Wednesday 9 June 2010

Dumping Assets, Opera singers and Gold!

A fascinating discussion on "Today" about a new report from KPMG on new ways of delivering public services in a more diverse way with different forms of ownership and a much bigger role for the third sector. Spot on. What ACEVO has been arguing for years.

But the interview highlighted a major problem. In a time of austerity and big cutbacks by Local Government will Councils be tempted to dump assets on us. The KPMG guy talked about libraries. He was quite unable to explain how, just by handing over a library in a deprived area to a voluntary or community organisation, that was suddenly going to revitalise the service if the building needs lots of money spent on upkeep and a whole army of volunteers to keep it running. His comparison with the charity shop was facile. And later that evening a reactionary philistine on Newsnight suggested that we should drop the idea that Local Authorities provide libraries at all. So universal provision of libraries throughout the land, one of the great glories of England, is to be ditched. The philistines and accountants are to take over the realm. Sell off all those public art galleries; close down our great public orchestras. A feeling of disgust and revulsion at such madness overwhelms me.

There is a warning here for the third sector. Watch out for unscrupulous Councils who face cuts just offloading all their expensive assets, like library buildings; cutting their capital bills and passing off the need for funding the service onto charity. Surely our future must be greater than continual fund raising to mend the leaking roofs?

This was very much at the forefront of the ACEVO dinner last night with the marvellous Rob Whiteman who is three weeks into his new job as CEO of the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency. Hosted by the ever generous CCLA, who manage the vast majority of charity assets and have a huge record of wise investments; it brought together a fine range of sector leaders who indulged in fine debate and conversation with the Great Whiteman. Rob has the girth of an opera singer; indeed he tells us he wanted to be one. He sang us an impromptu ditty in the lift going home!

The morning was with another financial institution; Hoare's Bank. It is Britain's oldest bank and the only one still in family hands. It has the wise policy of only ever investing half of its deposits so safely riding the credit crunch when all about them were losing their heads. Bob Loft showed me around their amazing bank on Fleet Street. Their archive (ledgers of Samuel Pepys, a fine gold coin collection etc) was amazing. I'm glad to say they intend to join ACEVO as corporate members. They will be very welcome.

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