of glasses a day is good for the heart and blood circulation. Of course we knew this.

As that wise warrior Napoleon observed of champagne , " In victory you deserve it, in defeat you need it ".

And I certainly needed it after Monday when I returned to Tommies for another small op under local to "adjust the stitches" as they put it. Not pleasant. I was fair reeling when I left and as no one had admonished me not to drink I had a reviving Gin. I needed it. We have become somewhat censorious of drink of late, almost as though we are all on the brink of bouts of binge drinking and alcoholism. Not that this is not a problem - indeed I have excellent members working in the area of drink and drug abuse and Alcohol Concern is a splendid body. But that should not blind us (oops unfortunate that) to the glories of wine and champagne.

One of the advantages of time off to recuperate is I get a chance to listen to that National treasure, BBC Radio 4. An interesting programme on Monday on leadership and management and the link with expertise. The question was that if in the arts, for example, no leader at the top would not also be an expert in their subject - orchestras or curating for example. Would the banking crisis have taken a different turn if more people at the top had been experts in banking and come up through the ranks? Should the Civil Service pay more attention to developing expertise in Departmental subjects rather than glorifying generalism.

There is now a trend back to hospitals being run by medics rather than managers imported from other parts of the public sector.
This is a very valid point; how far can you divorce the skills of leadership from th expertise and knowledge of the job itself, say child care or rehabilitation? Many of ACEVO's CEO leaders have come from jobs outside the organisations they have run. Many have come from outside the sector. I suspect a balance is needed. A social worker steeped in the expertise of the profession may not make the best manager or leader?

We are being led a merry dance on Gift Aid. My brilliant Head of Policy reports to me on the meeting with HMT on the recent research on top taxpayers and giving. It is clear that changes to make all tax payers gift aid contributions come to charity will not significantly lower giving. So we now need Government to decide what they will do.

But all we get is an offer of a "forum" to discuss this further. Well chaps, time for talking is over. You are the Government. You decide. Are you going to implement change for higher rate tax payers or not? Simple question. What is the answer please because I, for one, am tired of talking about it. Unless you would like to appoint me to the Treasury team and I'll make the decision for you.

And it is debatable in the absence of any indication we are not being further led around the garden that we will take part. I have decided to ask members for their view.

It may be Christmas and the season of goodwill to all men but there are limits. Two years talking and sweet all and what are we offered. A forum. And I thought Santa would have something better in his sack!

Monday 14 December 2009

Anaesthetists and Loan Deniers

The outrage! As I lay prone on the operating table the anaesthetist leans over and asks:

" Are you retired? "

"RETIRED! HARDLY " I reply as majestically as is possible in one of those flimsy NHS gowns, fixing him with my beady eye. But there the conversation ends as the liquid sleep took its effect.
And the last friendly words of the Nurse were a Firm "NO Alcohol". I'm afraid I always get a violent Pavlovian reaction at this. I start thinking of a cool glass of champagne, lovely bubbles pouring down the frosted side in an enticing and irresistible way. But I was a good boy and resisted!

The Op appears to have gone well , though I had to return for a stitch to be removed the next day.

I see Andy Burnham waits until l'm on the slab before announcing his "NHS First" paper. Surely its " Patients First", not the institution? But I'm afraid that's where his NHS as preferred supplier has driven us. You cannot put patients first if you have decided that third sector provision is not preferred even if it is more cost effective and client driven. And how will you secure a more productive service and one able to control cost if you refuse to allow competition on equal terms? This absurd policy will be challenged. You can be sure we are already well advanced in our plans to get this overturned. Good to hear that at a dinner last week Francis Maude MP was clear the Tories will be consigning the Burnham u-turn to the hospital incinerators. Incidentally at same dinner he promised £300 m for a Social Investment Bank. Sound man that Maude.

St Thomas' is a great Hospital. Since I became a Health Authority member there in 1982 I have had strong connections over the last three decades in various guises, more recently on the Foundation Council. I always think it is reassuring that whilst an NHS hospital for 60 years it was run and managed as a third sector hospital for 400 years. Before 1947 there were 1000 charity hospitals, big and small. Indeed most of our best and well known teaching hospitals like Guys and Tommies were such. They live on in the many hospital charity Foundations: ACEVO has many of their CEOs as members.

In 1947 the Government tried to nationalise these endowments as well as the buildings. I'm glad to say that the then Charity Commission showed its mettle and stopped this. I hope they will be as robust today at malicious and wrong headed attempts to make these charities account their money though the public sector hospital accounts. Andrew Hind must ensure this does not happen. These are the donations and endowments of generations of charitable giving, not for propping up the deficits of the State.

One of the glories of our remarkable sector is its glorious history and diversity. Some 500,000 organisations that form the weft and weave of our society. And like our society we are peopled with the magnificent and the wacky, the innovative and imprudent, the talented and the improbable.

So you can be sure that for every great advance we make there will be the sad chorus of the bemoaning few. So with the good news of the Social Investment Bank the predictable "this isn't good news" or "there is no evidence of demand" is trotted out. A shame those who argue there is no evidence don't actually bother to check. Though I must not be naïve; this is just a smart retort rather than an interest in facts.

So worth recounting the evidence of demand for the new Community Builders Investment Fund being run by the ACF which I chair. This is a £60m loan fund.

When it was set up there were 1432 enquires which have translated into 282 firm loan applications going through the process, worth up to £65m in loans.

And these are applications from community organisations - not the big national charities. The Adventure Capital fund and Futurebuilders and the DH Social enterprise investment fund have already demonstrated demand. But what I find so encouraging is that many great people in local communities have found they can fund their ambitions through loans as well as more traditional sources of funding. So let's support ambition shall we?

Clearly access to capital is new for our sector. These are new products and so it will take time before we are all comfortable with investment money as part of an organisations' diversity of funding. To suggest there is no evidence of demand is a flat earth approach. As with any new idea or product you will find people who don't want it and can't think why anyone else will.
Why, imagine the scene, a small rural pub some 70 years back, ale flowing from the casks, spittoons gleaming on the straw strewn floors. Two handsome folk on their bar tools:
Kevin (name plucked entirely at random). "Well I'm certainly not getting one of those new fangled big boxes"

Deborah (ditto) "No , nor me, I like my mahogany gramophone, why would I want an ugly TV".

Kevin, "exactly - no evidence of demand, it won't catch on... when your ready love, fill em up ...."

Just as we have climate deniers there are " loan deniers" too.

Good to have bracing Oxfordshire air to aid recovery. It was the quarterly Farmers Market in Charlbury on Saturday and my chance to stock up for Christmas with the gorgeous cheeses of the Cotswolds. I have a full round of the Churchill Cheddar from the marvellous Crudges cheese makers in Kingham and a Cotswold Blue Brie from the Simon Weaver Organic Dairy in Upper Slaughter. Now safety stored in a box in the shed on top of the Christmas Bollinger. It is a solecism to put good cheese in the fridge! And Sunday was dedicated to putting up and decorating the Tree and toasting the Advent Fairy with the first Bottle since the Op. I'm afraid the decorations look somewhat temporary as the Hound has decided what's hanging from the branches are toys for chewing. That poor Black Angel I brought back from Tanzania last Christmas is toast!

Wednesday 9 December 2009

On our way!!

Great news in the PBR! The Government are to establish the Social Investment Bank with an initial capitalisation of £75m from unclaimed assets. This is a hugely significant step for our third sector. And a real pre Christmas present for me and ACEVO members.

There have been many behind the scenes battles on this and I did wonder if we would make it. And I am delighted that the Government ignored the rather silly calls for the Bank to be set up by using money from Futurebuilders. Robbing Peter to pay Paul was always an absurd policy position. What we needed was new investment money not relabelling tins!

So it's a start. We need a bigger investment pot. Indeed our position has always been all the Banks unclaimed assets should be given over to the new Bank as Ronnie Cohen argued seven years ago in his seminal report. But I suspect we will get them. And the Tories have made clear they will hand over all those assets. The Bank will be able to work on leverage with commercial banks to secure bigger funds. The great thing about this investment fund is that it is money that will come back into the sector again and be re-loaned creating a virtuous circle of growth. Ronnie Cohen and the visionaries who promoted this idea have our thanks and gratitude for a truly revolutionary step forward, and whilst the sum may seem small now in a decade I suspect we will have a billion pound loan fund for the sector. And that's real money talking.

Access to capital is the big new frontier for our sector. This step is a proud legacy project. I sent a text to Liam of congratulations. I also told Stephen Timms MP the same when he phoned about the PBR in the afternoon (enquiring solicitously whether I was up a mountainside!).

So good news. And I hope more to come on family matters. I've had fingers crossed for the Twins; my nephew and niece Oliver and Miranda. It's the week of their Oxford interviews. Miranda hopes to read English at Worcester and Oliver, History and Economics at Brasenose. Poor Oliver had an unfortunate start, as the message from my sister told me, Oliver had come home from school with a raging temperature and had fainted in bathroom hitting head on radiator so much blood. Still he managed with great Bubb fortitude to get up to Oxford this morning. We can only hope for the sympathy vote. Though I'm sure not needed!

And as for me I'm flying back from Aberdeen for my 7.30 am date with the knife tomorrow.
A last drink called for!

Support the Sector

So today will be interesting. Although all attention in the Chancellor's Pre Budget Report will focus on his plans to ensure bankers get the treatment they deserve, we will be looking for strong action for the third sector.

I'm not hopeful of anything on Gift Aid. A letter from the Economic Secretary to HMT, Ian Pearson MP, is not encouraging. Essentially he says its all terribly difficult. He Is ringing me later today to talk about the PBR. That will be an interesting conversation!

But as always our sector remains impressive in the ways it responds to challenges. Some think that "social enterprise" is a new phenomena. It is not. Our national charities and community organisations have been incredible in the way they have expanded their trading and business activities to bring in more income. One of the greatest examples of social enterprise is the charity shop. Thought up by the brilliant social entrepreneur the first Administrator of Oxfam who set up the first charity shop after the War. Now Save the Children (wonderful CEO, Jasmine Whitbread, an ACEVO member naturally) have engaged Mary Portas to set up new outlets to appeal to designer buyers. The first of a UK wide chain opened in Edinburgh this week. They will sell designer second hand clothing and so bring in more money to our NGO sector which is having a hard time at the moment.

It is worth giving more prominence to an excellent speech by Gordon Brown on the role of the sector. Again his plans for public service reform got submerged in the cutting of top pay for public servants story, but it is clear the third sector is seen as crucial for reform.

He said performance data on public services would be made available online to help users and organisations make informed suggestions about how delivery could be improved.

He said increased transparency would also allow services to become more personalised and give frontline workers and third sector organisations "the freedom to innovate and respond to new demands in new ways".

He said "civic society" (what is this new term Gordon - borrowed it from David?) would have a crucial role to play in the new arrangements because "social enterprises and mutual not-for-profit providers so often ensure that public services meet people's needs, especially those of hard-to-reach communities".

He reiterated the Government's intention to pilot social investment bonds, which would fund the third sector to provide services that saved the state money in the long term, such as programmes to reduce re-offending. They are "money paid out now to deal at root with the causes, not the symptoms".

He also pledged to finalise plans for a social investment bank by the next Budget, but has been unable to confirm how it would be funded. This is worrying. He said the intention was to use funds from the dormant assets scheme "subject to resources". So it sounds like the usual Departmental grab, with Ed Balls wanting to collar money to build youth centres. We need to ensure all the unclaimed assets go to the new SIB.

It is also still worrying that Andy Burnham has not clarified his policy lurch on the sector. We are working on this in ACEVO and have a number of interesting strategies under consideration!

I am currently having a few days leave in Scotland to prepare for my second eye operation at St Thomas' tomorrow. The photo shows me on a trek around Loch Muick in the Highlands - just near Birkhall on the Balmoral Estate. As you can see though beautiful it is somewhat cold! But the dark looming craggy hills are a spectacular and majestic sight. Snow on the top of the mountains at this time of year. It's been relaxing and I hope pepped me up for the ordeal ahead.

Old man of Lochnagar

Loch Muick

Friday 4 December 2009

Expenses and Lib Dems

Whilst in Trinidad I was reading Martin Bells' excellent recent book on the Parliamentary expenses scandal and how he would clear it up. You can read my review of it in the next Charity Times.

There were those who tried to draw parallels with charities and we had a thoroughly silly debate on "show me yours and Ill show you mine". I'm glad to say ACEVO alone of the umbrella organisations was prepared to argue the ground and debate whether this was an appropriate demonstration of accountability. And then when all the figures emerged what did we see? Debra Alcock-Tyler gets out a lot and Keith Hickey doesn't, and Stuart spends more than me. So?

I'm delighted to see an excellent article "disclosing expenses is fine-good governance is vital", in the recent Third Sector from Ray Jones of The Charity Commission. (Click here to read the article) which argues the point ACEVO was making in this debate. As he says, "at the end of the day its good governance that really protects the reputation of charities". Exactly!

There is currently a working group that is looking at this matter. I was asked to fill in a tightly drawn questionnaire which was based on assumptions on expenses that I did not accept so ACEVO's response set out our position. See below.

Dear Lindsay

Thanks for the opportunity to respond to the NCVO/CFDG consultation on third sector expenses. These comments from ACEVO fall outside of the rather tightly defined framework of questions outlined on the online survey, but we hope address some of the broader issues surrounding how charities should deal with the expenses of their leaders.

The issue of expenses for third sector leaders was created by the sector media following the MPs expense scandal. The implication was that third sector leaders are as unaccountable as MPs. This is simply not the case. MPs created their own framework for managing their expenses, third sector leaders, and in particular third sector chief executives, do not.

Third sector leaders do enjoy an exceptionally high level of public trust. This is essential for us to be able to fulfil our roles. However, ACEVO and You Gov research in July 2009 demonstrated that public understanding of the charity sector is very poor, with the vast majority of the public not understanding how big we are, where we get our money from and what we spend it on.

There is, clearly, therefore a need to improve the dialogue which the sector has with the general public as the trust the place in us is broadly based on myth. However, this needs to be a much broader dialogue than one based only on the disclosure of particular items of expenditure such as personal expenses. Out of context these figures will mean nothing and do nothing to improve the accountability of third sector organisations.

A number of leaders of third sector support organisations did release their expenses for the last few years to the press earlier this year. But the figures were met with complete nonchalance. Even the journalists who had asked for them had no comment to make about them. The figures meant nothing in isolation.

Real accountability in the third sector, and real accountability about the value for money which donors or funders are getting from third sector organisations, can only be achieved by asking much more fundamental questions about what an organisation does and how it does it. New Philanthropy Capital poses five questions by which the public should judge the success of a charity.

Giving the public the right information and narrative to answer these questions is a much more comprehensive form of accountability than talking about expenses in isolation. That is why ACEVO has taken on the hosting of the ImpACT Coalition, a movement of over 280 charities and trade bodies committed to improving accountability, clarity and transparency in the sector.

Tight and transparent control of any kind of expenditure within an organisation is critical if it to achieve its objectives with what are always limited resources. Expenses for staff, trustees or volunteers are no exception to this rule. However, there is no suggestion from the media or the sector’s umbrella bodies that there is an inherent problem in the sector with cost controls. No single organisation or groups of organisations have been pulled up for having poor controls on how expenses are authorised. Typically staff have their expenses authorised by their managers, the CEO has their expenses authorised by the chair and trustees have their expenses authorised by the chair and/or their peers.

The consultation questions focus a great deal on how third sector organisations should monitor, and account for expenses. However, we seem to be focusing on solving a problem which is not there. There is no need to be prescriptive about how third sector organisations should control expenses any more than we need to be prescriptive about how they buy their envelopes or choose their electricity suppliers. Charity leaders and trustees are good at making these sorts of decisions. It’s the easiest kind of decision a trustee can make to say that an expense claim looks unjustified. And this debate about expenses is a distraction from the much more fundamental macro issues of good governance and real accountability on which the sector should be focusing.

So we should be focusing on the big picture. There are significant challenges facing the sector in terms of accountability and legitimacy, about explaining to the public about how we spend our money and how we raise it. But we should not be reactive to a micro issue which has been blown out of all proportion and threatens to distract us from getting those important things right. Organisations are more than capable deciding their own expense policy (most will already have one), and can decide whether or not to disclose those expenses to their stakeholders. They have nothing to hide. But the real challenge is to get the big things right, then expenses will take care of themselves.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Bubb

Had a great meeting with Jenny Willott MP on Thursday. She is the Lib Dem spokesperson on the sector and one of the thankfully large number of MPs who have worked in the sector.
Important to remember no one can accurately predict the outcome of he Election. Who knows whether the Lib Dems will hold the balance of power? So ensuring they have a good position on the third sector is important.

We talked about issues facing the sector, particularly the effects of the recession and the impending public spending squeeze. I told her of our initiative with the Chancellor but we both agreed the dangers for the sector of cuts that expect us to bear the pain. We agreed that many local and community groups are particularly vulnerable to local councils protecting their own and passing on cuts to us, or expecting us to deliver the same service but not fully funded. Testing times for Full Cost Recovery.

Jenny has a strong background in the sector in Barnados, Unicef and then as a CEO in victim support in South Wales. We agreed how good it was that the sector was now more professional and growing in scope and influence. Always good to have senior Parliamentarians who have a strong knowledge and experience of our sector.

Thursday 3 December 2009

Joining the third sector!

You can tell when a sector is on the rise when there are queues of graduates desperate to work for you and when parts of the public sector want to opt in!

I have had discussions with British Waterways about their interest in becoming a third sector organisation a currently a Government agency. And Tuesday night I had dinner with them and selected guests to discuss this further.

They have issues a 20-20 consultation document to get views on this from their stakeholders and staff. It's a fascinating read. As you can imagine people who work on our ancient and historic canals and waterways have a passionate interest and concern. They have been trying to build up a volunteer army in support but have found that difficult. They also find the constraints and inflexibility's of the public sector an inhibiting factor when they want to build up and expand their community engagement.

Did you know that British Waterways are the third largest holders of Listed Buildings and structures in the country (after the NT and CoE)? Are we making as much use of our proud canal history as we should. Do we see them as playing a stronger part in community life in our urban areas. I have blogged previously about attempts in Oxford to revitalise the canal and boatyards of Jericho to be a real community asset, rather than as now, a forgotten and derelict backwater.

As Tony Hale, their Chair says:

" The private sector built our canals, the public sector rescued them and I believe the third sector can be their future. "

I encouraged them to go for it. To do it soon. But they rightly want to ensure buy in, not least from staff. But against a background of looming cuts a third way becomes increasingly attractive.
Our dinner was at the Guardian building, just by the Regents canal! And just up from that other canal loving body NCVO.

I am also delighted that Bert Massie, the Compact Commissioner has joined our ACEVO North Steering Committee. Bert is in fact one of the founding members of ACEVO and has a distinguished record of campaigning for and supporting people with disabilities. Fantastic news he will get involved with helping us roll our membership and activities in the North.

Let me finish this blog by using the quotation from Mark Twain that British Waterways end their consultation with:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover"

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Innovation: Let's have more!

Two interesting reports I think worth drawing to my devoted bloggers:

The Innovation Exchange is a great organisation. ACEVO is one of the partners , along with the Innovation Unit and Headshift. Its run by the particularly bright and engaging John Craig, ACEVO member naturally. Its an innovation broker for the third sector. Aims to scale up innovation from the third sector across the public sector.

Recently they had a day to showcase projects they are supporting. The report is
"Next Practice: One year on" and you can get it through their website. Click here to read about the individual projects.

I listened to a number of presentations:

  • Dance United: This is a project run by the academy in Bradford and it is an intense programme of dance 5 days a week over 12 weeks). It's aimed at young people who have come out of prison. They have a stunning record. 80% of those on this course go into education or training or employment. This is exactly the sort of programme should be rolled out nationally and they have plans for three other centres. Its a rigorous programme but achieves. And in comparison with what we know happens to young people who leave the prison system with no support its almost miraculous.

  • And then there is the terrific programme run by the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation ( CEO, Steve Matthews, is an ACEVO member naturally) and The Prince's Trust (CEO Martina Milburn, not yet joined but she said she would, so make sure you do now your on my Blog). It is well known that the first day of release from prison is crucial. Will the person released be met by his old mates and quickly back into the scene and life they know so well? Or could we have what this project is offering which is to meet the released person at the gate and provide mentoring and support.

  • Did you know there are shamefully over 18,000 16-25 year olds in our prisons. A disgraceful increase of more than a third in the last 10years. What a disgrace. Here is a scheme that has already demonstrated huge success. And therefore major savings for the state. So Alistair Darling, how about investing here to cut public spending? Less prison building. More rehabilitation.

  • And what I also find deeply troubling is that the Prison Service do not give their support as they often change release dates and times at the very last minute to suit the staffing rostas and so often ensure the mentor does not link up. What a blot on the service.

  • And is it therefore any wonder I think more involvement by the third sector in running our prisons is desirable, nay crucial. Sorry to return to a hobby horse but it makes many of us angry when we see lives ruined that we could help save.

But back to a more mundane but nevertheless interesting piece of research on our public services.

PWC have published a report on public perceptions of accountability for public services . All parties appear to support greater localism but given the tendency to hold ministers accountable for all aspects of public service performance is it really possible for government to 'let go' in our centralised political culture?

PwC and ippr commissioned a major new body of research to understand the factors that impact on public perceptions of accountability by looking at core public services - health, education, crime, transport and local government. The survey revealed that for issues arising at a national level in crime, just under 50% of respondents held Westminster most responsible, followed by the leaders of service delivery - police chiefs (29%).

The findings suggest that public perceptions of accountability - and hence credit and blame - can change if devolution is well communicated, clearly enacted, and if real powers are transferred to highly accountable bodies. This has important consequences for policies aiming to shift power away from Westminster and back to the local or community level. Click here to download the report on "Who's accountable"

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Making cuts work better!

We all know spending cuts are inevitable. How they are implemented and pan out on the ground for third sector bodies large and small is clearly of major concern.

So ACEVO, together with 260 third sector leaders have written to the Chancellor offering to help implelment smart cuts.

We know that old fashioned salami slicing would be disastrous for society. We know that in the past we have been seen as an easy target to cut with many local and community groups still bearing the scars of ill thought out cuts from previous recessions.

Yet we also know that in so many areas of public serices we can provide more cost effective services more closely aligned to citizens needs. It is the "more for less" offer no government ought to be turning down.

When we know the majority of offenders leaving prison will be back there in 2 years why on earth are we not redirecting resources from prison incaceration into rehabilitation? Why do so many of our citizens end their lives in a hospital bed when they want to be in a hospice or cared for at home with third sector nursing support? And hospital care is actually more expensive!

So our offer to government is involve us in discussions on cuts. We want a high level summit to work out how we can become involved in the discussions both within Treasury and then in the major spending departments.

It is an offer no sensible government should refuse.

The letter in full says..

Dear Chancellor,

As chief executives of charities, housing associations, community organisations and social
enterprises across the UK, we work with individuals and communities in great need. Many of our service users are being severely impacted by the recession but are highly disempowered so have been largely absent from the current debates on shaping public spending. It is to rectify that absence that we are writing to you.

We know it is Government’s responsibility to reduce the public deficit when the time is right and we want to be a constructive partner when that moment comes. We urge that in response to the pressures on public spending you work in partnership with our sector to carry out far-reaching reforms of our public services, rather than just top-slicing budgets of existing services, agencies and systems which led to social catastrophe for parts of our country in previous recessions.

Too many of the people we work with have already been let down by public services. Now is the
time to work with us in reforming the system, enabling fewer resources to do more and effect lasting change and sustainable savings to the Exchequer.

From the smallest community organisations to the largest multinational charities, third sector
organisations are able to deliver significant savings and higher success rates through detailed
local knowledge, building social capital and providing holistic, personalised services. Examples of how the third sector already works with Government to produce successful outcomes are listed below.

· Many third sector organisations provide tailored, trusted support to help people into work,
creating up to £160 worth of value for every £100 invested. However, just as many third
sector organisations struggle to engage meaningfully with the State. Reforms to the
commissioning of welfare to work programmes could allow more third sector
organisations to help the unemployed and save the public purse money.

· There are countless third sector organisations keeping people physically and mentally fit
or caring for older people or those with long term conditions. These programmes save the
NHS billions by reducing the incidence of more expensive treatment costs further down
the line. However, many organisations struggle to extend their programmes as the NHS
continues to prioritise spending on acute care rather than prevention. Reform to the
commissioning of health services could save the Government billions by helping the third
sector keep more people out of hospital.

· Third sector organisations also save public money by reducing re-offending through
programmes such as peer mentoring from ex-offenders, post-release support and help
re-integrating into society. Extending such schemes already in existence could shave
billions off the cost of re-offending to Government.

· There are numerous third sector organisations playing a leading role in protecting the
environment. From recycling, to conservation, to creating green jobs and investing in
renewable energy generation, the third sector has enormous impact and can generate up
to £10 of value for every £1 invested. However, for every example of success there
remains potential unrealised: with better commissioning from Government, more third
sector organisations could have a stronger environmental impact whilst simultaneously
accruing long-term savings for the public purse.

· Many third sector organisations are working to help realise the potential of our children
and young people by addressing issues such as crime, mental ill health, family
breakdown, domestic abuse, disability, substance abuse and obesity which would cost
the State trillions. But many of these organisations are not able to deliver their services
as efficiently or widely as they could due to short sighted commissioning. With suitably
targeted public funding in the sector’s personalised children’s services, we could save
hundreds of billions over the coming years and realise the potential of future generations.

These examples are not exhaustive and we are convinced that Government could work more
effectively with our sector across many further service areas. We stand ready for this challenge. In recent years we have achieved this in targeted ways by working alongside your colleagues in government departments. We now wish to bring this experience to the Treasury to help you make savings across Government. We can work effectively at local, regional, and national scales to bring different levels of analysis and information to bear in the fight for efficiency and sustainable savings.

We propose a high level summit with you and your senior officials to discuss these issues in more depth, look at how we can work closer together and help each other through this challenging phase. If you are interested in such an event, please contact Stephen Bubb, CEO of ACEVO (Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations), on stephen.bubb@acevo.org.uk or 0845 345 8496 to arrange a suitable date.

If we can work through this period of fiscal restraint astutely and in cooperation, we believe it
need not reverse the progress we have made as a society over the past decade and could, in
many cases, be the catalyst for much greater achievement in the future.

Yours sincerely