Tuesday 31 August 2010

Volunteering; where going?

So what are the facts around volunteering? There is reliable data now from the 80's and this consistently shows volunteering levels are very stable over time, at around 40-45% of people volunteering at least once a year, with around 25% at least once a month.

We also know that the great bulk of volunteering and giving is concentrated in a small subset of the population. Recent research by the Third Sector Research Centre showed two-thirds of unpaid help is given by around 7% of the population. And not surprisingly most of this is the well educated middle class. And of course these people live in wealthier areas, not deprived ones.

So that's a challenge for the Government's aim to massively increase volunteering . If volunteering levels have been stable against the last decade of extra spending on volunteering how will cuts increase volunteering? And if volunteering needs to be stimulated how will that happen in areas it is needed most, not those where it is now concentrated ?

This then is the challenge that faces Government initiatives and bodies like The Big Society Network. They have determined on a strategy that goes direct to individuals rather than using the established networks of volunteering organisations (CSV, BTCV, V etc). They also want to work direct in communities, again not using established community networks like the Development Trusts or Community Hubs that are being developed through the Communitybuilders programme.

Perhaps the existing structures appear too conventional and established? They have certainly not been used to develop strategy or plan action. But not using the established experience of decades of work both In communities and in volunteering is likely to prove fatal to ambition.

It is interesting how MPs often see the country through the prism of their own constituencies. People like Frank Field go on about Birkenhead. So David Cameron's own patch in West Oxfordshire has a very high level of civic engagement. Charlbury has a plethora of clubs and societies, charity events and functions. No Saturday is complete without our coffee morning or raffle. I suspect the level of volunteering in Charlbury and Chipping Norton is extraordinarily high. But that is also one of the most affluent parts of the country. Compare my other patch in Brixton and the same cannot be said. And if the ambitions of Big Society to grow volunteering and civic engagement are to work then it is places like Brixton that must see an explosion of involvement. It would be good to see this; and the Council's Co-operative experiment will be instructive.

It is time that the expertise of the sector was put to use to achieve it. An instructive tale told to me when I was in the States in March should be a warning. Bush enters The White House first term with grand plans to ramp up civic engagement and get more Americans volunteering. He brought with him mates and contacts from his circle in Texas or on the campaign trail. They ignored existing non-profit organisations because they had the brash arrogance of newcomers who think they can do it all themselves. Well, after nine months nothing was happening and Bush had to call in the experts from the existing structures to rescue his plans. So we shall see.

But now to Devon. I have been having a marvellous relaxing time in Hope Cove. Let me bring you highlights!

Hope Cove

Julian doing a Bond impersonation (he thinks) after coming 3rd in the Raft Race!

Hound on the cliffs

Friday 27 August 2010


Branding is important. All CEOs know that a charity or social enterprise brand is a key part of the image you want to portray. But when to change? When to update? Sometimes it just becomes obvious. Spastics and deaf and dumb may have been fine once but are now rightly seen as patronising and offensive. So those charities needed to change. But then there is the danger you choose something fashionable now but not in a decade.

Then there is the cost of change. Some charities try and do this very professionally, with outside consultants. And the results can be good. But I do remember when I was at the National Lottery Charities Board we got a new Chair and a new broom re our name! Consultants hired at some expense. A meeting of Directors where we were asked to say what "Colour" we thought we were. And if we were an animal what would it be. Yawn.
And the result? New name; "Community Fund". One sort of thought we could have devised that ourselves at no cost!

I've resisted renaming ACEVO. Although we always talk about "third sector leaders" ACETS didn't quite work. We have, at no cost, revamped style as we have gone along. It's been enough.

But do we need to review in the light of "Big Society"? I have rejected "Network of Big Society" on the ground of the acronym. Perhaps Big Society Leaders Network, or Big Society Network for short? Would it catch on?

In the recent inclement weather one would not be without an umbrella. And the hound helpfully carries it. Here she is in Charlbury!

I am off to Devon for the Bank Holiday. Another gathering of the Bubb clan. This time at Hope Cove, Devon (Cornwall is far too crowded these days!). My brother has a cottage in this beautiful small fishing village on the South Devon coast, near Salcombe. Fabulous walks along National Trust land along the coast. Can't wait!

Staff and Benazir

The staff meeting went well. Our team is now so big we can't hold it in a corner of the Towers so we had to go out. Amazing what you discover about your team. We have a former international gymnast apparently. And one of the holder's of the world's largest simultaneous Space Hopping record! It warms the cockles of a CEO 's heart to be surrounded by talent and energy. Long may it continue! I enlivened proceedings by tales from the old days - the 10 years ago when I joined ACEVO as its CEO in the Harrow office; though memo to self, must not become rambling old man going on about the past!

But the evening was a less glorious experience. I went to the screening of a documentary film on Benazir Bhutto. Someone I knew as a vibrant, energetic, amusing and deeply committed young woman murdered. She was a fun friend and the documentary brought home the horrors of her years in prison and the health problems developed while she was held in solitary confinement in a nasty prison in the desert regions. Watching that on film was deeply distressing. I knew (know) most of the family and was fond of her youngest brother who was also murdered - poisoned in a rather nasty way.

Sadly Benazir's tomb is now submerged in the floods. Her Mausoleum, and that of her father Zulfikar, is at Garhi khuda Buxn in the Sind province which has been ravaged by the flood and consequent disease and deaths.

To donate to the DEC's Pakistan Flood Appeal click here.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Dames and Swedes

One of my regular meetings at the Office of The Third Sector, sorry, Civil Society (my Strategy Director has told me to "get over it"!). A useful round- up. The OCS have not got an easy task in pressing the sector's case within Government! But they have a key role and they have a strategic position in The Cabinet Office and are admirably led by Nick Hurd who is proving to be a top class Minister, clearly destined for further glory (though not to soon please).

And then on to a meeting with the Great Dame; Clare Tickell that is. Dr Kyle and I went to see Clare in her new offices, which are but a stone's throw from ACEVO Towers, pleasant, entirely professional offices that demonstrate the business-like yet committed organisation that is Action for Children and its proud and glorious history as a charity founded by the Methodists to care and support children through life's trials and tribulations. We were there to talk about our current trials and tribulations and what our sector response needs to be; a conversation interspersed with gossip and giggles. As you would expect.

And now we have an ACEVO staff meeting. At Swedenborg Hall, the home of another great historic charity and again a stone's throw from ACEVO Towers! We had a Directors' Group yesterday so my Directors could tell me what to say. They are now on tenterhooks to see if I do. Or don't !

Then tonight a friend and I go to see a documentary on our marvellous old friend Benazir Bhutto. I helped with it so it will be interesting to see the results. And how poignant at a time of a huge disaster in Pakistan. Somehow I know Benazir would have risen to the challenge in a way the current Government have not, and sadly her former husband has failed lamentably and miserably.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Founders and speaking truth to power!

Every so often you met one of those truly inspiring characters that epitomise our great sector. Jean Stogdon. She founded Grandparents Plus. Having had a career as a social worker she had noticed how attention was always paid to parents, ignoring the fact that significant child care is also carried out by grandparents; this being a growing trend. Little support and advice is given to grandparents and she met with Michael Young, that truly great social entrepreneur (founder of the OU and Which Magazine for example) and he was also struck by the need to support wider kinship networks. So the charity, Grandparents Plus, became Michael's very last venture with Jean before he died.

Now thriving with ACEVO member (Sam Smethers) as CEO and Jean still as Chair, this charity provides strong and effective support to grandparents. Good luck to them. And well done to Jean, an energetic 82 year old Granny!

Jean had come to see me to talk about "Founders Syndrome" as she is giving a talk about this! We swapped stories of founders. Who knows which famous charity founder used to lock staff in a cupboard if they disagreed with her?

And I love the story of Dr Barnado told to me by an academic. He had clear ideas on how to run his charity and was not to be put off by any demands to keep accounts and the like. He was often in trouble with the Charity Commission and with other charities like the Charity Organisation Society, a Victorian body with firm ideas on efficiency in our sector (now surviving as the Family Welfare Association). In particular Dr Barnado had clear views on the role of trustees i.e. he couldn't be doing with them. So at the first, and only meeting of the trustees the minute of the meeting allegedly records that "the Trustees resolved that they would meet again upon the death of the Founder ". I suspect many of my members might have similar views on trustees; though obviously not in ACEVO, he adds hastily.

And talking of charity founders let's note the recent sad death of Lady Anne Tree. She was the daughter of the late Duke of Devonshire, one of the famous Cavendish family, but is particularly noted as the founder of the charity, Fine Cell Work. She had been a prison visitor and had formed the view that while imprisonment was an inevitable part of the criminal justice system it should not mean stifling all creative life and if prisoners could be given something worthwhile, enjoyable and saleable it would mean "their long hours of lonely idleness" could become productive and stimulating instead. She hit on the unlikely idea of needlework! Through her connections she managed to get the idea into operation. But she was determined that the work must be paid; an idea a reactionary Conservative Home Office opposed. She bombarded Ministers with letters to which they never replied. When eventually a junior Tory Minister replied telling her that prisoners creativity was well catered for by making cuddly toys at Christmas she sent a furious reply.

It read, "it's sanctimonious shits like you who've let this country down".

A reply that became famous within the Home Office till Angela Rumbold MP finally met her in 1990 and gave in.

The charity (I don't think her Ladyship would have had truck with that social enterprise stuff) now employs 400 inmates in 30 prisons!

How fabulous is that! What an example. That's what I call "speaking truth to power". No mealy mouthed, oh I better watch my funding, for her. An example I may well have to emulate if the cuts continue!

I was thinking about this as I spent the afternoon at the Department for Communities and Local Government in various meetings on the proposed Localism Bill and on "The Right to Bid". I'm having to go to all sorts of meetings as many of my staff are off on exotic trips. My International Director is on "holiday" in China, my Deputy has just returned from three weeks in Tuscany (naturally), my Director of Strategy in Greece and Euclid director in Uzbekistan; he returned on Monday with a Taliban style beard (which I ordered removed; standards to be maintained, I don't want people thinking I employ hippies or Trots!).

However it's nice to welcome a new ACEVO Director; Katherine Hudson who replaces the wonderful Abby Wright- Parkes who escaped me after five years (how did that happen?). Katherine joins ACEVO Towers from Canal Mansions, aka NCVO where she researched membership. I'm sure she will enjoy the ACEVO magic and dynamism. She is interested in charity history so we are getting on well. I am admirably keeping control of my urge to garner gossip on her previous employer. As if I would!

Tuesday 24 August 2010

No safe place?

So chickens coming home to roost! Recently Nat Wei visited a community organisation in Ealing which he described to the press as "at the cutting edge" in community development. Ealing Council shortly thereafter cut its funding and it may close.

On the day of Nick Clegg's speech on fairness he visited a children's centre in Shepherd's Bush. It was revealed on the day that the Council is also to close the Centre. Now this is happening before the CSR cuts announcements in October. Imaging how many more charities and community organisations are going to be decimated by Health Authorities, Councils and Central Government cuts.

So I predict there will be a sharp decline in Ministerial visits to sector organisations in the coming year.

And it will be fascinating to hear from the forthcoming "Town Hall Tour" organised by DCLG (or is it the Big Society Network?) how responsive civil society is to the call to encourage and organise more volunteering. Perhaps they will be distributing magic wands in place of grant funding?

But I must not be all negative. There are also opportunities here for us to push the sector's delivery role. I bang on and on about how this is more cost effective and better geared to the client. Let me share a great example of the dynamism of one of our members responding to the need to make cuts by proactively seeking business.

"We at St Barnabas Lincolnshire Hospice have secured an expansion of our hospice at home service covering now for the first time the whole of Lincolnshire. Apart from being able to care for more patients, by expanding the service to cover weekends we aim to keep people at home, as per their wish and at the same time save against costly admissions into hospital.

We are also about to expand from five days a week to seven, our palliative care coordination centre, a service that works closely with community nurses, commissioning from a select group of providers, packages of care for people requiring end of life care."

That's the ticket. And many many more ACEVO members are making such approaches and making the case for growth that saves the State money but also provides a better service.

If only more Councils and Health Authorities were looking proactively at this instead of reaching for the axe in a boneheaded macho way we would all be much better off!

And I'm off into work to see a delegation of visiting Japanese academics and sector people who are fascinated by how our sector has grown and how well we work with Government. So I must put on my optimistic face!

Friday 20 August 2010

Labour's trap

An interesting leader article in The Times this week, "Friends, not flatterers" which comments on the Labour leadership campaign and the failure of all candidates to address the concerns of people generally, as opposed to members of the Labour Party.

They comment that the two leading candidates, Ed and David Miliband have "developed policy manifestos that involve preaching to the choir".

Policies that are based on appealing to core voters only, as Ed appears to be proposing in his literature, will not win elections.

As that great columnist Phil Collins writes, "the trouble with the leadership race is that it is all so last century. It's all very Walking with Dinosaurs..."

But what is particularly unwelcome is that candidates seem to want to return the Labour Party to a reactionary "State is best" approach to public services. In their reactions to Cameron's Big Society they are in danger of alienating the third sector and taking Labour back to the days when they treated the voluntary sector as marginal, and often inferior; good at raffles but not to be trusted with the delivery of core services.

You hear echoes of this in remarks about "we don't want a return to the days when people had to rely on charity". This patronising approach both insults the sector and ignores the fact that service delivery through a customer and client focused sector provides both a better and more cost effective service.

There is practically nothing at all in any candidates' literature about their policy towards the sector or public service reform. Indeed the opposite: there are dangerous nods to the role of public sector unions who we know are antagonistic to the sector's role.

There can be no rowing back on the need to radically increase the third sector's role in delivering services. There can be no return to State is best.

The core task for Government now is to get better performance from services that are shrinking. There is a coherent and compelling argument for shifting delivery of services to the third sector; better and user centred service as well as more cost efficient. No candidate is willing to argue that; cowed by the union vote. But real leadership is brave and forward looking, not grubbing for policies that don't scare the horses.

The failure of any candidate to make a coherent critique of Big Society beyond the juvenile "it's a cover for cuts" line and a head in sand approach to the deficit is depressing.

I am surprised particularly by Ed Miliband's reluctance to support the sector. As the country's first Third Sector Minister he has a particular duty to spell out a policy on public services, and to promote our role. He should be championing our delivery role, not pandering to union prejudice.

I was one of the earliest to predict a bright future for Ed as a future PM. An early Blog bears evidence. But Ed, you must do better. And if you win let's see you show leadership; and not just for the Labour Party or its core voters.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Clegg speaks

Today is the Coalition’s hundredth day in Government, and I’ve just returned from Nick Clegg’s speech marking the occasion. A good speech on social mobility and fairness. I was quick to warn him that they are currently in real danger of building their house on the sands of public spending cuts. We continue to get evidence of cuts from members, and this is even before the CSR in October. I am asking members to continue to alert us on cuts.

I get a really shocking email on potential cuts for one particular area of the sector. As a sector we need to be a lot stronger in speaking out against cuts. There seems to be a "keep your heads down and it might go away" approach at the moment. Or worse still, a cowed or cowardly " let's not make a fuss or they might cut us " stance.

This is not sensible on either count. If we are not prepared to speak out we risk damaging our independence. And it rarely protects you anyway.

A great piece of advice I had early on in my career at ACEVO. A former PM was reputed to have said of ACEVO that we always have to pay attention to their view as they carry a strong constituency behind them who matter, and we can never take them for granted - as opposed to a whole bunch of organisations who won't complain whatever we do.

And no one who saw ACEVO in action to defeat the insane proposal from Burnham on preferred provider will doubt our mettle. I don't do doorstep. So ACEVO will work strongly with Government on areas of benefit to sector leaders - as we are doing on commissioning reform and service delivery, but where things are going wrong we will say so.

Clegg talked about how to achieve a fairer society and social mobility. Moving beyond "short termism". He said "promoting social mobility is our top priority; it's a badge of fairness".

This is good, and what is even better is that Alan Milburn is to do work on this. Alan is a good friend and supporter of the sector. He strongly believes in our delivery role and promoted that when in Government. Great to see the marvellous Richard Reeves at the talk - he was the key man behind the Milburn appointment. Good for him.

We have yet to see what substance there is to ideas on fairness and bigger society - difficult to judge on the basis of 100 days after all.

Ipsos Mori have done some interesting polling on Big Society. It shows awareness of the concept is rising and that, on balance people think it good their local area but less think it good for them personally. However 54% think its a good idea in principle "but won't work in practice" and 57% think it is"an excuse for the Government to save money by cutting back on services". When asked if they want to be involved 22% say No. 36% want "information only", 29% want a "say in decisions", leaving only 11% who "want to be actively involved". No surprises there.

ACEVO has published a brilliant guide for the CEO's first 100 days. Click here. It says at the end you need to now plan your next 100 days; reflecting on performance and judging what relationships you have built and those you have failed to build and how to remedy failures to build such relationships. This is particularly true of the failure to develop a strong relationship with the established sector. Instead they are too often relying on, as one of my members put it, "some new people being brought into the loop, a mixed bag - far too many 'new media' (and for profit) luvvies swarming around it for my liking."

Still, rarely can there have been a 100 days in Government where there has been more talk of our sector and the role we can play. Long may that continue.

Clegg and Doctors!

Just on my way to hear Nick Clegg MP give a speech on "Closing the Gap: building an opportunity society". Bizarrely I had a dream last night about it! I was at the speech and I'd asked him about the hypocrisy of BigSoc talk when they were decimating civil society organisations and he said he quite agreed and had told Cameron so. Um. Shall I try it today?

A number of meetings yesterday which turned out to be greatly useful. First with one of my members Hilary De Lyon, who runs the Royal College of GPs, and her enthusiastic and dynamic incoming Chair, Dr Clare Gerada, who turns out to be a Lambeth neighbour of one of the third sector legends and, obviously an ACEVO member, Deborah Arnott, who runs ASH and led the smoking ban campaign thus saving countless lives.

We are working with the Royal College on plans for GP commissioning and how to ensure a role for the sector both in ensuring good processes that are built around people and communities as well as delivery through the sector. GP commissioning could be a great opportunity to develop better public health. It could also be a step back as doctors commission from who they know, not the third sector.

Then a meeting with Reform - the think tank - and Nick Seddon, who as well as being the hugely talented Deputy Director of Reform is also Chair of the Directory of Social Change (CEO Debra a valued ACEVO member). We were also talking about the health reforms as well as the Cameron first 100 days. Reform are publishing their assessment of how the coalition have done today. An interesting read - not least in the fact they quote me on Big Society; " this is either a huge opportunity for the sector or it is a charade ".

Click here for their website.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Rolling in the Gutter at The Express!

One of the more disgraceful pieces of journalism I have read recently was in Monday's Daily Express. An absurd attack on The Charity Commission and its Chair. A picture of Suzi with the caption "has seen her pay top £400,000". They manage this absurdity by adding together her salary over all the past four years she has been in post AND adding in her expenses PLUS the "tax" element you might pay if expenses were taxed!!

I recommend, in the interests of transparency, that the Editor of The Express, and its owner Mr Desmond, publish their earnings, calculated on the same basis. I suspect Suzi will look a pauper by comparison. Still, I suppose for journalists treating their expenses as another source of income is par for the course.

Nevertheless a vicious article which no responsible paper should have printed. Who was behind it I wonder? Who put them up to it? It's not the first time we have seen smear tactics used against the Chair of The Commission, and describing it as a "quango" is a chilling reminder that the charity sector is not immune from unpleasant attacks in challenging favoured establishment perks (the tax exemptions on public schools!).

It's a reminder of how Mrs Thatcher's court attacked and smeared that wonderful charity, Shelter, for daring to highlight the scandal of homelessness in the 80s.

Be warned, as cuts bite and protests from our sector mount, do not imagine we won't see such attacks again. But we must remain true to our role in speaking truth to power and not be cowed.

We shan't!

Monday 16 August 2010

Water Aid and Ancestors

An interesting diversion on my way back to London from Taunton ; I went to stay with Barbara Frost, a magnificent former Vice Chair of ACEVO and now CEO of WaterAid, and her partner Keith Smith of that well known and well respected third sector Consultancy, Compass.

They live in a gorgeous cottage in a quintessentially English village deep in the Somerset countryside.

And just down the road in the village of Marston Biggot is where my Great Grandmother Eliza was brought up. In the quiet and secluded churchyard is the grave of my Great Great grandparents, George and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was born a few years after the Battle of Waterloo and lived to her 90th year in 1908! So there is hope yet for my third decade Lecture at ACEVO!
My Grandfather, Harry, with Eliza his Mother, Aunt Emily, and grandparents George and Elizabeth
The grave nestling under the church yew

And church
It was good to catch up with Barbara. WaterAid are a superb charity and doing a great job in pointing out the importance of water and good sanitation, as well as practical projects (including one in Pakistan). The fact is that diarrhoea claims more lives throughout the world than HIV and Malaria put together.

It has always been a great feature of our British NGOs that they are not content with simply providing Aid and succour to the developing world, they campaign for Governments to tackle the route causes of poverty. As we approach the big UN conference on progress on the Millennium Development Goals the message that aid is good but development better has never been more relevant. When the floods in Pakistan recede the work of rebuilding will start and effective water supplies and better sanitation must be a top priority.

You can learn more about and support the work of WaterAid. Click here.

And we can see the truth of that now in what is happening in Pakistan where the floods themselves have claimed many lives but many more will now fall prey to water borne disease.

WaterAid is keen to give more publicity for the need for better sanitation as well as the need for better water supplies in many parts of the world . Let's support them.

Friday 13 August 2010

Radical, reforming Charity Commissioners!

Well I'm girding my loins, packing my bags and leaving Taunton and The Charity Commission. But not before the indomitable Joyce Watkins has tracked down another Bubb Charity! See her here in the Library.

A certain John Bubb set up two charities in Bradford on Avon in his will of 1846. The first was a substantial sum to repair the Bradford Free school. It had been established in the old Saxon church there but had fallen into disrepair so John left them £50 (subject to match funding - John was clearly a modern sort of guy) for repairs and then a massive, for those days, £300 to be invested to yield an annual income for the school to pay for the education of four poor boys.
His other charity was the John Bubb Coal Charity. He left a magnificent £1,000 for distribution of coal to the poor. But he was no revolutionary and it was only to be sold at half cost price so that only the "deserving poor "would be able to benefit!

Both these charities provided The Charity Commissioners with much trouble! In 1899 there was a formal inquiry by the Commission into the School. The Report of findings indicate a robust Commission! They determined that,

"Whereas the school was established early in the 18th century as a Charity school, which at that time was well understood to mean a place of education for the poor, it was now conducted as a school for the benefit of a class distinguishable from the mass of the poor, who on social or other grounds preferred it to the public elementary schools ".

The Commission therefore proposed that the "school should be closed, the buildings sold and the income used for scholarships for the poor!"

What a radical lot those Commissioners of 1900 were! Remember this was in the days before the "public benefit" test. Or rather they were simply applying the well established and understood notion of charity as primarily intended for the benefit of the poor rather than for the rich.

I commend this decision of their predecessors to our current Commission and look forward to the letter to the Trustees of Eton College pointing out that "whereas your school was established as a charity school for the poor it is now conducted as a school for the benefit of a class distinguishable from the mass of the poor" !

In 1442 King Henry VI founded Eton College. His benefaction stated,

"No one having a yearly income of more than five Marks, shall be eligible". The founding statute provided for 70 poor scholars and 13 "poor infirm men". The current operation of Eton would therefore appear to be a clear breach of trust.

The Pope, St Francis and Big Society

What fascinating things I'm uncovering in the archives down here in Taunton!

A Papal Instruction from Pope Gregory 1X with authorisation for collections for charitable purposes urges the faithful to seek their salvation by bequeathing part of their wealth to the support of pious causes,

"For the day of harvest should be anticipated with works of great mercy, for the sake of things eternal to sow on earth what we should gather in heaven, the Lord returning it with increased fruit."

That was 1215!

Nicholas Carlisle, writing a book on the origins of the great Brougham Commissions of the early 19th century wrote that,

"The origin of alms is of very early date as the kindness of man must always have induced him to compassionate the distress of his species.... from this copious source of commiseration have arisen those numerous establishments of charity...there is scarcely a disease which can afflict human nature or a want which the varying conditions of man can experience , scarcely a course of life for which peculiar aid is necessary or a casualty of evil accident or of the manifold visitations of adversity, but find an open asylum and a refuge for accommodation, reception, comfort, instruction and cure "

That was 1828!

It is also clear how the legal definition of charity has meandered down the ages, and sometimes strayed and distorted what we would normally see as charitable. For those quoted above the whole concept of charity is about bettering and supporting one's fellow human beings. Doing good works. Yet the English legal system, sometimes aided and abetted by a reactive or legalistic Charities Commission have constrained it; not least in sometimes reactionary views on the role of the sector in promoting radical causes and advocating and campaigning for change.

Yet that has also been a defining character of charity as it developed from the 18th century - early examples in the anti slavery and ten hours campaigns or the great charities campaigning against cruelty to children or animals. Not content with works to alleviate distress they wanted laws changed and said so!

It is also interesting to review the changing nature of the role of State and sector, from early times when the two were part and parcel of the same thing (the Church being the principal agent of charity) to post Reformation and the emergence of a secularised charity as the principal source of support, care and delivery with the state's provision limited to a minimal one around the infamous Poor Law, then to a growing realisation that the state has a major and dominant role in providing universal and accountable services to citizens as established post WW2.

But since the 80s we have an increasingly hot debate on the respective roles of charity and the State. Post war there was a political consensus around our Welfare State.

In a debate on the House of Lords in 1960 Lord Packenham said,

"In 1949 no one could be entirely certain how the Conservative Party would take to the welfare state or the Labour Party deal with voluntary services. Today the danger of a conflict on Party lines between the principles of the Welfare State and the principle of voluntary action has disappeared."

How that has now changed!
There is a strong threat that current party political divides around the "Big Society" will break apart that consensus and reopen the debates of the 19th century on the role of the State and individual and voluntary action in a way that is deeply unhelpful to our sector. Back to the divisions between the deserving and undeserving poor.

It is therefore essential for our sector that we resist attempts to co-opt us into a sectarian battle around State v Individual . Already the Big Soc slogan is being used as a dividing line in politics in a way that threatens our Independence. The essence of our sector is that it is "not directed by the state" as Beveridge wrote in 1948.

So our role in promoting the rights of citizens and communities, campaigning for change and reform and speaking out for the marginalised and disadvantaged must be protected and encouraged. The ever looming threat that cuts will damage our civil society means a sector that must stand up and "speak truth to power".
Lord Nathan, who headed an enquiry into the sector in 1950 which led to the Charity Act of 1960 said in debate,

"Democracy could hardly function effectively without voluntary action"

Or as Lord Packenham put it in a Lords debate in 1949,

"We consider that the voluntary sector is the very lifeblood of democracy....they must continue to render great and indispensable service to the community".

Well, I started with the Pope (and how appropriate that I have received an invitation to meet the current Pope on his visit next month!), so I will end with St Francis,

"Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance".

Thursday 12 August 2010

"Big society" nationalised!

I receive an interesting email this morning! It comes from the Government's Department for Communities and Local Government and from a civil servant. It tells me that,

"Over the course of the next four months the Big Society Network is planning a 'Town Hall' tour. We will be hosting public meetings to engage with individuals, those active in civil society and social entrepreneurs on all aspects of the Big Society but in particular how the Network can best support individuals to come together in groups at a local level."

Details on this are on a Government website.

Now I have no problem with the Department organising consultations with the sector (indeed they should) but what is odd, and runs the risk of alienating many in the sector, is to appear to try to co- opt "Big Society" as a Government led and managed project. This risks crossing the divide between the sector's independence from Government. It also raises questions about the sector being co-opted for what are clearly party political ends.

Those who run the Big Society Network may be grateful for the use of Government infrastructure to help promote their work, it is after all itself a very small organisation. But they would be well advised to reflect on how this presents their work to the very groups they are trying to attract and stimulate. Many in the sector may conclude, not unreasonably, that the "Big Society Network" is not a part of civil society, nor a genuine third sector organisation, but a front for Government and one of Government's policies.

As I have said on a number of occasions, the Big Society narrative presents some interesting opportunities for our sector. But that narrative must be one led by our sector, the home of Big Society itself. Given the pressures ACEVO members are under in terms of cuts and rising demand, there is a significant risk of alienation from a programme which seems of Government rather than of the sector.

In terms of the agenda for these events, the email goes on to say that it wants to,

"engage with volunteer groups, social enterprises, businesses, charity groups and neighbourhood networks to bring communities together to talk about shared experiences, answer questions, find out who and what is in their neighbourhood, share knowledge, discuss how to inspire others to become interested in being involved in their local community and link community groups together to create the ambitions of their Big Society."

Note there is no reference to "cuts" or our traditional role as advocates and campaigners! Will there be any room for our sector to raise the problems of the drastic spending cuts on local communities? Would anyone attending and pointing out that organising volunteers costs money encouraged? Will there be any chance to say that the real problem is not in engaging volunteers but in the cuts that will slash support for the old and young, the vulnerable and the disabled?

Is this is an attempt by the Department to undermine the legitimate voice of the sector with a patsy organisation they can use as an alternative voice when our sector protests at the damage to civil society by cuts? Perhaps I'm being paranoid! But you do wonder!

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Loans; an ancient purpose of charity!

Well, no more sermons! The most helpful librarian of The Charity Commission, Mrs Watkins, has searched the archives and found that the Thomas Bubb Charity was removed from the Charity Register in 1991 as it had "ceased to exist"! But it has certainly given me an idea for my Will (he says alarmingly!)

We tend to think that social finance is a new form of charitable activity. But not a bit of it. The making of loans was a very popular feature of charity giving in the Elizabethan era in particular. For example, Lady Burghley gave the Haberdashers' Company a very large sum of money to be lent by them to needy householders and to tradesmen for a term of two years without interest being paid. Other donors gave money to establish a revolving loan fund so that loan money would return and be reinvested to give loans, typically for young people coming out of an apprenticeship and needing money to set up in a trade. So both loans and social enterprise were covered by Elizabethan charities!

Sir Thomas White (Founder of St John's College, Oxford) gave significant sums for loans. For example, he gave a large donation to the City of Coventry to purchase land and the income from that to be given as loans to young tradesmen of the City wanting to be tradesmen.

Bringing this up to date you must wonder why loans and investments for charitable objects fell out of favour until relatively recently. Indeed, contrary to the White example, the Charity Commission have very restrictive advice to charities and Foundations on the use of their reserves.

Many Foundations have very significant endowments. They invest these in stocks and shares etc but fail to invest in social enterprises or other forms of social capital. They could use their endowments to make loans rather than invest in wicked banks. It is time the Charity Commission reviewed its approach and returned to an approach that was widely used at the time of the very definition of charitable purposes in the great 1601 Statute of Elizabeth.

The vast sums in Foundations reserves (its billions indeed!) could be a strong vehicle for the capital growth of our sector. Foundations and Trusts should be looking to a mix of grants and social finance or loans as their forebears did. Interesting that some of these very Trusts are benefiting from the donations of benefactors who encouraged and approved of loan finance! Time for reform. Time for the Charity Commission to revise its advice in this area and encourage Trusts to invest in social enterprise and to make loans !

Tuesday 10 August 2010

"History illuminates the soul" (Lord Acton)

What has happened to Thomas Bubb's Charity I want to know? Set up in his will of 1769 it paid for an annual sermon to be given on Trinity Sunday in the church at Stapleton, Gloucs, "for ever".

Well is it? Clearly I have missed Trinity Sunday this year but shall I check next Trinity? Perhaps those nice people in the Taunton office will check up what has happened to Bubb's charity.

Still, perhaps there is something rather fitting in the fact that I'm here preparing for the Lecture I am to give on September 22nd reflecting on my decade at ACEVO and I discover an ancestor who obviously liked sermons. Perhaps I should dedicate my own "sermon" to Thomas?

The 18th century was a time when many people left legacies for the preaching of sermons. Thomas was obviously a liberal sort of guy as many of the legacies were exact in the nature of the sermon to be preached. "Against Popish practices" was a popular theme. Legacies in a previous age would have been for masses for the souls of the deceased benefactor or for Chantry Chapels but The Reformation and Henry's land grab put a stop to that form of charity.

This is just one of the fascinating things I am turning up in my research at the Charity Commission's Library. I have been looking through the 32 Reports of the great Royal Commission of 1818-1837 set up by Parliament to enquire into the state of charities in England and Wales. A mammoth undertaking which saw Commissioners riding out on horseback into the highways and byways of the country investigating 28,000 charities. They reported to a Parliamentary Select Committee. (So there is a precedent for our demand for such a Select Committee now!).

These are a fascinating read, recording all the wondrous uses of charity at the turn of the 19th century. The many forms of "dole" and the various stipulations of benefactions to the many endowed schools around the country. What colour clothes orphans must wear, what must be taught (often only the classics; a famous Lords' ruling in the case of Leeds Grammar School forbade the teaching of arithmetic on the grounds the benefactor has stipulated only the teaching of the classics!). The "dole" could take many interesting forms. Once, if you appeared at the almshouse of the Hospital of St Cross at Winchester, knocked at the Porter's Lodge and asked for the Wayfarer's Dole, you would be given a loaf and two pints of wine! And even today the dole is still available - although this is now only a small beaker of beer and a morsel of bread.

It was not till 1860 that a Charity Commission was established as a permanent body.

I checked out the entries for my own dear Charlbury. The visitation occurred in 1823. There were two charities in existence. The Mrs Walker Charity which provided a school for poor boys in Poor Boys Close (where is this I wonder as the name has disappeared in more PC times?). Then there was the Thomas Gifford charity, established in the great Elizabethan age at a not dissimilar date from when my own lovely Armada Cottage in Charlbury was built in 1587. In fact this charity is still in existence, although still I believe in discussion with the Charity Commission on various changes they want to make. It made a not necessarily advantageous land sale where there had been a British National School supported by the charity, in order to fund a Community Centre. We are now having to raise the money locally. But it is an illustration of how long lived is our charitable tradition.

Now I'm just off for another day in the archives!

Monday 9 August 2010

Giving Part 2 and Brussels

A rather pertinent comment on my Blog deserves wider thought. It takes me to task on my diatribe re the rich giving more!

It points out Americans have a strong culture of giving back! For example in some Unis there is a huge proportion of alumni giving.

JJ goes on to say,
"What effect does this have on philanthropy in general? Third Sector organisations - if they want a piece of the pie - have to raise their games to compete. Above all, they have to offer a far more positive experience for philanthropists. Donors rightfully expect some say over where their money goes, as well as recognition; there is a variety of different areas on offer to which one can contribute. Donors have their names on things - a bit uncouth to us, perhaps, but you can always let donors choose to name buildings/places/scholarships something else. Hank Paulson (Goldman Sachs CEO and ferocious All-Eastern offensive tackle) endowed a coaching position named not after himself, but after his own much-admired head coach.

Perhaps the Third Sector might do likewise? All you seem to be saying is that THEY - some amorphous yet ultimately malign mass of greedy bankers etc - should give us their money, because they are presumably bad people in need of having their guilt expiated by the virtuous charity sector. Why not, rather, offer philanthropists something more positive for their money? Paying tax is a burdensome duty; giving to charity should be a worthwhile and fulfilling choice.

And the day someone tries to guilt trip me into giving is the day I buy a yacht."

The fact that this is my nephew Julian commenting is interesting! Now in his final year at Keble after terms at Tubingen in Germany and at Dartmouth in the States. He is clearly going far. In his new yacht!

But this American culture of giving has its drawbacks. Much of it is focused on the arts and universities. Indeed in the States 9 out of 10 recipients of the largest donations were such institutions. Less popular causes struggle. Mental health and disability, support for marginalised communities such as migrants or asylum seekers do not share in the great American generosity.

This is a lesson we have to learn as the state shrinks here. Many charitable causes will not be able to make up the loss of grant or support from Government. This is even more so as Jeremy Hunt, our Culture Minister, ruthlessly cuts back on arts and heritage funding so ensuring more competition for scarce giving.

Ruth Sutherland, writing in The Observor, whilst applauding the example of Warren Buffett argues,

" however impeccable their motives and character, it would be folly to rely on the rich and famous to cure our social ills. High profile campaigns might crowd out less glamorous, but no less serving causes: cute kids will trump Meals on Wheels in Swindon.....many charities are small local concerns, liable to be overlooked by your average tycoon. "

And she concludes,

" So by all means let's praise Buffett and his billionaires. But let's not pretend charity can make up for poor business ethics or that it is a substitute for a fairer and more equal society."
In this country nearly half of the income of our sector comes from grants and contracts for service delivery. It is that which is currently under threat.
The American example has sparked a lot of media debate. That is to the good. Will it spark more giving in the UK. The current DEC appeal for Pakistan will show if that is the case.

And I am also going far. On a train to Taunton. I'm having a research week and spending it in the Library of the Charity Commission. They have a splendid collection of books on the history of charity. I'm fascinated by our country's long and proud charity tradition and want to speak on this in my decade lecture in September.

Great news on the Euclid front. Euclid Network has secured the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice President of the European Commission, Catherine Ashton, to deliver the keynote speech at its Annual General Meeting on September 14 in Brussels.

Cathy Ashton will be presenting her ideas for the first time on how civil society can be active in European foreign policy.

‘This is a great opportunity for our members. I remember a special evening we had in Brussels three years ago at a previous AGM, when we had Peter Mandleson speaking at a dinner with members.

The AGM will take place at the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels on 14 September. It will be open to all ACEVO and Euclid members. Contact jenna.collins@euclidnetwork.eu for details.

Friday 6 August 2010

A Day of Members

One of the advantages of August is that there are significantly less meetings so I always try and use time to meet with members.

Yesterday was a bumper one. First up; Jane Slowey who runs the impressive Foyer Foundation (as well as spare time hobbies like Chairing Skills Third Sector!). She gave me an incredible example of the power of our sector and our imagination. She is working on a "young offenders academy" in East London. No, not a school for better burgling! The idea is a campus which as a range of facilities and interventions from a secure unit, run as a Young Offenders Institution under the Prison service but managed and run by a third sector-private partnership, then hostel and training facilities providing intermediate treatment and support.

The reality of many kids in East London is that when they offend and get a sentence they will be shipped off around the country - the nearest YOI is in Feltham. So their often tenuous connections with local communities are fractured and then they are dumped back with no effective support. And, surprise, surprise, the cycle of re-offending commences...

A brilliant example of the sector coming up with a practical and sensible answer to youth offending. It is a scheme Government must support. We need more such examples. This is Big Society in action. Us determining what it is. Not the State.

Then I met with one of our corporate members, Deloitte. Mary Reilly, a senior partner, who leads on the third sector is a powerhouse! We talked about how we can work together on developing the case for better access to capital in the sector and on Trustee development. Mary was right to highlight the risk averse nature of many Trustees and how they do not use the opportunity of audit to ask wider questions of strategy and direction and fail to use their Annual Report to make the case on impact. We will be doing work with them here.

Then it was off to lunch with Terry Ryall who runs v, the great youth volunteering charity that is supporting initiatives to increase volunteering across the country. And they do this through empowering a multitude of third sector bodies; large and small, local and national. It is embedded in the sector. It delivers through sector organisations. This again is the correct model for Big Society. The state providing the needed finance but letting the sector determine delivery.

Then back to meet an old friend Lola Barret of Grenfell Housing Association. She runs an impressive Housing Association in South London and they have a particularly successful scheme to provide mentoring to young people entering the labour market and sticking with them. They provide excellent training. Lola is an active ACEVO member. She is a real example of the dynamism in local community organisations. She also Chair's Merton CVS. I went to visit her and see her new office (then being developed ) some two years ago. The office is now finished. Not yet opened. I suggested the Queen to do the launch!

Just time to fit in a trip off to the BBC in White City to do an interview for the World Tonight on the national citizen service, where I have been highlighting the need for a more diverse and inclusive approach. It was interesting that they told me it had been difficult to find anyone in the sector prepared to put their head above the parapet on this, though they and I know there is widespread criticism of the scheme. But whilst others talk of "independence" ACEVO will always stand up and defend and promote the CEO voice. Rt Hon Francis Maude MP said to me at our Tory Summit we should hold their feet to the fire. ACEVO will do that. Not in a headbanging, or mindless oppositional fashion, but with constructive criticism and proposals on how to change.

And finally; off to the Proms again. And this time,what an evening! Valery Gergiev conducted a highlight of the Proms celebrations marking the composer's 150th anniversary. He was conducting the World Orchestra for Peace, conceived by Georg Solti as an assembly of first-rate players from around the world to promote peace.

Mahlers 5th symphony is a quite incredible work. I've heard it on disc, and of course the slow movement is the haunting theme music of the film "Death in Venice". That bit in particular was achingly beautiful. You could have heard a feather drop when it was played. A massive audience wrapped up in the music. And a timber rattling finale.

I had taken my niece, Miranda, a great pianist herself. Here she is enjoying it all!

Valery Gergiev takes a bow at conclusion of fabulous Mahler's 5th.

And as I leave I get a text message from one of my Trustees, "Great interview". I hadn't been able to hear my piece on World Tonight as Mahler was in full swing. Good end to a good day!

Thursday 5 August 2010

Progressive Cuts?

I am getting some interesting feedback from my email to ACEVOmembers about how to deliver more cost effective services.

A couple of examples demonstrate the dilemma for government. Indiscriminate and unthinking cuts will seriously damage the very civil society they want to promote and expand. And the very cost effective services we could provide will not be expanded, but cut.

Here is a note I got from Stephanie Meikle who is the General Manager of the Harrogate Skills 4 Living Centre. She gives a concrete example of the type of person they can support better through their own service delivery as well as saving money. Here is a typical case study fictionalised for our purposes :

Miss V.
Miss V is a 48 year old woman with learning disabilities and diabetes,living in her own tenancy with supported living services, domiciliary care and daily personal care provision.

Miss V is known to the NHS as disabled because she uses an electric wheelchair to get about.
Miss V visits the GP, the Dentist and the Optometrist on a weekly basis. She is currently accessing community psychiatric services for behavioural support. She also attends our 3rd sector day service, where she attends 5 adult education sessions per week.

Miss V has been attending our service for several years and we are fully aware that she has no physical disability, does not require personal support, manufactures health problems etc in order to obtain the attention of health service providers. When she is not taking part in our day services she self-harms, makes repeated telephone calls to her support services, emergency services and others as she feels lonely and desires attention.

We are uniquely placed to be able to co-ordinate a care packages for Miss V, as we have knowledge of her history, contacts with her family and knowledge of her daily routines and behavioural issues.

If Miss V could access our support all week, she would not be impacting so heavily on NHS and other statutory services. The cost difference would be an increase of £55 per week for day care but a major saving on GP and related health care services.

We would be able to provide holistic support including getting her to relinquish her wheelchair use, and supporting her to reduce her self-harming. We could liaise with her CPN to address her behavioural issues and work with the GP practice so that she contacts them on a more appropriate basis.

A smarter contract with ourselves would enable us to carry out collaborative work with statutory services. Feedback mechanisms would enable us to follow any protocols established by the CPN and would mean that services such as personal care are not put in place unnecessarily.

This case is but an example of the 102 adults with a learning disability who currently attend the adult education centre.
The dilemma is that this would require more money to be spent on the Miss Vs to save money elsewhere in the system. How can we move to a spending system that works across Government. The danger is that centres like this will be potential target for council cuts rather than expansion .

Now let's look at prisons and rehabilitation that has been such a focus for the new Government.
Patricia Rogers is the Chief Executive of Kainos Community. She writes,

"We have delivered the ‘Challenge to Change’ Programme now for over 13 years, to great effect in contributing towards a real reduction in re-offending, with 87% of those who complete the programme not returning to prison.

This reduction of re-offending against what would normally be expected, has also made massive savings . We have a paper showing a conservative cost saving of £8 million from our programme. Any cost associate with delivering our programme can be exceeded several times over by the savings made.

Although the policy of the government would be to commission programmes, that have a proven ability to make changes to offenders and to reduce costs, it would seem that ‘on the ground’ there are great risks to programmes such as ours because of the need to make large savings. This is in spite of the fact that we can show that we do reduce the risk of re-offending as well as make long term savings to society through the work we do.
I received a letter only a couple of weeks ago from the DOMS office in one of the regions where we work which included this paragraph:
‘As you know, NOMS will be looking to make significant savings over the next few years, and we cannot rule out the possibility of de-commissioning in the future, even if the programme is delivered as we would wish’.
This concern has been heightened by a recent meeting which focused on knowing exactly how much notice was needed to give us to terminate our SLA.
At another prison the governor told me that although he wanted our programme to remain as it brought great benefit to his prison as a whole he feared that the cuts that he needed to make meant that our programme could be asked to go.
Informal discussion with various people in the prisons seems to indicate that prison staff feel threatened by this new approach and those in the prison psychology service fear that their programmes will be cut as they can’t show cost savings or reductions in re-offending . Consequently they will not take on new external programmes and are actively trying to de- commission external providers such as ourselves to protect their own programmes. "

And a similar problem is demonstrated by the health service and a response I received from a CEO of a hospice

"The hospice this year has a budget of £5m, employs 150 staff and has 1000 volunteers to help the people in its community. The NHS employs some 25-30 people in palliative care. The logic is that we could achieve a far better integrated service if the hospice absorbed those NHS staff, which we could do very easily and quickly.

NHS are trying to decide where their community services are due to go with the demise of the PCT itself. It has produced an "Engagement Document" asking for views about where some £90m of services and 2500 staff should go, within which is its Palliative Care Services. The document is hugely weighted towards finding an NHS solution and the option of allowing independent sector providers is quite erroneously dismissed as "Unlikely to be deliverable in the timescales allowed".

So we see a bureaucracy and a system that will undermine any attempt to secure radical change. Unless the Government gets to grip with this cuts will be regressive and damage the fabric of civil society. Not the progressive cuts that we have heard so much about.

Giving; a great example!

40 billionaires in the States have promised to give at least half their wealth to charity. The sums quoted in the media are mouth watering. $9m from Bloomberg for example. An incredible example.

Warren Buffet who has pledged all his wealth to charity, has spearheaded this new philanthropy drive.
It is a crying shame that in the UK the poor give a bigger proportion of their income to charity than the rich.

So how about a similar example set by billionaires in the UK? We have enough of them.

How about the British Bankers Association asking their members to ensure all those receiving bonuses are urged to follow the example of those in the States and give half to charity?

How about the CBI and Institute of Directors writing to their members in similar vein?

As cuts start to damage the fabric of our civil society we need the rich to consider their responsibilities to others. Buying a raffle ticket or the occasional cycle ride for charity is fine, but we need a stronger drive to philanthropy in the UK. And we need examples like we have just seen in the States.

Great to see that marvellous organisation, the Disasters Emergency Committee, led by ACEVO member Brendan Gormley, swinging into action to support the flood victims in Pakistan. A moving appeal on the BBC this morning. Let's all give generously. To go to the DEC Pakistan Floods Appeal click here.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

History and Cuts!

As I move around London between meetings, whenever I get the chance I pop into a church: for a few moments reflection, but also because London churches are such a treasure store. Just recently I went into St Andrew's in Holborn, just opposite the Social Investment business HQ. There I discovered the tomb of the Founder of that great children's charity Coram - its been delivering children's services since 1739. Indeed it has one of the earliest examples of a public service delivery contract; reached with HMT to provide children services. It had such poor terms that Coram later withdrew from the contract. Some would say certain things never change!

Yesterday I was passing st Mary Woolnoth and discovered it has the tomb of John Newton, former Rector, but better known as the author of "Amazing Grace" which has for ever become associated as the anthem of the magnificent movement to abolish slavery. Father Newton was well known for preaching against slavery and was a close friend of William Wilberforce. In his 2007 biography of Wilberforce, William Hague MP wrote that Wilberforce remembered hearing Newton preach as a young boy; he wrote "Newton was a man of great presence and his preaching made a deep impact on the young Wilberforce who remembered, "reverencing him as a parent when I was a young child".

On his memorial stone is inscribed the words "Friend of the people of Africa" .

It is useful to remember that the campaign against slavery was led by civil society organisations and churches back at the beginning of the 18th century. An early example of "Big Society" and a reminder that often what draws civil society together is protest. As cuts gather pace I suspect we shall see more of civil society in action; protesting the damage cuts are doing to our communities. I'm not sure that was quite what the progenitors of the "Big society Network" had in mind when they were developing their website? Indeed I see from press reports that you will have to pay to join the network. So much for volunteering! And quite why we need another third sector body or umbrella organisation beats me. Or perhaps we are to have a Government approved "Big Society" as opposed to the the actual existing network of civil society that has been developed over the centuries in the face of injustice and oppression and a burning desire to do better for our fellow citizens. Those who want to tame us into an extended neighbourhood watch or substitute for state delivery beware!

So back to cuts. Last year ACEVO made a "Big Offer" to Government; to use the sector to deliver more cost effective services through third sector organisations.

Francis Maude MP and Nick Hurd MP have made a request to all the sector to come forward with ideas for savings and for more effective delivery of public services. ACEVO is putting together its own suggestions and yesterday I wrote to all my members asking them to respond positively.

So I also put that request to all my readers. You can send ideas to the Cabinet Office. Nick has assured me that every idea submitted to them will be examined by civil servants. When they did a similar exercise for the public sector they had over 60,000 responses.

I want us to do even better.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

The Banks

Aren't they wonderful! So good that they have returned to profitability (though not through any support for small business or the third sector). As Newsnight presciently put it "The Banks are rolling in money again, so why are they not lending to us? ".

The banks PR remains a marvel. Did you read about one of them describing how RBS's Goodwin had been victimised in the same way as the Nazis had behaved to the Jews on Kristallnacht! Last time I noticed he was nursing his millions in Scotland rather than incarcerated in a concentration camp. A disgusting example of how arrogant bankers can be. I bet that guy gets a bonus too!

And they are still failing to loan to charities and social enterprises. If the sector is to grow we will need access to capital. If we stand any hope of competing successfully in the DWP Work Programme we will need capital. And talking to members who have been approaching the banks for loans to underpin their work programme contracts most are reporting nil response.

Will the Big Society Bank fill the gap. Answer is No. An interesting piece on "You and Yours" with the guy from the Co-op, who are running the dormant asset fund saying eventually they may have £400m but much further down the line. Initially he says it will be only £60-£100m. Now that is helpful obviously, and the banks ought to be getting their act together in handing over the money, but it will meet only small scale loan applications.

So more action is required by Government. Government needs to exercise its shareholder stake in Lloyds and RBS to force them to loan to SMEs and the third sector. We need a UK Community Reinvestment Act. The banks need to look at support for community banks and other existing institutions in the sector like the community development finance bodies, as well as more Government support for SIB and others to make loans to supposedly "unbankable" proposals from the third sector.

And talking of Newsnight, did you see their spot on "Big Society" in Hastings? Nick Hurd being interviewed over tea on a roundabout! He did admirably well to keep a straight face.

I too had an interview yesterday, though fortunately not on a roundabout, though I did need to do a walkabout in my office as well as the more formal interview. For Sky. On Big Society. One thing has to be said for the concept, I doubt if our sector has ever had such a spell in the media, or had quite so many policy wonks pouring over us!

Monday 2 August 2010


The recent Lambeth County Show, in that undiscovered London treasure Brockwell Park, was a riot of music, fun fares, flower stalls and general bric-a-brac and, importantly, lots of charity stalls. A great collection of brilliant local and national charities, and many Lambeth branches of national charities from Lambeth Autism through Alzheimer's, MS, to the Brixton and Herne Hill Societies. I got a rather fine Chrysanthemum plant from Arthritis Care!
And I joined up to the Friends of Windmill Gardens and put my name down to volunteer! Windmill Gardens is the site of Brixton's Windmill. Yes, an actual Windmill. Here it is:

It's just the other side of the Prison and my London house. A small Housing Association estate that has its own community garden and a small park much beloved by my wonderful Hound. Over the years (indeed believe it or nor 32!) I have been in Lambeth I have been involved in a whole range of charities and even set one up! It will be good to volunteer for this great local organisation. They have won Lottery funding to renovate the Windmill and Park. Excellent. Pop up and see it. Just up Brixton Hill. Amazing what you can find in London!