Thursday 4 February 2010

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.

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