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.


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