Sunday 28 February 2010

Mending broken society...

Arrived at the Conference session on "Broken Britain" to be greeted by a demo shouting"Eton boys: off our streets" ! I'm not sure what that was all about , surely Eton boys are not usually on the streets?

Good to bump into Eric Pickles MP. He was one of my members on the local Government negotiating body; always a trenchant critic of absurd union claims. He has a fabulous knock about style but you should not underestimate his intellect or ability.

An interesting session; a lot of good debate on the need for greater social cohesion , though it is only when you are here that you pick up the vibes, as for example when Michael Gove mentioned the need for discipline , the rumble from delegates was palpable.

Theresa May emphasised that third sector providers will have a bigger role to play in delivery. There was a promise to use the sector more in "Sure Start".

Chris Grayling MP spoke about the stars of the voluntary sector and their "inspirational work ". That was before he got stuck into how he was going to fight crime and criminals. Of course the key here is to divert resources into rehabilitaion - which is the main way to cut crime in the long term. However Dominic Grieve MP did pledge that there would be a much greater use of our sector in rehabilitation. He also wanted to place special empahsis on treating addiction.

There were a lot of promises being made today but I wonder if those making these promises realise how difficult and intractable the problem of achieving social justice is. Once in Government they will have to implement all this and I'm afraid the problems that afflict many communities are not often amenable to the wave of a ministerial wand!

However one reacts to the "Broken Society" message , it has to be an advance that the Cameron conservative party wants to promote and involve the third sector - at national and community level. This does come across as a serious call to action.

But is there an illogicality about the call for action to deal with the problems of Broken Society and the promises to expel disruptive pupils or to ensure criminals serve longer sentences. Of course all oppositions promise more than they can possibly deliver. It's what ultimatly fuels the public distrust of politicians!

Of course the main event today was the speech by David Cameron; an important one as his poll lead slips. Good to see that my vice chair on the Social Investment Business, Harriet Baldwin (PPC for Worcs West ) on stage behind DC. Indeed in shot by his right ear!

The theme of a Broken Society was dominant. I have to say it was impressive - delivered without notes which I do think takes some strong nerve and skill! But what is now clear is that this election will be much closer than many we have seen for years: back to 1974 indeed. I remember the February 74 election and the days of negotation and intrigue as Ted Heath tried to hang on but in the end had to give up; leading to another election in October. I wonder?

This week sees the launch of a new independent commission on public health, established by ACEVO. The official Launch takes place tomorrow ( Monday ).

Public health is high on the political agenda and both the Government and Conservatives are setting out their plans for the reform of public health services. But they have neither yet cracked the practicalities!

So ACEVO has established this Commission on Public Health; formed to explore the third sector’s potential role in public health, and to determine the steps that need to be taken to realise that potential.

It will be chaired by Simon Antrobus, Chief Executive of Addaction and brings together third sector chief executives working across all fields of public health including:

Alison Rogers, British Liver Trust
Peter Baker, Men's Health Forum
Andy James, Diabetes UK
Lola Barrett, Grenfell Housing
Deborah Arnott, Action on Smoking and Health
Don Shenker, Alcohol Concern
Margaret Talbot, Association for Physical Education
Jeremy Hughes, Breakthrough Breast Cancer
Richard Parish, Royal Society of Public Health
Paul Lincol, National Heart Forum

Now if that is not impressive , what is?

The Commission will also have a number of official observers from the Department of Health. The observers will be on hand to offer their expertise on existing operating frameworks and the technicalities around proposed reforms.

Saturday 27 February 2010

Off to Brighton

"Ah,one of the great Bubb Oxford tribe" exclaimed the Dean when I arrived at the Deanery on Friday evening. The interviews had finished early so I was able to meet up with my wonderful nephew Alexander, who is reading for his doctorate in Indian history and get to Evensong in the college Chapel ( which aslo serves as Oxford's Cathedral!).The choir of Christ Church is one of the world's finest and they did not disappoint. The Lenten collect spoke of the need for us to " subjugate earthly desires to things spiritual" which was a nice prelude to the Dean's champagne.

A magnificent dinner in the Tudor Dining Hall built by Cardinal Wolsley and scene of many a romp in the Harry Potter films. High Table has the services of a fine Chef so the food was agreeable- as indeed was the wine. Grace was sung. In latin naturally. Dessert is served separately in the Georgian Common Room where the Port, Madiera and sweet Loire wine are circulated in the traditional fashion. What a happy night that was.

I get a note from the Great third sector headhunter, David Fielding. He was hosting one of ACEVO's special interest groups. This one was the group for Black and Asian CEOs led by Simon Hepburn. One of my ACEVO trustees. A very successful afternoon session with some 50 there listening to the CEO of Christain Aid talking about leadership challenges. Back at the ranch our health members were getting together.

These informal groups of members that meet across sector specfic areas are a really useful way for members to meet and to network. We have some 13 of them and they play a good role in promoting leadership exchange and development for members.

And now I'm on the way to Brighton for the Tories spring conference. Read the Blog tomorrow!!

Friday 26 February 2010

Interviews and The Pope

A day of interviews! I'm the independent member and advisor on the Panel to appoint the new post of Commissioner for Victims. This is a key role that has been established to protect and promote the rights of victims of crime. An all day of interviews but with the bonus of a gorgeous evening ahead!

I have been asked for drinks with the Dean of Christ Church; my old College, and then to dine on High Table afterwards. A fitting end to what has been a manic week. Two Boards, a key note speech at the National Welfare to Work Convention, a Parliamentary Reception that I had to Chair, breakfast with the Chancellor: not to mention the day-to-day job of running the UK's premier third sector leadership body. I am whacked! I just want to curl up with a glass of champagne in front of lots of episodes of Coronation Street! But instead I have to go down to Brighton this weekend for the Conservatives Spring Conference! No rest for the wicked eh...

And talking of wicked (or not being) our Euclid Network Director, the stylish and energetic Filippo Addarii, has been summoned to the Pontifical Curia in Rome to discuss the arrangements for a possible audience with the Holy Father for Euclid. This rather puts my breakfast meeting with the Chancellor in perspective!!

Thursday 25 February 2010

Breakfast with Darling

The Chancellor laid on a rather splendid breakfast! "Oh, we are not looking at cuts yet then", I exclaimed to the Chancellor as we walked in. "No", he replied, "and you are getting exactly the same breakfast that I gave to the bankers yesterday". The only sad thing was that I didn't get much chance to eat anything as I was making my presentation. I must say last night I was getting a little anxious about this. It has been such a full-on week. However, yesterday I met with Helen Bailey, the Director of Public Services at The Treasury to run through how we might take forward some of the ideas that I was to present to the Chancellor. I then had a session at the Commons with my Deputy and we ran through the areas I should cover.

And as I was putting together some thoughts last night it did occur to me that if I can't speak authoritatively about third sector public service delivery then, who can! So I think it was a fairly confident performance this morning. You can read the presentation I made on the ACEVO website (click here for the link).

Lynne Berry, Chief Executive of WRV, (and a class act!) made a very effective contribution, demonstrating how WRVS services add real value. "Meals on Wheels" is not simply about the delivery of a meal but the contact that is provided as well. She described how WRVS now have a skilled mixed of social enterprise activity and traditional charity work. They make a good trading surplus which they are able to plough into the wider charity and their blend of social enterprise and charity delivers more cost-effective and better services.

Stuart Etherington, from NCVO, was masterful. A number of very effective interventions, particularly when he pointed out to the Chancellor the potential for scaling up and the opportunities for more provision against a background where only 2% of total public spending is channelled through the third sector. Lynne Berry commentated to me afterwards what an effective double act Stuart and I had made during the breakfast.

Angela Smith, MP, and Ian Pearson, MP, were also there and Angela in particular made impressive linking contributions which really highlighted our potential.

At the Action Planning Conference with Angela Smith MP on 10 February

So, what next? The Chancellor agreed that officials should take these discussions forward and I will be meeting with Helen Bailey again shortly to map out ideas for the future. In particular we are going to look at drilling down into particular service areas to see where the sector's role could be expanded, for example in

 Long term conditions
 Long term unemployment
 Re-offending
 Social care/elderly
 Addiction

We also discussed the results of "Total Place". I argued that we need Total Place II - a way in which the third sector can be involved in looking at the conclusions of the Total Place pilots and translations this into the way we work with local Government and other statutory agencies at a local level. In other words a "Total Community".

I had lunch with Barbara Follett MP, the Minister in DCLG who has responsibility for the third sector, yesterday. And so I had been discussing with her the meeting the Chancellor. She agreed that the Total Place II approach would be extremely effective and said she would pursue this back with officials.

Amusingly I saw both Angela Smith MP and Nick Hurd MP in pleasant and amicable conversation in the Commons last night after the Social Investment Business Reception. Angela mentioned that we would be meeting at breakfast with the Chancellor. Nick Hurd advised that perhaps talking about "the forces of hell" might not be a good idea. And straight from the breakfast with the Chancellor to a meeting of the Board of ACEVO. The occasion where I meet my Trustee masters and explain myself. An excellent meeting. We debated some of the outcomes from the "Big Ask" consultations so far and how we take those forward. We also had a full report on the outcome of our Board appraisal and our Trustees had the results of the Chair and the Chief Executive appraisals to note. I was asked for my comments on my own appraisal and I said that I thought it was important to develop the strengths that were demonstrated in that appraisal. And when asked about the weaknesses I said it was important to "recognise them". And my Chair also gave me a rather lovely present. A mug with my favourite motto on: "Keep calm and carry on"!

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Being businesslike (or not)

I have been reading Michael Edwards' book Small Change: Why business won't save the world to review for the next edition of ACEVO's much acclaimed "Network", our quarterly leadership magazine. It is a splendid attack on the arrogance of philantrocapitalists and the demands that we all become more businesslike. Indeed he argues what is needed is for business to become more civil society like. Having to jump through hoops to prove our impact before the purse strings are loosened. Indeed he wonders, in the light of recent events why we think bringing in businessmen to run our schools, hospitals etc is seen as such a bright idea.

It's a great antidote. Read its refreshing critique. Now he is not arguing against professionalism; just the arrogance of the assumption business is good, civil society amateur.

So having just finished my review I was amused to pick up "Third Sector" and read the wise words of Dragon Den's James Caan. He writes,

"I think charities should be run like businesses, and I'd be more likely to get involved with a charity that was professionally run. But that doesn't mean wasting money on running its own organisation at the expense of the cause."

Er, run that one past me again James. So you want us to be professional; I guess by paying staff properly, having good HR policies, a strategic capability and good finance and audit capacity for example. The sorts of things you did James when you ran your companies?

But you don't want us to "waste money on running the organisation". Um. And how much exactly did you waste on running your own businesses James? Or do you imagine we do all this professionalism by waving a magic wand?

A meeting of the Board of the Social Investment Business last night. Now that's both a professionally run organisation and one that is making a huge impact in our sector; investing for good.

A presentation of our investment record;

# 88% of money distributed is loan, 12% grant;

# 44% invested in TSOs with a turnover of less than £500k;
(So we reach all parts of sector small and local, large and national)

# largest investment £6.7m;

# 238 contracts won as result of a Futurebuilders loan (against The Cabinet Office performance target of 130!)

# customer satisfaction at 75%

And a number of key decisions - for example supporting 3SC, which is now the biggest provider of Future jobs Fund places and has established the fact that our sector can put together a consortia of small and large organisations to deliver results. And reviewing the potential for bonds.

Due to a superb piece of Chairmanship the meeting was done and dusted in an efficient two hours. In time for Phil Archer's funeral. That's the Archers for the less well educated. So I listened on the radio in the SIB offices. A rather moving episode.

Tonight it's the SIB Parliamentary reception. Over 200 coming and a good range of speakers from Maude to Smith to Armstrong and even music and poetry. Although I do not have high hopes for the wine; the Commons do not exactly excel in this area.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

William, jobs and bullying

Brilliant coverage of the visit by Prince William to the St Dunstan's establishment in North Wales. This is a marvellous charity supporting injured servicemen and led by my great friend Robert Leader. Robert took up his post as CEO at the same time as I became CEO of ACEVO so we keep an eye on each other!

A good story, in contrast to the story of the other charity in the news; the National Bullying Helpline. The lesson for us all in running charities at the moment is to ensure we cannot be portrayed as pro one political party and this organisation made an elementary mistake in not having Patrons from all three main Parties. And how easy would it have been to get a comment from GB as well as DC?

The danger of this story is twofold. First it undermines trust in charities generally, and Helplines in particular.

Second it may make charities more wary of any campaigning work at all. This must not happen. Indeed the election period is a huge opportunity to push our particular cause and to demand action for our beneficiaries. Certainly ACEVO has been in overdrive in the last six months as we push the third sector agenda and advertise what our sector can deliver and what we can achieve.

It was a message I was ramming home in the Barbican this morning as I delivered a keynote address at the 4th National Welfare to Work Conference. The Total Place pilot are showing how much Government can save through joining up services. If they also involved the sector this could not just deliver more cost effective services but better citizen centred provision.

Some startling statistics from the total Place projects; in mid Bedfordshire a pilot looking at problems caused by crime found that in their areas just 2% of offenders caused 30% of crime, at a cost per offender of £500,000 a year. Yet they discovered that there are a potential 52 different benefits that might be available to those coming out of prison so it takes over three weeks to process a claim. And if there has been no action on a claim is it any wonder that people on release from prison are forced back to old ways?

We are now busy preparing statistics and ideas from the many that members have sent in for our meeting on Thursday with the Chancellor. And the Tory Summit is shaping up neatly. Looking likely for March 18 and we have an impressive array of speakers - led obviously by George Osborne.

And I am not forgetting Vince Cable! We have a meeting planned with him too. With polls showing a hung Parliament then good links there are crucial. Fortunately I have a prominent Lib Dem as one of my Trustees. Indeed born into a most distinguished Liberal family. Most useful!

It's good that our sector is getting the attention it deserves. Let's exploit this for all its worth.

Friday 19 February 2010

Yet more from the PMs....

Well, more speeches...

A very interesting presentation from Mona Stolin. She is likely to be the new Swedish PM after their upcoming election. They are campaigning on a joint manifesto which they have agreed with the Green Party. That is not going to happen here eh! Why the Parties here can't even cooperate on how we support our growing elderly population.

Papandreou, PM of Greece, was eloquent on the need for action on climate change! He argued that his country's problems need action with a green economic agenda.

Jens Stoltenberg, PM of Norway, argued that the crisis of unemployment needed to be tackled now but that there was also the need for a strategy for growth and new jobs. The market cannot regulate itself and it essential we develop new global financial architecture.

The splendidly named Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is PM of Spain and was the only speaker who did not deliver his speech in English ... and the hand gestures were exotic. He was the first to talk of the importance of ideas; speaking of balance, harmony and equal opportunities as underpinning the response Governments must make to global crisis!

And then finally it was Gordon again. A really very engaging speech - despite that rather gloomy external image he came across in a warm and welcoming way. And a good intellectual speech - he spoke without notes this time, as opposed to the scripted one this morning. And you could see the conviction in what he was saying; particularly on international aid and development. It's an image more people should see.

He quoted Keynes saying you can fail conventionally or succeed unconventionally. A rather splendid thought for us as Leaders of the third sector.

You will not be astonished to hear I asked a question. Surprise surprise there! I asked our PMs collective what role they saw for civil society organisations? And Mandelson picked up my question and asked Zapareto what role we should play. He said we need to tell markets they must adjust to new structures; I was a bit at a loss on that answer...

However Gordon did pick the point up. He said Governments must accept change and accept that services should be more personal, shaped by citizens. We have to restructure Government Departments and budgets. He argued that public services must be reformed. He argued things that we should not be doing by Government itself, or not doing well, should be done by others. But that does not mean the State retreats.

It was a very ACEVO answer. I led the clapping for that.

A good day!

Better banking and PMs

So while I was in Norfolk talking to members my dear Deputy, Dr Kyle, was in No 10! Who says I don't put members first!

He was chairing a meeting of the Better Banking Coalition with senior officials, policy makers and advisors in the Treasury and PM's office.

The meeting took place, appropriately, in the historic Treasury Board Room, sitting around the original 'Exchequer table' - the table that gave its name to the job title!

Two hours of non-stop and intense discussion was very productive. Members of the coalition made presentations and were then questioned by attendees. There are some very encouraging signs that our campaign has already made significant impact in public and with policy makers.

The budget is next month, then the election manifestos. These will be the key tests of success for us, and the meeting was a big step forward. The next presentations are to the Opposition.

I have been sitting in the Progressive Governance Conference in Westminster today. "Growth strategies after the crisis". Indeed. Actually more interesting than it sounds, but then when you have the Prime Ministers of Spain, Greece, Norway and the UK it would be. Organised under the auspices of Peter Mandelson who seems to command all he sees these days. Come a long way since those days when I sat on his floor at St Catz drinking coffee and talking Europe federalism! Him I mean, not me!

He presides over the Policy Network, which is an international network that brings together policy makers, politicians, top bureaucrats and practitioners.

These conferences take place annually and I have been at the last three. The content of discussion and debate is incredibly high and the networking tends to be rather good too ...after all you don't get that many Prime Ministers at third sector receptions; even ACEVO's!

The opening speech by our PM was good, though perhaps too much local party electioneering which spoiled the overall plea for global action to tackle market reform. He argued that markets need morals. That we need a world financial constitution or else we risk a return of the problem we saw with the behaviour of unregulated banks and financial institutions.

It was a great underlining to our own Better Banking Campaign. And there was a call in his speech for a mass movement from people and communities to achieve change.

He also argued that if all politics are local as some argue, then local politics are global too. A rather neat point for our own sector too, when we get hung up on arguments about local or national and forget the interconnections that bind us together when we want to achieve change.

A range of interesting contributions but perhaps the most interesting was from John Kay, the FT economist. He argues that yes, we need growth but growth is not just about more staff. It involves investment too in life style. Growth is also about better consumption not more consumption. So, for example, food in UK. We are now eating better not more. Obesity has now become a disease of the poor. So how does growth contribute to better life.

Economic growth is about us; not something separate. Not about more stuff but more choices. That rather underlined the role our civil society and third sector organisations play.

Kay said he is not sure if we need more regulation but rather a restructuring of the system itself. We need to rethink the role of the financial sector itself not more regulations!

They do not lend to SMEs etc and the real needs of the economy but in activities that reward the bankers themselves. He argues most new jobs will come from SMEs but they are not being supported by banks. He is spot on!

Thursday 18 February 2010

Norwich Big Ask

What a superb city is Norwich. I'm only sad that my latest Gig on the Big Ask tour did not allow time for a visit to the magnificent Cathedral. And it is also home town of the marvellous Seb Elsworth, doyenne of the sector (who says he has now been with ACEVO for four years, to which I said, and you will be here in another four!).

I walked from the station into town and, a real bonus, I was able to see St Andrew's Church - one of Simon Jenkins top 1000 English Parish Churches. But quite by chance. It was locked, despite a sign outside ironically proclaiming "Jesus welcomes you". However the Sexton was just coming out and so he asked if I'd like to pop in. And it was a real treasure: including the magnificent Elizabethan tomb of Suskind, the inventor of cribbage! However the church has apparently been taken over by a happy clappy Evangelical Vicar who has sacked the choir, put in a piano!! - and a large projection screen in the Chancel. An outrage. In an English Parish Church. If he wants to do this sort of thing why doesn't he do it in a village hall somewhere.

But to the Gig. My Chair was with me - even more gorgeously apparelled than my Vice Chair (she reads the Blog!).

A really superb discussion. But I'm afraid they were not having a simple vote on "are you optimistic or pessimistic" about the sector future. We had a discussion on what that means and what the time frame is! One member described herself as "realistically gloomy seeking solutions"!

We were meeting in the offices of Voluntary Norfolk, run by ACEVO member Brian Horner. He has been a real social entrepreneur, now running a range of CVS style organisations in East Anglia and has an organisation of 100 staff and 3m turnover. He is clear on the need for CVS rationalisation. I think as cuts start hitting local infrastructure bodies will need to think about mergers and partnerships.

And so inevitably the question of national infrastructure rationalisation came up - and also the question of NCVO and ACEVO. Clearly this wider issue is one we will need to address. It will clearly be one of the issues we report to the Board. Again commissioning and the poor record of local authorities in handling the third sector came up.

We also had good feed back on ACEVO services. One of the things we want from these Gigs is how members think we can provide more help and support. We had good honest feedback. One member stressed how we had to have top quality in all we produce. It was feedback that will help us improve our services. Not everything we do can be top quality and any organisation has to get views to help improve. Another said that ACEVO had "transformed her charity" and helped her up her game. It has to be said that brought a lump to the throat of ACEVO's CEO.

A good group - ranging from housing to a foundation, to a national charity based in Norwich (BEAT) who deal with eating disorder, a development trust, a number of disability organisations, animal and arts bodies...

Then a brisk walk back to the station with my Chair guided by local boy Seb!

An ideal of excellence and Lambeth

I turned up at The Royal Society. It was interesting to arrive and meet a demonstration. They were protesting at the University's involvement in animal testing. I have to say my sympathy is with the protesters. I abhor animal testing and the leaflet showing a dog not unlike my dear hound was troubling.

There to greet the new Vice Chancellor of Oxford. A chemist. He said he was unashamedly in favour of excellence. Just what we want for the third sector! The pursuit of the life of the mind. A noble aim for a third sector CEO as well! The importance and value of our national treasures which Oxford (and Cambridge) represents. He is also a member of The Royal Society and a former Provost of Yale.

He was also unashamedly in support of the broader humanities education against the threat of Government and others who think the only education is in engineering or maths for example. He argued, correctly, that the education of the mind, through philosophy for example, is crucial to development and how idiotic to try and downplay humanities generally. As both Seb (my universally admired Director) and I studied Philosophy it proves the point. But enough of that.

Lambeth Council have unveiled exciting plans for what the Guardian call a "John Lewis" Council. Actually it is much more than this.

ACEVO has set up a Lambeth Commission with the Council and local health authority to look at how the third sector can play a bigger role in developing and running Council services, especially around personalising them.

I have had meetings with Cllr Steve Reed, the visionary Leader of Lambeth, and also fortioutisly my local Councillor, on the role of our sector. At a dinner with other local third sector Leaders from ACEVO we agreed on the need for the Council to take a more strategic approach to the sector. In the past they have simply handed out lots of grants in a relatively uncoordinated way to local voluntary organisations. This needs to change and they want to do this more strategically. They also want a more proactive role for communities and for our third sector organisations to run services and own Council assets.

It's exciting. As are the plans for the handing over of a major Council asset to a local third sector group. The Lilian Baylis School has been unused for over five years. It has been turned over for use by third sector organisations. There are now plans to transfer this asset permanently to a community hub. There is an application in to The Social Investment Business for a loan to facilitate this. This would be the single biggest transfer of a Council asset to a community group in the country if it takes place.

So I dispatch a well deserved congratulations to Steve Reed. ACEVO will be pressing other Councils to follow suit.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Big Ask , Big Bankers and the Chancellor

Well, there you go. Massive profits at Barclays. And where is it going? Stuffed into the deep pockets of the bankers. Do the masters of the universe feel no shame?

So what better day to launch the Better Banking Coalition. A movement to transform banking to work for the many and not the few. Join it.

The Campaign kicked off this morning with a flurry of media coverage, my wonderful deputy on BBC news, Faisal from Fair Finance on the Today programme and numerous headlines in the nationals. Tomorrow we have meetings at No 10 and with the Opposition front bench. The Campaign is supported across the sector with a coalition made up of the key umbrella bodies like ACEVO, the Social Enterprise Coalition and the Community Alliance along with individual charities and other organisations. And not just confined to the third sector. We want support across society and industry. It is based at the ACEVO office.

And perhaps a launch on Ash Wednesday is entirely suitable: Lent is a time for repentance and reflection.

Now is the time to turn Banks towards greater lending to the community, to small business and social enterprise. We want to see the government introducing a Community Reinvestment Act which has worked do well in the States in getting banks to lend to Communities they often ignored.

Banks need to regain their sense of community. Isn't it interesting that we are continually exhorted to be more businesslike ( and indeed an eye on a healthy surplus is what a good CEO desires) but what we really need is for business to be more civil society like.

As banks have been exposed as inefficient and careering towards bankruptcy perhaps it is time for a them to learn from the third sector.

And on the subject of banking I am glad to say that the meeting with the Chancellor to discuss the letter from the 260 CEOs is now set for next thursday, February 25th. We have been working with members on the "Big Offer" which we will make at that meeting. How the Treasury can make cuts to departmental budgets but also improve services through a major expansion in our sector's role. I am working on the presentation- indeed the whole team are doing so now.

And we are also holding a series of meetings to prepare for the Tory Summit which now looks set to be March 18th.

These are good opportunities for our sector to present a united voice and so we are working with our colleagues across the sector to do just that.

The fourth leg of the Big Ask Gig, and this time its London's turn. A great turn out at the offices of CCLA in the City (how appropriate). A good discussion, ably chaired by the gorgeously appareled vice chair of ACEVO, Allison Ogden-Newton of Social Enterprise London. Key issues arising are again the problem of commissioning that meets the needs of customers and key providers, opportunities for us to deliver more and how we can better present the image of our sector more widely.

The fifth gig is tomorrow in Norwich. But for now I'm off to a reception for the new vice chancellor of Oxford at the Royal Society!

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Young , Shrove Tuesday and "M"

A relaxing pre-Lenten weekend clearing up in Brixton. Three bags of clothes to the Herne Hill Oxfam shop, making sure I filled in the Gift Aid forms. I don't want Ian Pearson MP (Robin Bogg 's Leon Pissonthepoor is inspired) stealing any of my donation!

A rather good Oxfam shop, but they better watch it. My hound was not welcomed, even though she was held charmingly in my hands. If they are not careful it will be the Witney Hospice shop in future where they love dogs!

Though I have to say the walk through Brockwell Park to the shop was not without its hazards as Sparkles took a fancy to the bag handles which she successfully detached from their accompanying bags. I also get to M&S to pick up their fresh pancake mix in time for Shrove Tuesday. I have my own lemons (as they say) on my very own Lemon tree; present from my sister Lucy!

Monday was my regular supervision with my Chair over at RNIB. We have hatched an interesting idea which we will discuss at our next ACEVO Board. Hope that is tantalising!

Then it was on to see Lord Young - the former Thatcher Cabinet Minister, of whom Thatcher once famously said "my other Cabinet ministers bring me problems but Young brings me solutions"! A fantastic meeting as we discuss how the sector will expand over the coming decade. He is advising David Cameron MP on various matters and we discuss them and how ACEVO members can help. He comments, as we leave, that I look far too unharassed for a man with 2000 charity CEOs in membership! I tell him they are all so charming and it is not at all like herding ferrets!

Tuesday is an early start at Admiralty House with a joint seminar with PWC on commissioning involving players from Government Departments, third and private sector providers. It is clear that this issue is dominating much discussion and worry in our sector. It was a fascinating discussion. Although one hardly often sees the words intellectually stimulating in the same sentence as commissioning it was thus.

A rewarding discussion, which we will continue, and we agreed that the "Admiralty House" group will meet again.

I have to say that Chairing this group, in the Admiralty House Dining Room, with centuries of Naval grandees gazing down on one was a beautiful experience. As someone suggested it might make a fitting office for the CEO of ACEVO. I could not agree more. I just need a few more battleships.

And whilst there with my estimable Head of Policy, the great Ralph Michell, he reveals that his Great Grandfather worked in said building. Indeed was the Head of Naval Intelligence, and the very model for "M" (his secretary was Ian Fleming). Worrying, but at least explains why Ralph has such an uncanny knowledge of all my movements. So, enemies of ACEVO, Beware!

Now it's back to prepare pancakes. An early morning Mass for Ash Wednesday beckons.

Friday 12 February 2010

The Elderly and The Bank of England

Many ACEVO members are involved in third sector organisations that work with and for the elderly. There is disgust among them at the recent political games that have been played by the parties on home care for the elderly.

We know that the best care is often that provided at home and we need to empower charities and community organisations to be at the forefront of such care. We know that there are increasing costs involved in an ageing population.

I have a dear but aged Great Aunt Marjorie, now 96, but determined she will remain at home, though needing much care. And why should she not. Packing our elderly off to homes has always struck me as an uncivilised way to treat older people.

So the Government have been right to argue for more care at home and to look to promote this. I think the promise made by the PM that people should have the right to care at home is correct. It is clear that details are hazy and financing unworked out and problematic. But the right approach was to seek cross Party support and so the talks between the three parties were the right way forward.

The distasteful Tory poster was insulting to all those who are trying to find a better way of caring for the elderly. Members have been horrified by that poster and how this issue has been turned into a political football between the Parties. It means rational debate on the serious issue of how we pay for an ageing population now goes out of the window.

Last night's book launch for my sister's 14th was a jolly affair. The Vice Dean of the Institute of Education spoke. He made an impassioned plea for the importance of professional development. He said we must all take this seriously. Our economy depends on the growth of knowledge and skills. He says that to anyone who suggests they do not have time for personal development that they do have time; it's just they decide to prioritise something else. How right that is!

And lots of Bubbs. My talented and beautiful nephew and niece appeared; the twins Oliver and Miranda.

Oliver appeared hot foot with news. His school team of four, from Dulwich College, are through to the Finals in the, "Point 2.0" competition held by The Bank of England.

In the semi finals, the teams of four students took on the role of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee and made a presentation to a panel of Bank of England judges. Each team assessed economic conditions and the outlook for inflation and then decided what level of interest rate, or other monetary policy measures, was necessary in order to meet the Government’s inflation target of 2.0%.

Good luck for the finals on March 19th at the Bank of England. A glorious £10,000 prize awaits. And a tour of the Gold Vaults.

I am relying on Oliver, who is going up to Brasenose in October (Oxford naturally) to pursue his career in this economic path and end up as Governor of The Bank of England, thus being able to afford to look after his aged Uncle in the style to which he has become accustomed! I have no intention of descending into anything other than a disgraceful old age, fortified by the finest of fine wines. So make sure you win Oliver; a charity pension will not suffice me in my old age.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Birmingham Big Tell.

"Thanks for laying this on- it's just what is needed!": one member said to me at the start of the 3rd Leg of the UK Big Ask Gig (yes we are doing Wales and Scotland too - we have members across the UK).

A really positive mood again. As in Manchester I asked people whether they were optimistic or pessimistic about the future for the sector. Everyone, bar one person who was not sure, said OPTIMISTIC.

Not that there were not serious challenges for members. Poor commissioning was a theme again. Some appalling stories of bad practice but also some advice. How important it is to network with the key commissioning people and to build relationships . Making a strong professional case. Arguing, "we are the best providers with the best results".

And I liked the comment about politicians who talk strong about the third sector but when its down to the detail of what they will do it's like "nailing jelly to the wall".

Let me give you a snapshot of members there. ACEVO has a very broad range of members. Indeed 828 of our CEOs run organisations with a turnover of less than £1m. People some times think we are only the big nationals. We have them yes. And they are great but we have a wide range of social enterprise and community leaders too!

For example today we had Robin Lindman who runs the network for Black Professionals, David Strudley - Acorns Children's Hospice, John Morris of Trident, a social business, Edward Ellman of the Bournville Village Trust, Sandy Beech of Beacon who talked about their new social enterprise with a hotel, Jennifer Barraclough of the Woodbroke Quaker Study Centre and the Litchfield Citizens Advice Bureau. And more. (But if I go on Bogg will get me.)

And now I'm off to a Book Launch. A Book by my sister Sara! I think it's her 14th? She writes on teachers and their training. Her latest is "Helping Staff Develop in Schools". Fascinating. Obviously I don't read them. Life's too short! But they are good; why they even get translated into Chinese and Sara wanders the world talking about teacher training. Someone has to. And they will have "wine and nibbles" at the reception though I fear the worst as far as the wine is concerned! But there will be lots of other Bubbs there. What a brainy lot we are! Why my brother Nick was being quoted in the financial press only recently. Again. We cover all angles us Bubbs; private, public and third sectors.

On the way to Birmingham.

Who said the recession was having no effect on charities? It is.

Barnardo's has launched an emergency appeal for donations in the face of an expected £3m shortfall in fundraising income this year.

Chief Executive and ACEVO member Martin Narey said yesterday,

"Unless we can raise the funds we need by 31 March, I am wondering how we will continue to support those on our own doorsteps who need us most," he has said. He is clear the shortfall is because the recession and the decline in house and share prices.

For example, the value of wills, the charity's biggest source of voluntary income, had plummeted by £1.2m.

Altogether this year Barnados will spend about £3m more than they have coming in.

And on news from members I was amused at the piece by Martin Brookes (CEO of NPC) on the need for charities to evaluate what they do.

They have just published the "The little blue book " - a guide to charities on evaluating their work. Martin sent me a copy. Although not that little it's excellent. Worth getting I will suggest to ACEVO members. Click here to download a free copy from their website.

He writes:

"Friday afternoon isn't the time to choose to start thinking about an organisation's impact and the services provided. After working for years for an organisation that analyses charities' performance, I have learnt not to put them on pedestals. I know that there are great charities and not so great charities, but still I was shocked and disappointed when I recently heard a Chief Executive of one well-known charity describing evaluation within his organisation as "something that gets done on a Friday afternoon".

Reflecting on how you perform as an organisation is a crucial part of maintaining quality and learning how to improve. I don't know how productive that Chief Executive feels on a Friday afternoon, but it isn't the time I'd choose to start thinking about the impact of my charity's work or how I could improve the services we offer."

But ACEVO does evaluate what we do. Indeed I was looking yesterday at a report we are doing to our Board on Trustee, Chair and CEO performance. It is based on an appraisal of our Board performance. It is frank. Excellent feedback on the CEO. Not a shock obviously. But areas for development; handling feedback perhaps? Any CEO, however long in a job, must always continue on the learning track. So feedback bloggers?

And on the subject of performance I had a breakfast with Peter Wanless, the excellent CEO of the Big Lottery Fund at the Cinammon club. But he had forgotten his wallet. Lottery man with no money shock horror! I paid. And took one of his excellent grant forms...

And now I'm on my way to Leg 3 of the ACEVO Big Ask Gig. In Birmingham. I am enjoying this opportunity to talk through our challenges with my members. If you want to speak with authority as a Sector Leader then you have to know you are connected with the members. Big audience awaits. And third speech of the week.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Leadership and Heroes

A three speech week.

Tuesday I was with the Public Sector Leadership Development Team. I am part of a review of leadership development in Government that is being led by Peter Housden (PS at the Department of Communities and Local Government).

It's an interesting time for the various Academies in the public sector. Against a backdrop of looming spending cuts it is always tempting for organisations to cut training. This is a mistake. However that development and training has to be relevant to the context of a sector facing spending cuts an a country demanding a better public service geared to the citizen. The difficulty of many leadership development programmes is they are often divorced from the reality of the job and drift off into learned discussions about "from good to great" and other such management gobbledygook. Often what is needed is a more person centred programme which may be about peer learning or mentoring.

I made an impassioned speech to the gathered leadership gurus from the Civil Service to think about how they teach "disruptive innovation". How they get managers to think about public services from the perspective of the citizen or the community. How they democratise commissioning. How they think more radically than marginal improvements in delivery.

I talked about the Canadian example from last week's Guardian Summit on how Martin implemented a massive cuts programme and so how they must think new approaches not salami style cutting. It was a great opportunity to get some top civil servants to think of the leadership challenge of an age of public sector austerity and how the third sector can provide answers to their delivery problems.

Wednesday I was in Central Hall, in front of an audience of 1180 people opening the Action Planning conference on Future Funding. Over the years I have learnt that public speaking can be great fun. I don't understand why some people find it intimidating. That is not to say I don't prepare well. But I don't speak to a script or to PowerPoint. Old fashioned oratory ought to carry the day! And on that note I even used a quote from Horace.

"Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”

Such insights are always ageless.

Angela Smith MP spoke, as did Nick Hurd MP, so we had a good chance to hear approaches from both the Parties on how they will tackle the third sector.

I was down to do the Ra Ra introduction to the event. And to set the tone I talked about some of our sector Heroes. Jo Mitty, who invented the charity shop at Oxfam which now brings in over £500m to that magnificent charity. And the Notting Hill priest, Bruce Kenrick who enraged at Rachmanism ended up remortgaging his house to set up what became Notting Hill Housing Trust and Shelter. (A little later I met a lady, an ACEVO member, who Said she had known Bruce and told me his wife had died recently, aged 83, and she had been at the funeral. And as often the case had been the mainstay behind Bruce as he battled away for the disposed!)

In our sector ambition and drive, rage and passion can achieve amazing things against the odds. So as I said from my pulpit in central Hall, let's not be downcast. Let's not wring our hands in despair about cuts. But grab the opportunities of change. The future decade is one of growth for our sector

Monday 8 February 2010

Victories and Vigilance

We can notch up several victories for the sector. Today the DH announce that The Treasury have agreed to shelve the introduction of accounting rules which would have consolidated hospital charities into the NHS accounts and so, frankly, led to the nationalisation of charity funds. ACEVO protested vehemently and publicly about this. The Charity Commission did brilliant work in highlighting this.

And we also have got a change on the pernicious idea that academies would be treated as "exempt charities", thereby making a nonsense of the Charity Act of 07 which sorted out the anomaly of having "exempt" charities at all.

Then a dire threat to The Big Lottery fund has also been thwarted. The Lottery Minister had decided on a new Direction on where funds should go. ACEVO and NCVO fought this well and batted it off. The Minister concerned has also announced he is leaving Parliament and standing down as Minister. I'm sure it's not connected but others have commented on the "curse of ACEVO"; if you oppose us beware of dire consequences!

And swapping hats to the Chair of Social Investment business it is great to note that the 3SC consortium we helped set up is now the biggest TS deliverer of jobs under the Future jobs Fund and its contract has been extended and increased as a result of this productivity. It's a gain for the whole sector because 3SC is a consortium which brings together many small and medium sized delivery bodies so showing the value of partnership working and how large and small can work together for common goals. It's a kick for those who try to argue that somehow only small is good and large is evil.

But it is also worth putting on record the work of our Minister, Angela Smith MP, in getting these matters sorted. It proves the value of having a Third Sector Minister post - something ACEVO fought for. Angela has been a doughty fighter for our causes!

But before I get carried away I better just mention Gift Aid. I was right not to bother going to the meeting with the Minister. It was a waste of time and worse than that I'd probably have lost my rag when it was suggested that any changes have to be "cost neutral". So when we know that the bureaucracy that HMT have erected mean many millions of pounds that should rightly go to charity are diverted into the pockets of HMT this is a disgrace.

I wonder if the Minister concerned, Ian Pearson MP, would regard it as wicked if I went into Church and robbed the Poor Box? That is exactly what he is suggesting is appropriate here. HMT are robbing charities at a time when our services are needed more and when the victims of the Haiti earthquake need continuing support. Money that could go to international NGOs is lost through over cumbersome rules and arrangements. You should be ashamed of yourself Ian.

I'm glad to say we have had a more robust approach from Nick Hurd MP (the Tory spokesperson on the third sector) who says the Conservatives will remove bureaucratic obstructions to us getting our money. Good for him.

So whilst celebrating victories when it comes to the workings of Government vigilance is ever required !

Friday 5 February 2010

Summitry thinking!

What fun to be sat next to a top Local Government official at the Guardian dinner last night. When I had explained what I did and what the acronym "ACEVO" meant he started telling me how difficult they find it to recruit volunteers! The conversation was short lived and I was off to watch that marvellous BBC programme, "Silent Witness".

A snap shot of how many in public service view our sector.

Now back to the Summit and a superb debate led by Philip Blond (as of the so called Red Tory tendency) and the great Craig Deardon-Philips. Blond's presentation on civic companies and mutualism was fascinating. A challenging agenda for change but what I find encouraging is that the thinkers on the Conservative side have a real interest and commitment to changing public service and empowering the third sector. (ACEVO) will be doing work with him on all this).

And Craig nicely complimented this when he talked about how commissioning is captured by officials who think that EU rules and procurement regulations prohibit them from ever talking to the actual providers of the service. Why?

Charles Leadbeater challenged the State to think differently and from a different vantage point. If you approach public service reform from the perspective of improving delivery you make but marginal change. If you think from the perspective of a community or a citizen, or "sideways", you start thinking radically. Perhaps whole scale redesign or change to what is delivered. If you think of what the country needs to do on ageing you get a different answer to when you look to reorganise old people's services in Local Government.

He talked of the need for "disruptive innovation", not marginal cosy innovation at the margin. How right this is. If I had a pound for every time I hear a public servant talk about how the sector can be so "innovative" I'd be buying up Bollinger. In fact what they mean is we do lovely interesting things at the margin which will probably never challenge the consensus.

Statistics can be telling. We know that the third sector offers radically different ways of tackling re-offending. Our results in keeping ex offenders from crime are staggering. So what does the MoJ spend on commissioning services from the third sector? 2%. Yes, that's 2%.

So if you want to know where to start on public spending cuts look to the MoJ budget. As we have the worst record in Europe on re-offending and the highest incarceration rate the need for the radical approach of Charlie is startlingly obvious!

Jonathan Kestenbaum, the CEO of NESTA gave a superb final speech and said he senses that the public service is "on the cusp of enormous change". Let's hope that is so!

And finally, in between all this buzzing idea forming speech listening stuff I still dealt with calls from Nick Hurd MP and Angela Smith MP, press and gossip from the home front! I need a rest! Charlbury here I come.

Thursday 4 February 2010

More Ideas from the Guardian Summit...

Lots of great thoughts buzzing around about the future of public services in an era of retrenchment.

Andrew Forster, who is Chairing the 2020 Commission into Public Services, said what we need is a move to a "powerful public" away from a centralised, producer dominated public service. This led onto a fascinating dialogue on democratising commissioning.

One of the problems of our current system for commissioning is that it is run by and for commissioning professionals. They often take the view that it is somehow improper to involve groups that might actually provide the service, let alone citizens. And if you have ever met those in that profession they do not always strike one as the most innovative of folk! Process is often regarded as the goal, rather than outcomes. And innovation is seen as deeply suspicious as often difficult to measure.

So a new campaign for ACEVO I suspect; "democratising commissioning". But we better think of a more snappy title? Ideas please!

I get an email reminding me that today is World Cancer Day around the world. It tells me about a campaign:

"to help raise awareness of how we can reduce our chances of developing cancer, we are running a "Cancer can be prevented too" campaign, encouraging people to stop smoking, limit their alcohol intake, be conscious about their weight and what they eat, and to take regular exercise. All these things add up.".

This rather chimed with one of the messages from today's summit. Julie Mellor from Price Waterhouse was launching "Capable Communities". Click here for a link to the website.

A striking point was that those people with asthma who are involved in advice sessions and educational guidance which helps support their own management of their condition have led to a 69% reduction in visits to the GP.

This makes a superb case for how we can introduce cost saving in the NHS through resourcing third sector bodies to take up more work in prevention and support for long term conditions.

Allison Ogden-Newton, Social Enterprise London and my Vice Chair, is here and makes an excellent, thought provoking contribution on what is emerging as a theme here! How we need more social enterprise and third sector solutions. We need to move from thinking this is a good idea to willing it to happen.

That is right. It's time to move from rhetoric about more third sector involvement to action making it happen. As I commented to Julie Mellor who had said she was not proposing handing it all over to civil society; why not? Why assume that the last 60years of delivery by the public sector is the right answer, as opposed to the previous many centuries of third sector delivery?

The great Michael Bichard posed an interesting question. What is the driver for change in organisations? It is often cuts or individual power or organisational changes. How often is it client driven? In the public sector rarely.

And he posed a challenge for the third sector. Do we put organisational need before our clients; because if we didn't we might be looking at mergers and alliances more than we do. A pertinent point I suspect.

And finally, the new head of Local Government's IdEA posed the thought that we need to ensure, "professionals are on tap, not on top!". Not sure on that!

Proust and Martin

It was one of those moments! Of nostalgia; what we might call a Proustian memory (a la recherche du temps perdu).

I was on a train to Watford Junction en route for The Guardian Public Service Summit 2010. We went past Harrow on the Hill. Nearly 10 years ago I started in my job as the new CEO of ACEVO in Harrow. A small office. Eight staff. We used volunteers to do our monthly mail outs. I used to trek out to Harrow every morning from Lambeth, then trek back in to London for a meeting, then back to Harrow. It was gruelling. As was the need to move staff on, rebrand and refocus.

Two wise, (some might say foolhardy) folk, Eric Appleby of Alcohol Concern and Geraldine Peacock of Guide dogs had appointed me to transform ACEVO and give CEOs a national voice.

This year I will celebrate a decade in the job. I will celebrate that with members And celebrate how far we have journeyed as an organisation. We do now have a national voice for third sector CEOs. ACEVO is recognised for its leadership role and for its verve, ambition and edge. And it is still for me a hugely enjoyable job. With much still to achieve! And huge challenges ahead!

The Guardian's Summit is one of the most valuable of any conference I attend. It's range of top speakers and thinkers on public service is astonishing. The debates are superb and I rarely leave without new ideas for action (my staff just love that!)

Perhaps the most interesting speech was from the former PM of Canada, Paul Martin, who was responsible for eliminating Canada's major deficit in five years! He spoke about how he managed the massive cuts process to achieve that. To illustrate the challenge he said that some Departments had cuts of up to 65%! He described how they used a major national consultation across the country to win support for a major cut to services. They started with the notion of what they had to preserve and keep rather than what they had to cut. They did this, he stressed, not because they were been told by business or the banks, but because the mounting problem of compound interest on the debt meant they were unable to invest in areas that needed growth, like health care.

But his most striking point was on the need for social enterprise. He said this is an area where the UK is leading and his view that this was a gap in what they had done in Canada.

He said that just as private enterprise needs to grow through access to investment, so too do those working in the third sector.

He said it is striking that in the third sector,

"What holds them back is access to capital".

Interesting to hear him say that people in world looking to us for leadership here.

He talked about access to capital markets more generally. He agreed with my point on making Investment available from , for example, a Social Investment Bank. But he argued that what is really needed is access to the capital market itself. Give social activists and entrepreneurs the same opportunity to access capital as private business has. A huge endorsement of the need for banking reform. And he made clear his view of how much global action is needed to reform banking and improve regulation.

A striking call to action by Government and Opposition on promoting the third sector and reforming the capital market to benefit our sector so we can drive social reform.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

A Salon and Bankers on "independence"

The French do not do things by half! I am a guest at the annual congress of the French Social Enterprise Congress or "Salon des Entrepreneurs" as they more elegantly call it. This follows the launch of the new movement of social entrepreneurs yesterday. And an amazing 3000 people here - I somehow think this might be more than at the English social enterprise conference which coincidentally is also taking place now; except in Cardiff! Though the advantage of Cardiff is that they probably speak English?

Muhammad Yunis, Nobel Prize winner and founder of micro-credit, is the key note speaker. I am hoping he will agree to speak at our next Social Investment Conference. We had a thousand at our last conference in Central Hall but the French have clearly raised the barrier on numbers.

An interesting report from the Baring Foundation on independence and commissioning is highlights in the press. Now this Foundation has produced some very good reports in the past and has a progressive grants policy, but this report is unfortunate.

They say that current public service Commissioning poses a "formidable threat to independence" because it increases the state's control over service providers, silences dissent and reduces the ability of charities to set their own priorities.

"Organisations are increasingly pressured into adapting to meet the requirements of commissioners, not the needs of the people who use their services," it says.

Plans to personalise public services by giving people individual budgets to spend on care also attracts criticism.

But surely a democratically elected Government or local authority has every right to establish how it wishes to commission Public services, funded by money from us as taxpayers. Elected members are there to establish the priorities and expectations they want from service delivery. And the idea that they are motivated by a mad desire to "silence dissent" is to slander public servants who may sometimes get it wrong but are usually motivated by the same ethos to provide good services as we are.

And why pray should the state not decide how they want public money spent? I though that is why we elected them (as opposed to the trustees of Baring obviously).

I do wonder if the Baring Foundation have reflected on the irony of a body set up by a rich banking family, on the back of their bank profits lecturing the rest of us on independence? And who are they to say that an elected Government does not have the right to commission what they believe they need from public services. As taxpayers I would rather the Government decided how to commission than unelected and unaccountable private Foundations. So their point on independence is simply misplaced and illogical.

As my rather brilliant Head of Policy pointed out the problem is bad commissioning, not commissioning itself. That is the necessary process to determine proper allocation of funds and priorities for public money and the desire to deliver effective services for users.

If they had confined themselves to pointing out the problems of bad commissioning and remedies to improve we might have found this useful, as it is these wild and extravagant claims simply undermine their credibility. In fact the commissioning process overall has had positive effects in increasing user control and community involvement by the much wider use of our sector. Our greater and developing role in determining commissioning policy has likewise helped promote the role of the service user and citizen.

And their attack on personalisation is also unfortunate. Again they have missed the irony that in arguing that commissioning does not reflect the needs of service users they then attack proposals that will significantly increase user control. Fortunately ACEVO has established a Commission, under Matthew Pike, to look at how the sector can respond and promote personalisation. As organisations we want increase user control of our services. That is our mission. And our Commission will get down to the practicalities and leave the preaching to others.

And finally, my Head of Comms sends me the alarming headline from the Independent:

Etherington beating gambling problem’.

The footballer, obviously.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

A le lancement du Movement des Entrepreneurs Sociaux.

That is: at the launch of the new French movement for social entrepreneurs in Paris today. This is a new association for the leaders of French social enterprises and I was there to bring fraternal greetings and to talk about the work of the Social Investment Business. They are deeply interested in how the UK Government supports innovation in the third sector through loan finance.

It always fun to be at the start of a new movement and to make links between Leaders of our European third sector. And, even though it was pouring rain, always fun to be in one of the worlds greatest capital cities.

I'm afraid my command of french is pathetic. My O-Level is not up to much after some 40 years. But I managed my opening paragraph in French and they politely applauded. The other paragraphs were in English, which many of them pretended they did not follow!

We are also interested in the potential for a European Social Investment Bank, which builds on the success of our own loan model, but expanded across Europe to support the growth of the sector. The sector is big scale in many European countries - in France the cooperative and mutual organisations are big scale and traditional charities run many services.

It is clear that the EU needs to support and promote the social economy more widely. And perhaps the UK's sector should look more to what we can learn from our European third sector colleagues. That is why the Euclid Network was set up some three years ago as a grouping for sector leaders across Europe. From small beginnings it has achieved much; not last acceptance by the Commission of our role in facilitating consultations on reforming the EU's tortuous funding schemes for our sector. And the UK has much to teach in terms of our connections and roles working with Government on policy to promote our sector and its role in society!

Monday 1 February 2010

Gift Aid Reform; your havin a larf!

Today representatives of various sector umbrella bodies meet at the Treasury to talk about gift aid reform. Again. I shall not be there.

There are generally two types of meetings in Government. One, the "let's sort it out" meeting. The other, the "we're too polite to say get lost" meeting. The meeting today probably falls into the later category. And what a shame that is.

This against the background of a fall in giving, rising costs in charities and dramatic increases in demand for services.

The tragedy in Haiti shows the importance and power of Britain's international NGOs. Yet the huge generosity of the British public is but a flea bite against the size of the bankers bonuses. Just note that Morgan Stanley alone has set aside $14.4bn for bonus payments; think what that could do in rebuilding savaged Haiti!

But in the absence of a spirit of repentance in the banks we have to rely on the generosity of the public. That is why the gift aid scheme is so important. And why it is essential that it is reformed so that the £700m we lose to the Treasury each year can go where it is needed: to Britain's great and marvellous army of charities who make a difference.

As Oxfam and Save the Children, UNICEF and the Red Cross toil in terrible conditions to support and comfort those who survived the earthquake but have no homes or jobs, I wonder who it was that thought it might be a good wheeze to brief a story in the press on gift aid abuse?

A less than generously minded "official" from HMRC is warning that, according to The Guardian "giving your stuff to the charity shop can have tax implications". And we are treated to a lecture on capital gains tax and other horrors that may accompany your kindly gift of clothes and books. Mr Scrooge is not just for Christmas clearly! He is alive and well and wandering the corridors of HMT.

Headed "Gift Aid - beware the hidden catch" it is hard to imagine a more insensitive and anal story. Coming at a time when we need people to give more generously and when charity shops are low on stock this proves a deadly backdrop to the talks taking place today.

So we shall see. My Head of Policy will go. He will report back. And who knows? I may be surprised. Perhaps Ian Pearson MP, the Treasury Economic Secretary, will have a surprise for us. A commitment to action. A decision even. We certainly need that.