Friday 19 March 2010

The Summit

It turned out well. No, actually it turned out brilliantly. The Summit with the Conservatives that is. And amazing to reflect that for a day we had five shadow Cabinet members, five front bench spokesmen and even one Shadow Minister sitting in the audience!

We held the event in Millbank. As George Osborne MP said, an iconic room, as it was the room which Labour used as their campaign HQ in '97 and now where the Tories will hold their 2010 campaign. And as I said, also home to our very own Charity Commission!

The event was packed out with members from the various partner organisations; NAVCA, the Community Alliance and the Social Enterprise Coalition and we had put together a panel of speakers through the day to reflect the diversity of our sector; from local and national, community and social enterprise. And though we can sometimes have our arguments about the relative merits of small or large we put on a united front to talk to the Conservatives.

The theme was around "The Big Offer"; our sector offer to the political parties of cost effective public service , closer to the Citizen and Communities. I spelt out the economic value of our offer in front of the Shadow Chancellor (a slight mistake which George spotted quickly was when I described him as "Chancellor" but don't tell Alistair who I saw on the same theme two weeks ago!).

I used three examples of proven impact; from Tomorrow's People, St Giles Trust and Age Concern, South Staffs. But I was also keen to challenge the Conservatives on their policies for the sector where I think they need to think more. These are;

"Rhetoric or reality"

I used a quote from my local MP (David Cameron) to illustrate the love bombing of our sector (from all of the parties, not just the Conservatives). The issue is not whether they want to expand our role, it is HOW they will do it.

Gearing up.

I had used as a counterpoint to the St Giles Trust rehabilitation programmes the fact that only 2% of the MoJ budget is spent on commissioning third sector services. So if they want to realise three massive savings that could come from a bigger third sector delivery role they will have to gear up. It's a step change required. HOW will they do that?

Local v national

I posed to them what I see as their dilemma in arguing for more localism and bigging up small charities (sometimes with snide comments on Tescoisation) and the need to achieve scale in delivery.

I also talked of the need to ensure access to capital - bonds, the Social Investment Bank etc.

And finally, as a comforting thought for George Osborne I used a quote from J K Galbrait:

"The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”

Osborne's response was good. He picked up on some of these issues and particularly on the need for reform of commissioning. He said to me that our "Big Offer" was one that they would accept! A good speech. And showed the value of the day; we were able to showcase to a potential future Chancellor the economic as well as the social impact we can make.

What I have been keen to do with Government and with the main Parties is to make them think differently about our Sector and its true potential. I think one of ACEVO's real triumphs over the last 10 years has been to influence the debate on public sector reform to the point where the Parties, in their various ways now all talk of expanding sector delivery.

I have always argued that our role is not just at the margins. Not just as "innovators". But also as mainstream. And this was strongly echoed by Andrew Lansley when he spoke. There was also quite a theme running through the day in what they want to do with cutting re-offending. They seriously "get" the need to use the sector to cut our disgraceful record of 66% back in prison in two years.

Finally, two thoughts that I left delegates with.

Francis Maude MP said that if they win we should "feel compelled to hold their feet to the fire". We shall! As I said that's our duty to our members and their beneficiaries.

George Osborne MP

He challenged our sector to think about how we respond. He said we need to think how we "scale up" and above all show that we are "professional". He is absolutely right. And that is a challenge that ACEVO accepts with alacrity.

Incredible feedback on the day from our delegates. One of the features of the event was to use twitter and text for questions - which then appeared on screen. This cut our all the fuss and palaver of question sessions where naughty people use it to advertise their organisation and make crude funding pleas! A great success. And we used Simon Fanshawe, broadcaster and media guru, to facilitate the sessions which he did with brilliance, flair and elan. He even quickly stopped one of the Tories from getting in election mode by telling them not to make party political points (and I have to say the Tory speakers were actually very good at not trying to make cheap political points but treating it as a dialogue with the sector.

Just some feedback:

"It was lovely to see you yesterday at your finest. All very impressive. I loved the questions through twittering/texting. It made the whole proceedings much more engaging"

"Congratulations on a highly successful event yesterday – my Head of Policy and Public Affairs said it was one of the best events she’s attended and I agree! The venue and format worked very well and the Conservatives and members were well prepared and there was a very constructive and joined up debate. It was inspirational asking Simon to facilitate."

"I felt proud of ACEVO (and you) yesterday!""

"Aside from the encouraging rhetoric, what came across loud and clear was the opportunity - both for third sector and Government - for us to lead on establishing solutions/outcome focused commissioning (and let us set the outcome/impact definitions, before others try to..)"

And so the day ended with a wine tasting with my dear friend and old boss, Sir Rodney Brooke, followed by dinner at the Atheneum. And now a day off!

No comments: