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 Zoë 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.


Ben Metz said...

Dear Stephen,

I would appreciate if you would adjust your blog so that it accurately reflects the article I wrote for The Guardian on Wednesday 14th April (the post can be read via the link below):

1 - I do not condemn the British Council's social economy development programme. I refer to a much wider set of activities than just the British Council (ref. delegations to the Skoll World Forum) and suggest if we bring a critical eye to these collective activities we will be found wanting.

2 - I reference the report I wrote on the UK social economy but do not suggest it is a major report. The report can be found at Readers can conclude of what use it is to them.

3 - I will be delighted to read the Sheffield Hallam study you refer to stating that Future Builders has been a great success and will adjust the report on my blog accordingly. I would also suggest, for a balanced view, you include references to the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee's views of Futurebuilders to provide a balanced picture. For example " according to Conservative MP Richard Bacon, a member of the Commons Public Accounts Committee... "the report[on FutureBuilders] was at the worse end of the spectrum of NAO reports and could have serious repercussions". Later in the article I have extracted this quiote from he goes on to suggest that FutureBuilders has "cut it's own throat" in regards to showing whether they can spend money effectively.(

4 - For the benefit of readers you may want to include the fact that you are currently Chair of FutureBuilders.

It strikes me as worthy of note that the only criticisms of my article have been from individuals currently incumbent in some way with the programmes I suggest may be less than value for money.

Rather than rush to the defense of activities we undertake to support the social economy, I suggest we should try and knock these down then, if they are still standing after scrutiny perhaps they are good enough to show to the world.

Thanks very much Stephen and all the best.

Ben Metz

The Guardian article can be found here:

My original blog post asking whether we (the UK) are being of service to the global social economy can be found here:

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