Wednesday 9 December 2009

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

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