Wednesday 10 March 2010

A bas l' ideologues!

So while I was in Reading and Cardiff meeting members my esteemed Deputy, Dr Kyle, was meeting the Prime Minister.

He was at the opening of the new offices of the trade union Community. Their General Secretary is an ACEVO member and we are doing work with them on third sector and union support in community development. Gordon greeted him warmly, he tells me. But when I enquired whether he had he asked him when he was ditching the Burnham disastrous "preferred provider" he went strangely silent!

Incidentally, this policy was being "lambasted" in the Lords yesterday (if one can say that about their Noble Lordships!). As one of them said to the Health Minister, one Glenys Thornton, erstwhile Chair of the Social Enterprise Coalition;

"Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, how do we know that the NHS is providing the best service possible if there is no competitive tendering? "


"Baroness Barker: My Lords, services provided by the NHS need be put out to tender only when there has been a failure to meet standards twice, while services provided by the independent and voluntary sectors have to be put out to tender automatically even if they are very good. What is the rationale for that unequal treatment?"

The Hansard was a sorry read for Glenys defending the indefensible. Of course she knows the policy is insane.

But Peter tells me the Community event was superb. It's good to be able to work with the unions, as opposed to having to defend our members from disgraceful attacks on them by unions like Unite, who seem to see the third sector as an inferior place to work and attack our role in delivering citizen focused services.

The two BIG ASKS in Reading and Cardiff went superbly. It was particularly good to meet our superb band of Welsh members. It was incredibly useful to me to catch up on devolution politics and developments in the Welsh Assembly. But our members were very clear that they join ACEVO so that they can support our work in influencing the UK government in areas that crucially affect the sector and our beneficiaries in Wales.

It seems the various Welsh umbrella bodies are increasingly only interested in the Assembly and matters Welsh and are not playing a wider role in disseminating broader information or sharing leadership learning.

There was also praise for our professional development events.

And in Reading there was an interesting discussion on the need for "one voice" for the sector. A voice that promotes and lobbies for what we do and what we achieve.

We talked about this at the recent ACEVO Board, as it has come up elsewhere. I have just penned an article for the Caritas magazine on exactly this, as has Stuart. I suspect as the next 10 years unfolds we will see more movement to a united front for the third sector, however that might look! A CBI for the third sector, as one member put it. To do this though we need to focus more on what we achieve than labels. We should not be promoting social enterprise at the expense of other parts of our sector. We should not be arguing small is best (or the converse), or that local is better than national (or the converse). Our "Offer" to Government and to the nation as a whole is so much more than the sum of our parts. As we continue to grow as a sector I suspect the current divisions in what we do as umbrella bodies will start to become less and less important.

There was also a great debate on how we should work with the private sector and look for more partnership and consortia working. I suspect also that the next 10 years will see a blossoming on such joint work, joint ventures, bids etc. The smart money will be on those CEOs who seek out those alliances at a time when the public sector contracts. For too long we have been mesmerised by the public sector and what it does and what it wants. Are we moving to a post public sector age when our main work and focus will be with the private sector. I can hear the rumbles already. But the strong third sector CEO is always ahead of the pack. The boundaries between business, the public and third sectors are already blurred. They will become more so. Ideology needs to play second fiddle to the pragmatic pursuit of what is good for our beneficiaries. Statists are so very last Century!

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