Friday 21 May 2010

Warning; trouble ahead!

To hear some of the swooning and slathering coming from some of my colleagues in the sector over Big Society you would imagine the Heavenly Host had appeared to gather them Homeward. Well my friends there is trouble ahead. An emergency budget. Council cuts. You did not imagine the Big Society came with lashings of funds to implement it did you?

I am already getting many reports of grants being removed or cut. Contracts rescinded or altered. Refusals to allow any cost increase and demands for lower prices. This will get worse.

We made a "Big Offer" to Government. But we have yet to see how they will respond to expanding the third sector delivery role. This will require fundamental changes to the commissioning process. I have no doubt our role will expand and many third sector bodies will grow. It will happen. But the problem may be in the disconnect between cuts now and delivery expansion in a few years time?

But the fear is that we will see salami slicing cuts. Cuts that protect the state bureaucracy at the expense of services delivered by our people. This has happened so often in the past. Council chiefs who say, well you can just deliver it for less. Find the money to make up the service from your charity.

That is why ACEVO is going to be expanding its cuts protection services. We are allocating more budget to this and supporting members as they face hard times.

We are getting legal advice to members to resist attempts to cut or change contracts. We are advising charities they have a legal duty to challenge contract changes or cancellations in the Courts. We will not be fooled by officials who try it on.

And we are advising members to check the details of their grants. Many grants are encumbered with terms and conditions that make it a contract. Don't be fooled by that clause that tries to say "nothing in this grant is to be construed as a contract" because it often is. Ironic that we will be saving grants by showing they are actually contracts!

A few moons back the DH tried to wriggle out of Section 64 grants. My good friend the spectacular charity lawyer Anne-Marie Piper had a look at it and said "it's a contract" so I told the DH Permanent Secretary if he didn't withdraw his threat and confirm the grants I'd see him at Judicial Review. I won. Often unwise to take on Bubb.

So we will support our members in stopping any nonsense by Governments or other parts of the State if they try foolhardy salami slicing of budgets. We want fundamental, root and branch review and where the third sector can deliver cost effective service closer to the citizen we should be empowered to do it.

So I wait for a reply to our offer of talks with HMT so our members can support the work of David Laws and George Osborne in making reductions that enhance our delivery role not undermine it.

I will expand on this in a speech next Thursday evening which I intend to use to provide a proper perspective from our sector on what Government is proposing in both Big Society, service delivery and deficit reduction. It will put a balance to the swooning. And it will help Government to avoid mistakes that harm the growth of our sector.

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