Tuesday 12 January 2010

Oliver, Liam and James

Always important in running a third sector organisation to show balance; so it was breakfast with Oliver Letwin MP closely followed by coffee with Liam Byrne MP. Both politicians with huge intellects and vision. It is always a pleasure to deal with politicians who share a commitment to what the third sector can achieve and are keen to harness the strength of our great sector to deliver change. And despite the fact they are on different sides of the barricade , they have similar views on the potential of our sector in reforming public services.

It is only a shame that Liam is let down by others in Labour who have not understood what our sector can achieve. Liam , in particular can be credited with the announcement of the Social Investment Bank in the November PBR which is a landmark development for the third sector.

On public service reform Labour has lost its way in a fruitless chase for a core voter and union pleasing strategy a la Burnham. The signal failure of the Chancellor to engage with the sector in how we can take a bigger delivery role in providing more cost effective services or do anything on gift aid has been surprising and shocking.

Conversely the Tories are committed to our role expanding significantly. However if the Tories have a clearer picture of our delivery role I am not certain they yet understand our fundamental change agent and campaigning role. So yes, we want to deliver more but we will also continue to campaign; we want action to cut re offending and we want action on the causes of crime too. We may run soup kitchens for the homeless but we demand Government act on the reason people are homeless in the first place.

Will the conservatives be as comfortable with our strident voice as they are with our delivery? We will never be just simple organs for state delivery. We will often be uncomfortable bedfellows. We will " bite the hand that feeds us" as Ed Miliband MP once memorably said . I have yet to hear that from the Conservatives. The Victorians liked their children to be seen and not heard. We will not just be seen but we will be heard as well.

So this election period is a grand opportunity for our sector to test and examine the different approaches, and to put forward our own unique approach to helping deliver a cohesive society and a better economy.

And if you have not seen it, you must read a compelling article by James Purnell in the Guardian yesterday. Read it here.

James is someone who very clearly understands what civil society and third sector organisations can achieve. Good to see him at the forefront of thinking about how the Labour party must move forward in pushing progressive politics.

He argues , correctly, that the state cannot replace society. " We need more powerful individuals and a more reciprocal society....the powerless need to take their power. That will only be done by organising people to act together ...we need to move from talking about choice to giving people power and expecting them to take it. "

It is interesting how both parties are courting the politics of community and localism. This is again a great opportunity for our sector as today we are core to any effecive strategy to develop more community cohesion, joined up services and voice for the marginalised.

It's our AGM and Parliamentary Reception on Wednesday- some 250 CEOs signed up and snow permitting will be there. Exciting times. Challenging times if also worrying as we face the continuing recession and coming spending cuts.

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