Friday 30 April 2010

Maximising influence

"Our time has come"! The recent edition of ACEVO's acclaimed leadership magazine has 2 fascinating articles about the third sector and our potential to use the next Parliament to effect.

Darren Murphy is managing director of Global Political Strategies (part of APCO worldwide) one of the world's top political consultancies. He has written a fascinating article on the power we will have to influence.

It is not just that we may have a hung parliament. He makes the point that the next parliament will have a huge influx of new MPs. " They will be younger, with far less political experience than perhaps any other Parliament in the last 100 years"....and this new Parliament will be more powerful than any since the Second World war ".

He says that we now need to be thinking how we influence MPs in the same way we have done with Ministers in the past.

And he points out, "this will be a wholly different sort of Parliament. More interesting. More exciting and with more opportunities for those who wish to influence policy to do so. Expect corporate Britain and the trade unions to seek to maximise their influence. The third sector must maximise its impact too ".

He argues we start with a comparative advantage as we are "natural coalition builders. In many ways, your very existence is becuase of the determination to bring people from diverse backgrounds together around a common casue".

Read his full article here.

ACEVO is organising a briefing on the election result next week by Darren and his talented team at APCO and we will be preparing that for wider dissemination to our members.

Then we also have an article from Anna Turley , the deputy director of the New Local Government Network who warns that the protection of health budgets and schools will mean that local councils face potential cuts of 20% or more from 2011." In this difficult and highly politically charged climate , if the third sector can show strong leadership and real,tangible solutions through efficient, demonstrable local delivery, then its time could really be about to come".

Future Jobs Fund; saved!

Not surprisingly ACEVO is rather partial to this brilliant scheme- having invented it! But it has been a huge success , with hundreds of third sector organisations now employing young people on the scheme. Its essential if we are to avoid the scandal of long term youth unemployment we saw in the 80s.

And it will continue! ACEVO members had spotted that whilst the Labour manifesto had promised to continue the scheme the Tories and Lib Dems were rather quieter, prompting fears amongst members they might scrap it in the emergency budget if they took power. I know both Theresa May and David Freud are great friends of the third sector, so we wrote to all the parties' work and pensions spokesmen to ask them to clarify their commitment to FJF two weeks ago and to spell out their positions on the scheme, which has created 70,000 jobs in the voluntary sector.

Labour said it would extend the fund until 2012 and the Liberal Democrats said they would honour existing funding commitments until 2011. And Theresa May, shadow work and pensions secretary, wrote to ACEVO on Wednesday saying her party had "no plans to change existing Future Jobs Fund commitments".

Nevertheless, May did not commit to extending the scheme after funding expires in March 2011. She said the Tories would review the fund to see whether it delivered "long-term sustainable work".

The fund pays employers to hire young people on at least the minimum wage for six months. But many of our members have plans to carry on with employment and training for these young people for longer. As we should.

So quick thinking by ACEVO has ensured it will continue for now. Our lobbying will now turn to extending the commitment for as long as unemployment remains such a problem. And frankly I can't see any Party in power wanting to have increasing levels of youth unemployment so they will have to have some scheme in place to promote opportunities for work and training.

So the sector owes us a big Vote of Thanks for spotting this. ACEVO; Ever vigilant! Ever alert!

Thursday 29 April 2010

The Board! Better Banking!

My ACEVO board meeting today: where my Trustees hold me and my team to account. A packed agenda and interesting discussion on the recent Big Ask tour. This was a major exercise in member consultation ahead of the election and the looming spending cuts. We also consulted members on what they want from ACEVO.

A key concern was the need for "democratising commissioning" and we are now giving this demand a top priority in our work here. We are discussing campaigning on this with our colleagues in the Community Alliance as we need to ensure a common front on issues like the need for scale and for the involvement of communities and community enterprise.

There was also a clear view on the need to feed back to members the results and to do this exercise again - so our Events Team are on to it even as I blog...

The Better Banking Campaign has written to the three Party Leaders ahead of tonight's economy debate calling for reform of our banking system. Signed by 472 organisations and individuals its an impressive coalition; ranging from Bishops to academics, Think Tanks and leading charities.

Click here for the link:

So I'm looking forward to the debate tonight. And feeling rather sorry for Gordon. He ain't having much luck!

Great lunch yesterday with Nick Seddon, Deputy Director at Reform, the Think Tank and who also chairs the Directory of Social Change. We met at a most agreeable new restaurant in Westminster, Osteria Dell'Angolo, which has become a favoured haunt of journos and Westminster hacks. So good networking (I chatted to a well known MP and a spad on my way in!) Nick is a most agreeable and charming chap (with the occasional regressive views which I then correct!) and we talked about potential work and debate around public spending cuts! Tough times ahead! Tonight's debate will be but a foretaste of the pain to come!

Wednesday 28 April 2010


I am not sure any of us were thinking of how we played our policy proposals to the respective Parties in the event of a Hung Parliament? Of course it is still to early to predict all this and we should be wary the punters who are calling the results now!

But if there were a Hung Parliament would that be good for the sector?

As an oldie I remember the last time we had a Government with no majority and a Lib- Lab pact. It was not edifying and we were all relieved when an Election within nine months sorted it.

The problem is that a search for consensus often leads to a lowest common denominator approach to decisions. Nothing bold or innovative happens as you can always find a bunch of MPs to naysay it. The worst outcome would be a fumbling attempt to cut the deficit by salami slices rather than a radical approach to reform. The call from The Institute for Fiscal Studies for clarity is correct.

The Lib-dems policy on public service reform and the role of the sector is less than clear. Would they support a Social Investment Bank for example: and one with proper funding. Of course a Hung Parliament may stop the sillier and more extreme proposals of any one Party but I think whoever said no none actually votes for "hung" as opposed to a Party was right.

Still, there is a tempting thought that for the clever third sector lobbyists this would be a marvellous time to play off each of the three of them. A bidding war! Who can give us most! And ACEVO is adept at pushing the Chief Executive agenda with whoever and whichever.

Anyway, our brains at ACEVO Towers are sitting in a darkened room, with wet towels thinking how we play this!

Monday 26 April 2010

Ash no problem! Home!

But not before meeting an inspiring individual; John Bridgeland. He runs Civic Enterprises, having previously been the President's Director of the Domestic Policy Council in the White House.

Liam Byrne MP had recommended me to see him; and I can understand why. He was one of the architects of the Serve America Act, which was pioneered by the late Senator Edward Kennedy.

But as I discovered he and I have an interest in genealogy. He has traced his family back to no less than three passengers on the Mayflower! And we swapped stories about our respective backgrounds; he has Robert the Bruce, I have Edward 111.

He has a major role to play in the role out of volunteering in the States. He stressed the importance of a professional approach which guarantees the effective management and training of volunteers. Part of the recent spending programmes to support "Serve America" has been a Fund to invest in organisations to do just that. A fresh and welcome approach. I wonder if the various Parties who have promised similar schemes to the US model will also establish a Fund to ensure the management of volunteers?

He was also interested in the potential for loans as opposed to grants. He was keen for me to send more info from the Social Investment Business on how we do loans. He thinks there is much more scope for this approach in their own work.

We agreed we would consider how to promote more shared learning on the social finance market and social innovation. There is considerable experience in the States; lots of research and data and yet we have not utilised this here. Similarly John was fascinated by the advances we had made on loan finance in the Social Investment Business and was interested in whether to make more loans available in their system.

This all points to us sharing this experience and discussing lessons and learning. So we agreed we would do this.

Just before leaving I went to the Mass at St John's Episcopal Church, more familiarly known as the President's Church, as it is next to the White House and indeed Obama attends. The Preacher was the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopalians in the States, Katharine Schori. As I said to her afterwards I have never actually met a Woman Bishop before! Will it catch on in England I wonder. Here she is:

But back to an increasingly interesting Election Campaign. Quite how a Hung Parliament will affect the fortunes of the sector is not clear. Good job that at least in ACEVO we did not ignore the Lib Dems!

Friday 23 April 2010

White House Centre for Social Innovation

Amazing to hear David Cameron quoting Saul Alinsky on community organisation last week. And of course Alinsky taught Obama all he knew about community organisation. Not surprisingly both Tories and labour have had people from the Obama campaign advising them.

One of Obama's key pledges in the campaign was to establish a Centre for Social Innovation and a Fund to support it.

I have been at the White House Centre talking about the new Social Innovation Fund that has been set up. They have just announced the appointment of the new CEO, Paul Carter.

I was seeing Michele Jolin who I first met here a year ago, just after she had been appointed by the President. She has been the key individual behind the design of the new Fund. This will be a five year programme, with $50m pa which will be distributed via intermediary bodies like foundations. However the intermediaries have to match the money they receive with an additional $50m. When they allocate funding the groups receiving it match with further funding to make it a potential $200m fund.

The aim is to support emerging innovative projects and to achieve scale. We talked about the potential and the possibility of loans as opposed to grants as part of the mix. At this stage this is a grant programme but they are interested in the possibility of some of the match funding being loans from institutions. I talked about the work of the Social Investment Business with the DH social innovation investment fund. I am going to organise further talks for them on this.

They are struggling with just the same types of issues we do on innovation: how to evaluate and how to take to scale. How do you determine that something really is innovative and has the power to engineer change, as opposed to a good interesting idea that may not be applicable anywhere else.

We talked through the problems of taking innovation to scale and they have seen a lot of the work of the UK Innovation exchange on this.

I think the concept of using intermediaries is right. They took the view that as Government they are not good at making decisions on grants, but that organisations in the sector are. An approach that our own Government have correctly taken.

They are fascinated with the work of social investment in the UK and I talked through some of the recent successes of SIB. Although the US has over 20 years experience of social investment they have not yet achieved some of the scale we have managed, and we are in advance of thinking on bonds, for example.

However the banks play a much bigger role in financing the sector here than in the UK. It seems that organisations find it easier to get bank loans and the concept of using loans is better entrenched. This is largely due to the Community Reinvestment Act - a lesson we have to learn. There is also a big secondary investment market with organisations buying a loan book and releasing more funding for new initiatives.

There are also lessons from their slightly longer experience too. Clara Miller, of the Non Profit Finance Fund in NYC, warned me of the lessons thay have learned from putting loans into buying buildings, which then become a running liability, with organisations having to devote time and energy into building maintenance not promoting their mission. It can also drive mission drift with programmes focused on building use not client need. I'm getting their research evidence on this as we need to beware the plans of both the Tories and Labour to transfer more assets to community bodies. Beware the Trojan horse of an economically unfeasible building: a liability not an asset.

Have been staying with a truly wonderful old friend, Miles Young, who I knew at Oxford, naturally. He is now in the very exalted post of Global CEO of Ogilvy and Mather, I believe the world's largest advertising agency.

The firm are kindly working with ACEVO on how we present a modern day charity sector to people at large so our image matches the reality of today's professional sector.

Always good to get together with a fellow Brit to discuss the joys and the shortcomings of our American cousins over an agreeable cup of tea (indeed the only agreeable cup of tea I have ever had here!). And we even managed to get to a choral concert sung by the infinitely sublime Choir of New College, Oxford. Transports of delight!

Thursday 22 April 2010

Lottery: we need it. Cuts we don't!

Recent coverage of the Party proposals on The Lottery by Third Sector reveal a disturbing lack of nous by some of my colleagues.

"Swings and roundabouts" was one of the comments. Well, it's some time since I did my Maths 'O' level but if the funding for The Big Lottery Fund is reduced from 50% to 40%, as the Tories propose, then that is less money for the Third Sector. BLF have a great record of spending 80% of their allocation on the third sector.

And surely 80% of 40% is a reduction in our funding rather than swings and roundabouts. Or have I missed something?

When we face an uncertain future in terms of spending cuts The Lottery is an essential lifeline for many third sector bodies, big and small.

We cannot afford any policy that reduces this source of essential funding. So we will need to be vigilant and protect the Lottery money for BLF. Wake up colleagues. Off those swings and into action!

And it will also mean that the BLF will have to look to getting leaner and meaner, and ensure that the excellent capacity building programmes they have run carry on. BLF have an outstanding record of support for developing the infrastructure of our sector. In the coming years this will be ever more important.

And on money for the sector, fascinating to see the stats in the recent NCVO Almanac.

It is clear to me that the next decade will see a further massive increase in the sector's income and our strength. Of course we must beware idiot spending cuts by short-sighted public bodies. But our case on delivery is overwhelming.

David Brindle in his Guardian Editorial on Wednesday has it right. He writes,

"For the first time in history, the sector is almost certainly now receiving more cash from the state than from you and me.

It's a hugely symbolic change, and one with which many people in the sector, and beyond, will be uncomfortable. But will it last? With the spending axe being sharpened, the £12.8bn a year that voluntary organisations bank from statutory sources is looking highly vulnerable.

The sector received £9.6bn from the state and £11.5bn from individuals. By 2007-08, the latest year for which figures are given, the gap had all-but closed, with the state contributing just £300m less than the £13.1bn from individuals. We can make a reasonable assumption that the two trends will have crossed since 2007-08.

We also learn that individual donations fell in 2008-09 (later data being available for giving) as the recession hit, with 774,000 fewer people making a payment and the average donation falling from £33 a year to £31. State funding, meanwhile, is likely to have continued rising.

And while the sector's income from the State will dip as cuts are made, and may for a short period fall back again behind income from individuals, the long-term trend is surely a rising one."

Our task is to continue to argue relentlessly for third sector delivery of services and the case for cuts to enhance our role in delivering cost effective and citizen focused services.

Of course there will be local Councils and others who think its job is to protect its own bureaucracy and cut sector funding. We will expose these Councils. Never doubt that ACEVO will be in their fighting our corner against wickedness and stupidity.

And we will highlight all those who take a more radical approach to spending cuts by a fundamental examination of how and why they deliver what they do.

Overall the future is bright. But let's not doubt there is a bumpy ride ahead.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Caught red-handed!

Avid readers of my Blog, and those with an eye to DH politics, will recall that ACEVO made a formal complaint to the DH Competition Panel about the behaviour of the Great Yarmouth PCT in discriminating against third sector providers.

As the Panel were due to give their verdict The Department of Health pulled the plug on all the tenders in the East of England and told 17 PCTs to start the tender process again. So they effectively stopped the Panel ruling on our claim. Rather sordid manipulation of their process.

We made a Freedom of Information request and now have the results. My formidable Head of Policy "M" has done an analysis of the papers. Here it is. Worth reading for an insight into this somewhat squalid episode. It seems very clear that the Panel were on the point of concluding that the decision of the PCT, following Andy Burnham's "preferred provider" speech would have had" adverse effects for patients and taxpayers". No wonder the DH were keen to squash it.

We now need to ensure that the competition Panel is given independence from political interference. Before the Election I had received a letter from the Prime Minister saying he would like to examine the case for an independent Panel. We will now press whoever is the new Secretary of State to set this up.

Ralph analysis:

1. It is clear the competition Panel (CCP) were going to proceed with the investigation.

The FOI request reveals the CCP had drafted a public decision to proceed with further investigation of our case The minutes say:

"It was agreed that further investigation was needed The Panel decided that it could not dismiss the complaint at the end of Phase 1 and that it would be necessary to proceed to Phase 2"

2. Our case was very strong

The paper submitted by CCP staff to the Panel says "We have not yet had any submissions that argue that the conduct gives rise to any benefits to patients and taxpayers that should be taken into account". It also reveals that the CCP had advised the PCT in question that "it may now be appropriate to suspend the tender process until the CCP review is completed".

3. Phase 2 of the investigation would have been embarrassing for DH

The CCP papers state that in phase 2: "in the event of an adverse effect on patients and taxpayers the CCP will assess whether new policy had been implemented by the Department of Health which amended the scope of the Principles and Rules [of cooperation and competition] or their application to the conduct [of the PCT in question]. The CCP will also assess whether GYW PCT had been following instructions provided by the Department of Health and/or East of England Strategic Health Authority and whether it was reasonable for GYW PCT to follow those instructions".

What this means is that the CCP would very likely have concluded that an "adverse effect on patients and taxpayers" would result from the PCT's conduct, but it wouldn't be able to find against the PCT because that "adverse effect" was the result of DH policy (which the CCP can't question) or because DH policy had changed the rules by which the CCP judges cases. All of which would have been highly embarrassing for DH.

4. DH intervened at the 11th hour

DH intervened at the very last minute. The FOI documents reveal that Gary Belfield, the Director General at DH, met with the chair of the panel the same day that the panel met. This was the day before the Panel was meant to publish its decision to proceed or not. They also reveal that Gary Belfield then phoned in to the Panel's meeting, mid-way through its discussions, to tell them that DH had put a stop to the procurement process in question, thereby making the CCP's discussions redundant.

5. We strongly suspect CCP advice to DH on this (withheld) was critical

Some of what we asked for in our FOI request has been witheld. Namely, correspondence between Gary Belfield (DH) and members of the competition panel. We suspect that in that withheld correspondence, the CCP are critical of DH policy in this area. The response from the CCP justifying their withholding of information here says "the CCP needs to be able to provide... advice in a candid and impartial manner without fear of attracting any criticism of The Department of Health... The CCP should be able to set out all of the pros and cons in relation to the effect of this policy... an obligation to disclose this advice might deter the CCP from providing it".

End of analysis.

All very interesting!! And obviously we are appealing to the FoI Commissioner to get the other paper re the DH 's Director general. Will it reveal the hand of Andy Burnham I wonder?

Volunteering, Aid and the North

Well the Parties are all rather into volunteering aren't they! Well , as far as more of it goes. Pity about the money side of it though!

Anyway BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1Xtra are running a social action campaign across radio and online this week to raise awareness about volunteering. The "Local Hero" campaign (what a naff title!!) runs all week and provides listeners with information about volunteering as well as links through to opportunities and organisations. Click here

Meanwhile the debate on the international commitments of the parties has been put under the spotlight. All three Parties have said they are committed to the 0.7% goal but an attack from former third sector leaders on the Tory policy is interesting.

David Cameron's commitment to the fight against global poverty has been called into question as they say his party seems more interested in "political positioning" than helping the world's poor.

In a letter to The Observer, the group, which includes the former Chairs of Make Poverty History and Oxfam, says the Tories seem to be pushing "crude attempts to export failed ideological or populist policies" on aid. This came on International Development Day.

The Tories have committed themselves in their Election Manifesto to the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on international aid by 2013. But they have angered some of our NGOs with plans to set up a new stabilisation and reconstruction force within the armed forces that would carry out aid work and infrastructure projects in the aftermath of combat.

The danger, they believe, is that aid money will be diverted to the military and away from the fight against poverty.

Now we know that charities are barred from making party-political statements during election campaigns – but the intervention of eminent former leaders in the sector reflects the views of many now working in the field.

ACEVO has a strong membership among the international NGO community in the UK and I believe we have a lot to learn internationally from what leaders in the sector across the world do. When we discuss the third sector we often forget the huge contribution that organisations like UNICEF or Wateraid, the Commonwealth Foundation or Merlin make.

These are strong professional bodies with a huge reputation across the world so their views are extremely important and should be listened too.

And I think we must beware over prissy interpretations of what we can or cannot say by a risk averse regulator. Clearly we can't say "vote Tory" for example, but we can, and should be robust in defending sector positions and saying what we think of policies as they unfold.

I see from Third Sector there have been some reviews by the Charity Commission of comments made by various leaders. All seemed entirely OK to me. We are not civil servants and so the strict rules of purdah they apply are not appropriate to our sector. And of course this is the time for us all to ensure the Parties hear what we want - and don't want!

But I was pleased that they are also keeping an eye out for the politicians; and reprimanded a Tory candidate for claiming a social action project she ran was doing charitable work - when it is not a charity!

And finally: this week marks the second anniversary of the opening of our ACEVO in the North office in Leeds. ACEVO has responded with vigour to the call of members to provide accessible and appropriate services in the regions.

I am delighted that members and the third sector have responded enthusiastically and that we now have thriving support networks and an increased membership which continues to grow.

It was a gamble setting up a new office in Leeds. How many other national umbrella bodies have taken that leap of faith to support members across the regions?

So champagne corks popping in Leeds!!!

Tuesday 20 April 2010

An Impact Bandwagon?

Like many organisations ACEVO produces an Impact Report. But I'm not sure it does enough to measure "impact".

The problem for an umbrella body is how do we demonstrate the lobbying and influencing role we play? For example, everyone knows that ACEVO led the charge in routing Andy Burnham's misguided "preferred provider" policy. It was our sustained lobbying, whether behind the scenes or in a public campaign, that forced an about turn. The fact is that has probably saved many potential contracts for the sector. How many; well we do not know. And further, the fact that we forced this u-turn has been important in demonstrating the power of the sector and will make further attempts to infringe our position more difficult for any other Government.

Looking back - we know ACEVO's work on FCR has been seminal. It has made a step change difference to our sector. How do you measure that impact?

We are talking to the boffins at New Philanthropy Capital about work to look at how we do this. They have the real expertise in this area so we shall see! And it could provide a guide to how other umbrella organisations measure impact?

We know that more work needs to be done in our sector on demonstrating impact. There have been some fabulous studies; the St Giles Trust one which showed that for every pound they spend they save the State at least £12 is impressive.

But we need to keep this in balance. Should we beware the Foundations or Local Authorities demanding to see the figures and the evidence before they disgorge cash. How do new exciting but untried and untested ideas or organisations get off the ground without someone taking a leap of faith and putting funding in?

And let's not forget that it is often the stories that are the most powerful ways of advocacy or fundraising. So it's not a large statistical chart showing the incidence of cancer but a powerful story of the difference a cancer charity made to someone's life that can bring in funding support.

Our splendid Head of Events, Yemi, is stuck in Madrid! He only went to check out a venue and was booked to fly back the same day. But he is still there. I'm trying to mobilise The Royal Navy; need to ensure essential third sector services maintained. Or failing that I'm hoping Nick Clegg might intervene as he appears to be walking on water at the moment.

I must say the stories of the Clegg fag are all rather fascinating. Click here for the link. I feel I know him so much better now. My sample poll of one of the debate - my Mother - thought Gordon did extremely well!

Friday 16 April 2010


The Tory Tim Montgomerie (a good guy who I like) just occasionally goes off the rails. Some time back he wrote a blog which claimed all innovation in the sector comes from small organisations. A palpably absurd claim. Easy to disprove. But unfortunately there is a strand of hippy like "small is beautiful" and large is evil in parts of the Tory Party and Indeed in the sector. Divisive and silly.

I have always found the "Tescoisation" taunts faintly absurd. After all, why do we shop at Tescoes? 'Cos its open all hours, sells a huge variety of goods, has quality and good prices. Do we prefer this to the village shop opening at 9.00 and closing at lunch with a limited supply of goods. No we don't! Though I'm sure Tim never sets foot in a supermarket, do you Tim!

So it is time we stopped insulting the many thousands of staff and volunteers who work in our great national charities. And recognise they are innovative and dynamic too! Nothing wrong with size! BIG can be very beautiful!

So Tim, if all innovation occurs only in small third sector organisations please explain how the RNID were able to carry through their digital hearing aid revolution? That charity ensured thousands of the hard of hearing could throw away their monstrous nasty hearing aids supplied by the NHS, for smart digital ones. It was only a big national charity who had the scale to deliver change.

Then there is the RNIB. They have worked with a commercial company to develop a micro chip for use in TVs to tell blind people what channels are showing. The NHS said it could not be done. So RNIB invested £2m to develop this. They had the sale and strength. So lives improved through innovation by a big national charity.

And recently we had the example of innovative Oxfam, the original social enterprise charity who invented the charity shop, and their new idea.

Next month Oxfam and Selfridges will launch a swish pop-up charity shop selling clothes worn by the stars.

For one week from 14 May to 20 May the Central London Department Store will play host to the Oxfam Curiosity shop, staffed by celebrities from Annie Lennox to Zoƫ Ball. It will stock a range of clothes, accessories and artifacts donated by a host of fashion names including Alexa Chung and Elle MacPherson and will be packaged in the Departments Store's famous canary-yellow carrier bags.

The pop-up store is the brainchild of Lennox and a group of celebrity women who work with Oxfam on a range of women's development projects.

So Tim; get a grip and stop peddling insulting stereotypes. For further evidence that scale is good read the wonderful Blog of my star Director, Seb Elsworth. (Click here for his blog.)

And this brings me to Ben Metz; a Blog in The Guardian on Wednesday, where he condemns the British Council's programme to publicise Britain's social enterprise sector. The British Council have a £3m programme in 12 countries to explore the value and lessons of the UK social enterprise model. But for Ben this is "cultural imperialism".

And with breathtaking audacity he then tells us he has written a major study of UK social enterprise for the Czech Republic. So the question is; when is cultural imperialism not cultural imperialism. Answer apparently; when it is a report from Ben Metz.

And not content with a swipe at colonial oppression, he has a go at Futurebuilders. Apparently we have presided over a "general waste of resources". Ben and the facts are clearly not close companions. He appears not to have read the recent independent major evaluation report from Sheffield Hallam university. That report concludes that far from a waste of resources Futurebuilders has been a great success. Highly productive, well run and having ramped up the sector's ability to deliver public services.

A copy of the report is winging its way to Ben. He can read it on the flight to Prague.

Thursday 15 April 2010

And now the Lib Dems...

So now Nick Clegg completes the set. You will forgive me if I fail to do other Parties unless I spot that they have any policies on the third sector. Couldn't see any in UKIP!

The central argument in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto is that we need to ‘hard-wire fairness back into national life’, particularly by reforming the tax and schools systems, the economy and politics. Specific policies likely to affect the third sector include:

*Reforming Gift Aid by introducing a composite rate for basic and higher-rate taxpayers of 23%.

We like the composite rate - but 23% is to low.

*Reforming the process of criminal record checking so that volunteers need only one record that is portable, rather than multiple checks for each activity

*introducing ‘easy giving accounts’ at publicly-owned banks to allow people to operate charitable giving accounts alongside current accounts

There are a range of proposals to encourage a greener approach, such as;

*A £3.1 billion, one-year-long green economic stimulus and job creation package

*Encouraging community-owned renewable energy schemes

*Making the UK carbon neutral by 2050 and work with international partners to fight climate change and protect the environment

*Implementing the Sustainable Communities Act Amendment Bill, giving local communities the right to propose actions in their area to improve sustainability.

As with the other parties mutualism seems very much flavour of the month:

*Supporting mutuals, cooperatives and social enterprises to play a role in a more balanced economy, including by passing a new Mutuals, Cooperatives and Social Enterprises Bill ‘to bring the law up to date’ and giving responsibility for mutuals to a specific Minister;

They look at public service reform and a wider role for the sector , though they are much less specific than the others here:

*Public service reform, particularly in the NHS and education, where more charities would be enabled to run schools, and a role for third sector organisations in welfare to work.

There is an interesting proposal on The Lottery.

*“we will change the way the National Lottery is taxed from a ticket tax to a gross profits tax, which is forecast to deliver more for good causes and the Exchequer”

They propose setting up a capital fund for improving local sports facilities, using cash in dormant betting accounts. Seems like they have hit on another dormant account to raid. But why not put that into a Social Investment Bank as well? They appear silent on the role of social finance. A shame!

*There is a commitment to end child poverty by 2020, reduce child maltreatment 70% by 2030, make the Youth Service statutory and encourage local authorities to provide youth services in partnership with the third sector

*In social care, setting up an independent commission to develop proposals for long-term care funding, and “offer a week’s respite for the one million carers who spend 50 hours every week looking after a sick relative”

*Improving access to banking with a PostBank, with the Post Office closure programme halted, and capping interest rates for credit cards and store cards

*Spending 0.7% of national income on international aid by 2013,

#prioritising “health and education programmes which aim to promote gender equality, reduce maternal and infant mortality, and restrict the spread of major diseases”

*Democratising the police force, “making the justice system work to rehabilitate criminals”

I cannot say that there is a more coherent analysis of the role of the third sector here. But perhaps the sector has not engaged enough with the Lib Dems to ensure they have better policies on the sector.

Earlier today I got a note from Nick Hurd MP with an "open letter" for members setting out in more detail their policies on the sector and building on the Manifesto launch yesterday. See it here.

And as light relief from all this policy stuff I had my ACEVO Finance and Audit Committee this afternoon where I could immerse myself in the arcane details of our financial procedures: just what limit shall we set for two cheques signings?) And it's home to The Archers!

Wednesday 14 April 2010

More Tories and Admiralty House ...

Great to watch the news reports of the Cameron Manifesto launch and to see him talking about "unleashing the power of charities and social enterprises". It is certainly true that the role of the sector played a much more central role to the philosophy behind the Tory offer yesterday. I have yet to hear either Nick Clegg or Gordon Brown talking about the role of the sector? Have emailed a "prominent person" to suggest we need to hear GB on the sector!

Hot from reading the Parties' Manifestos I went to Chair what we call "The Admiralty House" commissioning group. It's a tripartite group of public, private and third sector commissioners that ACEVO and PWC have pulled together to debate changes needed to democratise commissioning.

Our first meeting took place in Admiralty House though yesterday we were in somewhat reduced circumstances in a drab Whitehall office.

We were talking about the potential of "Total Place" and the need for this to translate into a debate on delivery partners and, in my view, how the sector should be taking the lead provider role. We agreed to return to this debate once the Election pronounces on a new Government.

We have involved the Community Alliance in the group as we need also to debate and to resolve how we marry the need to ensure community and citizen control and the benefits of scale and reach brought by larger organisations.

It is abundantly clear that whoever wins the Election our sector's role in delivery will expand exponentially. So commissioning policy has to adapt to ensure that role is enhanced and promoted. Scale encouraged, the voice of users drawn into commissioning plans and the ability of community enterprise promoted.

It's always good to look at detail in Manifestos! The Tory promise on the Lottery sounds like good news for the third sector. Some have even trumpeted the proposal without looking at the detail. While you might think it great news that the Big Lottery Fund should fund 100 per cent to the VCS, this policy implies 100 per cent of a 40 per cent allocation rather than a 50 per cent take for BLF from the Lottery as a whole.

Last year 88 per cent of what BLF funded was direct to the Third sector.

All that glistens is not necessarily gold.

As we further analyse and scrutinise the Party proposals I suspect we will uncover more issues. And later today we will have the Manifesto from the Lib Dems. I'll Blog that later!

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Now for the Tories!

"An invitation to join the Government". And I thought they'd never ask! But no, not a seat in The Lords but the Tory Manifesto. So if Labour has a retro cover, the Tories cap it with a somewhat ludicrous overclaim.

But enough frivolity. This is good news for the sector. There is a strong endorsement of our role in an expanded service delivery role. It says,

"Public service reform, including enabling third sector organisations to play“ a leading role in delivering public services”; an “aim to deliver 25% of Government contracts through SMEs”; a ‘fair deal on grants’ to give third sector organisations more stability and allow them to earn a competitive return for providing public services; “work with local authorities to promote the delivery of public services by third sector organisations”; raising productivity in public services including by allowing public sector workers to spin out into co-operatives and mutuals; establishing a ‘Big Society Bank’; and giving third sector organisations a greater role in delivering schools, services to reduce re-offending, children’s services, welfare to work and NHS services".

The emphasis on our role in building better communities and on delivering services is strong. Put another way, the Manifesto states, “in a simple phrase, the change we offer is from big Government to Big Society."

They also talk of the need to develop a strong third sector so they clearly see the need for capacity building.and I like the "community right to buy", something we have strongly advocated.

But it does seem some clear dividing lines; particularly between Labour looking to active Government and the Tories looking to a smaller state and bigger society. How does this translate into policy on the sector?

I think it will mean a much faster and more proactive outsourcing of public services from the Tories, with Labour still trying to face both ways on that. Labour still has too much affection for state delivered services and is probably still too tied to the unions who have a dinosaur attitude to change and an antipathy for our sector delivery role.

The Tories clearly see a much bigger role for a Social Investment Bank (or Big Society bank as they put it!) and have stronger plans for community empowerment.

But the flaw in the Conservative plans lies in the unresolved tension in their ranks over scale. Many want to see the sector as small scale and local and distrust larger and national charities. This ties in with their dubiety over the campaigning role of charities.

Both see a strong role for volunteering and proposals to expand national campaigns but given financial constraints none spell out how they will be fully and professionally funded.

Labour has a more proactive policy on banking reform and support for the financially excluded and, by contrast thought the Tories are clearly more supportive of a Social Investment Bank (Labour's £75m is derisory) they have a ridiculous plan to steal loan money from Futurebuilders and turn into small grants; which is the opposite of empowering!

So overall? I think the Tories see a much larger and and more cohesive role for a sector in building a bigger society, where Labour is still conflicted between state and social action. But many in the sector will be wary that a less proactive state will mean less support for the most vulnerable and the excluded and a less vocal sector attacking Government on behalf of those communities. And neither party is being totally honest about the scale of public spending cuts, nor its timing. Cuts could undermine our sector or liberate it. But no evidence for the later so far from either of them!

And finally, apropo the Tory promise to promote worker coops I saw an amusing carton in my favourite pub, The Plough at Finstock when I was there for an agreeable Sunday lunch. It features David Cameron.

"Sorry, did I say "workers cooperatives". I meant "co-operative workers!"


So Labour have produced their Manifesto. But whoever chose that cover!! I do so hope it was not the wonderful Ed! The back to the Fifties theme was surely not what they were intending?

But what is fascinating is just how much there is on the sector and its role; in public service delivery, community empowerment, social investment, advocacy and voice. If you compare this 4th Labour Manifesto with the preceding three, going back to the '97 Manifesto, then this one has the richest and most promising manifest for our sector. I suspect this partly demonstrates the fact that Ed's first Ministerial job was as Third Sector Minister and also the power of our lobbying as a sector. ACEVO in particular has been working both in front and behind the scenes to ensure that the sector's leaders views were heard.

It was particularly pleasing to see that the role of social investment, a Social Investment Bank and impact bonds feature prominently (though frankly the £75m for the Bank is pathetic).

And the ACEVO hosted Better Banking Campaign has scored a big hit with practically all of the key aims of the campaign included in the Manifesto. The seminar held at No 10 a few months back certainly played dividends!

What the Manifesto says is worth repeating as it has not featured in the sector press.

We will introduce a universal service obligation on retail banks, so that all consumers with a valid address have a legal right to a basic bank account, and a right to redress if this is refused.

{DISCLOSURE} Banks will have to publicly report on the extent to which they are under-serving communities.

{CRA} And we will introduce a new levy on the banks to help fund a step-change in the scale of affordable lending by third-sector organisations, including a new partnership with the Post Office, offering an alternative to loan sharks and high-cost doorstep lending.

Over the lifetime of the next Parliament, as more affordable lending becomes available, we will clamp down on the interest rates and other fees charged by instant loan companies and payday or doorstep lenders, tackling the very high cost lending that hits low-income communities hardest. We will introduce a single regulator for consumer finance to restore confidence and trust with responsibility for the supervision of all unsecured lending being passed to the Financial Services Authority. And new rules governing how financial products are sold will be introduced with a crackdown on unfair terms in contracts

And the commitment on fair commissioning in service delivery is crucial to how we expand our delivery role.

So we now await the Tories. I suspect it will also be action packed.

And finally,

One of my staff found the most wonderful piss take of "Big Society". Malcolm Tucker from BBC's “The Thick of It” wrote;

"Big Society: This is going to be the next battlefield, apparently. Except, excuse me, but what the bucket-face is the Big Society.

Is it like the Wine Society except for fat lads and lasses? What does it mean? The Cubs doing coronary bypasses? Tax disc with your Planet Earth DVD? Bono in charge of the West Coast Mainline? Cardinal O'Dodgy gets to run a kiddies home? The Scientologists do the RAC and the RAC run housing benefit? That's what's going to mend Broken Britain and let them cut Government spending by a quarter? They're using a corner-shop bag to carry Howitzer shells. It's going to fall apart. Put it under the spotlight

Not that I approve. But it is amusing!

Monday 12 April 2010

"Efficiency Savings? "

The current debate between the Parties on how to tackle the deficit has an air of unreality and, indeed deception. Of course in a massive state bureaucracy there is always scope for savings. But both Parties are avoiding the issue of where they will make actual cuts.

And this is a real danger for our sector. We have warned about the danger of tackling the deficit through salami slice cuts to programmes and yet it now seems that is where we are heading. That is our danger. Because bureaucracies first law of preservation is to cut others first. Save your own jobs as priority. So work with the third sector, grants programmes or support for non urgent interventions or promotion and advocacy get ditched. This has always been the story of previous public spending cuts rounds.

Yet what is now needed is a more radical approach which looks at how services are delivered and how others in the third or private sectors could do it more cost effectively. That is the essence of the "Big Offer" the sector makes to a new Government.

It is illustrated well by the recent report of The King's Fund which shows real improvements to the health service in the last decade but marked failures in tackling the growing problems of obesity and alcohol abuse. And these are areas where the third sector, if empowered and properly resourced, could excel and make a difference. Whilst the NHS is dominated by acute care and politicians are afraid to divert resources and hand over control to third sector agencies we will make no progress.

This Election should be a debate about fundamental reform to the way we provide public services, but so far no Party has been prepared to say that one of the answers to cutting the deficit is to cut the public service. The state has so often proved poor at delivering high quality, cost effective service. It's time they gave the third sector a chance.

Friday 9 April 2010

Rural affairs!

No, not a blog about untoward things happening in Charlbury, but a new ACEVO special interest group!

ACEVO has developed and grown services to members enormously in the past few years, particularly since we established our North office based in Leeds.

Interestingly we were asked recently to extend this with a particular focus for CEO's whose work has a more rural base. So we are gathering information on how best to achieve this. We are particularly seeking out CEOs working in rural areas to establish one of our special interest groups. If you are interested, contact our ACEVO North Director, Jenny Berry (

It's interesting that volunteering has now taken a lead role in the election debate. I must say I like the Tory idea of a national citizen service. I also like what Labour has done and is proposing on community service and the role of V in schools.

Getting more young people to volunteer, and developing good volunteer programmes is clearly beneficial and helps build social cohesion whilst playing an important role in personal development.

The problem with these plans by both parties is that they tend to think volunteering is a free good and does not involve any costs. Yet a well led and professional approach to volunteering does cost. It costs the charity or social enterprise to organise, to train and to monitor volunteers. Without a professional approach those on volunteering programmes do not learn. And there are overhead costs in areas like safeguarding checks, health and safety and the like.

Gordon Brown has had a good record on volunteering support so I do not see much of a divide in the parties on this. Where the problem arises is when politicians fail to properly fund their new initiatives and think we can deliver them by waving our magic wands!

Tuesday 6 April 2010


One can have too much raw fish! Indeed I was getting to the point where if I saw yet another beautiful lacquer plate of delicately prepared sushi and artfully placed piece of blossom I'd scream. I'd begun dreaming steak and even walked past a MacDonalds thinking I might go in (fortunately I resisted the temptation).

So it's time for a return to cups of tea, Coronation Street and bangers and mash!

But Easter was a joy. I was staying on a small island (Tomoshima) in the Inland Sea of Japan in a glorious hotel, the Villa Kazenooto.

It's my top tip for one of the world's most gorgeous hotels. And as there are only four villas you better book quick! Click here for their website.

It is run by Junko Onishi and Kensuke Onishi. Kensuke is a JACEVO member and is an aid development worker. ACEVO members will recall him from his appearance at our annual dinner in his full traditional costume! He has recently returned from Afghanistan. As well as running the hotel he has established a community development association to help preserve the old fishing port of Tomonoura, the putting off point for his island. The Japanese do not have quite the same attachment to preservation of old buildings but this tiny fishing town has survived largely unaltered because it did not have much strategic or economic value; many of the houses are 200-300 years old.

The villa has its own hot tub overlooking the sea. The sunset on Easter Day, as seen from my hot tub is here! Now are you envious?

Then it was on to Dogo, the oldest hot springs in Japan. I enjoyed a soak in the oldest of the baths, though I can't say it was a long soak as it was somewhat hot! The town is also the home of their most famous Haiku poet. How civilised to find they have various Haiku post boxes around town where you can post your own efforts and, if good enough, be rewarded with some small souvenir.

So entering the spirit of the place here is mine:

Raw fish and blossom
Keen memories of Japan
But now the bell tolls.

Friday 2 April 2010

Happy Easter

So, my loyal readers, and occasional visitors ,a very Happy Easter.
Let me share with you a Zen poem I saw today at Kyoto's main Zen Temple.
( The Daisen-Ji )

Master seon Ozeki:

"Each day in life is training
Training for myself
Though failure is possible
Living each moment
Equal to anything
Ready for everything
I am alive - I am this moment
My future is here and now
For if I cannot endure today
When and where will I ?"

Just Giving

There is now a Japanese " Just Giving"! Launched on March 9th they started with about 100 "challengers" who have put up pages and have already signed up a range of celebrities; a baseball player, Olympic runner who are supporting a range of charities from a project for NEETS , children in Africa and cats and dogs. Set up by Daigo Sato (pictured below) who spoke at our last ACEVO annual dinner.

It will need to work hard to convert the general population! Only 2.2% of Japanese give to charity- an astonishingly low figure compared with the majority of the UK. I was quizzed over lunch about gift aid which Daigo aims to get introduced into Japan. He was asking if I had any tips about persuading Prime Ministers! He marvelled at the generosity of our scheme. I said we had been complaining it was not good enough!

The lunch was a traditional kaiseki-ryori, a particular treat. It's Japanes haute cuisine: just fine morsels of the best seasonal fish and vegetables served on the most exquisite trays and bowls. It tasted glorious though I have to admit some of the dishes looked very odd. The brown squidgy thing with tentacles did not look edible. But was.

And then I partoke of the annual cherry blossom viewing ritual. I took myself off to the main Tokyo park where, with what seemd like half of Tokyo I wandered through he cherry blossom , stepping past the families picnicing on the blue plastic sheets and avoiding with difficulty the legions of photographers wielding some pretty hefty camera hardware. But you can see here its all rather splendid.

And its the time to get married. So here a beautifully attired couple before their sahinto ceremony at the Meijii shrine.

But Japan has its barbarous side. I saw a report that some 100,000 dogs are put down each year as they are discarded by owners. And there is no market for rescue dogs because they don't do second hand ( its also why there is no charity shop sector here either ). And in a number of places they actually get rid of the lovely but unloved animals by gassing them. A disgrace. On behalf of my own dear hound; currently holidaying at my sister Sara's I protest.

The evening weas rounded off at a magnificent Japanese traditional restaurant where another top meal awaited. I was dining with the Ambassador and catching up on old acquaintances, as you do , even after 35 years! And now its off for a few days break over Easter. Even a CEO deserves rest and relaxation! And the blackberry too!

Thursday 1 April 2010

What Independent Research Actually Shows!

For the record, here is a summary of the Research and Evaluation report published yesterday from Sheffield Hallam University.

- Successful fund proven to build capacity of third sector organisations to deliver public sector contracts-

Independent evaluation commissioned by the Office of the Third Sector and undertaken by a consortium led by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR at Sheffield Hallam University) confirms positive impact of Futurebuilders Fund.

The evaluation assesses the impact of the Futurebuilders Fund, a government pilot scheme, as to whether it increases the capacity of the voluntary and community sector to deliver public services. A copy of the report can be found via the link. Click here.

Futurebuilders provides loans, grants and business support to third sector organisations in England to help them bid for, win and deliver public service contracts. The Fund provides support for organisations that would not have access to commercial funding.

Key findings from the report include:

• Futurebuilders builds the capacity of the third sector to deliver public services.

• Of the case studies evaluated for net savings, public service delivery contracts won by investees provide a net saving to the public sector purchaser. Of the studies evaluated in the report, there were net savings to the public purse of between £600 thousand and £5 million after ten years.

• Investments are largely additional – investee organisations would not have secured investment funding at the same scale and at the same time from commercial sources, such as banks.

• Futurebuilders investees were not found to be displacing existing services – service capacity was found overwhelmingly to be additional to existing provision.

• The management costs as a proportion of the loan book appear lower than comparable government backed social investment organisations.

• Futurebuilders has evolved considerably since its inception. Under the second management:

o the average time from agreement to invest to the first draw down has reduced from 448 days to 125 days

o there has been a rise in applications from and investment in small third sector organisations

o the conversion rate of applications to investments has increased from 24% to 40%.

Futurebuilders demonstrates a model for social investment that works and works to scale, but there is still a huge unmet demand for funding - we have been receiving enquiries of up to £90m a month. We will continue to explore innovative ways to bring more money into the sector.