Tuesday 30 November 2010

FEBEA, Public Health and Snow !

In a freezing, snowy Brussels for a meeting of the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks. I'm here to discuss ways in which the EU can promote and develop social finance and loans for third sector organisations.

We are investigating the potential for a European taskforce on social finance so I meet with the heads of some of Europe's top social banks and co-operatives at lunch time for a chat to see what is possible.

And, most important, it's off to see the Chef de Cabinet of the European President of the EU. That proves to be most useful. Indeed important to the development of the taskforce. The fact that I knew Richard Corbett at Oxford, naturally, does help I'm sure.... but I must say no more!

The EU is a strange bureaucratic institution. The buildings exude a sort of depressing public sector style - they have clearly been designed by committees. What they need is a strong does of Euro third sector. Sweep way the cobwebs and let in the fresh air of life as it really is.

And yet this is the bureaucracy we need to use to our advantage. The mistake that many Brits make is to think it's all too tedious and un Anglo-Saxon so we do not engage. And so lose out. Hence the glaring failure of so much of the UK's third sector to access funds (though the Eurocrats do make that somewhat difficult!).

And now it's snowy London. How fantastic to pull back the curtains this morning to see the snow falling and the pristine whiteness of my garden (prior to Hound jumping all over it - she likes the snow too!).

I decided on my brightest Duchamp tie for today. The one with in your face sunflowers so I cheer everyone up at work!

I was off to a session with Stephen Dorrell MP, the Chair of the Health Select Committee, together with the CBI to talk about our work on private-third sector partnerships. A good meeting as we ruminated on whether the Government reforms will open up the NHS to more innovation and a bigger role for the third sector and independent providers.

A propitious day to talk health as the White Paper on Public Health is published. I believe the move to Local Government is potentially good. But it will depend entirely on how Councils react. As they seem busy on cutting support for the third sector the portents are not good. It is absurd to think you can develop good public health policies without the partnership of the third sector. Our advocacy and advice role, as well as the provider role, must underpin good public health programmes. And the third sector must play a major role in the health and well being boards! And will we? I expect we will see a range of Councils forgetting to have anyone from the sector involved. We shall see. But Bubb is watching.

Monday 29 November 2010

Amazing Grace!

The Harvard Professor Robert Putnam has become somewhat of a sector guru. Why, David Cameron even had him flown in to talk about civil society and his views on it all.

He became famous for his book "Bowling Alone". This pointed to the crucial role that civil society and third sector organisations play in underpinning a vibrant democracy and a healthy society.

Yet he also worried that many people were becoming less involved in organisations in civil society. He illustrated that by arguing people were going bowling but fewer were joining teams. It was a symbol of what he saw as an increasingly individualistic and atomised culture. Our bonds of belonging or "social capital" were growing weaker.

He has written a new book "American Grace" and it's worth looking at his arguments there.

He argues that one powerful source of social capital still exists; religion. This brings people together in shared communities and mutual responsibility. Evidence (remember this is America) defined by regular attendance at a place of worship makes better neighbours. Frequent church or synagogue attenders are more likely to give to charity (whether religious or not) and more likely to volunteer donate blood or help a neighbour for example.

They are also significantly more active citizens; more likely to belong to community organisations or voluntary organisations and more likely to be involved as office holders. They are disproportionately represented among local activists for social and political reform.

Importantly this is more based on the frequency people attend rather than simple religious belief.

Let's beware drawing the wrong conclusions from all this in the UK! Indeed there is far too much unintelligent importing of American ideas on social welfare at the moment. An interesting article in The Observer in Nov, "How Britain's welfare reforms were born in the USA", showed just how persuasive American models were. This is not necessarily a good thing. Taking examples from a culturally specific contact and transplanting them willy nilly is foolhardy. And some will end in tears.

As The Observer article pointed out in relation to their welfare approach,

"One US phenomenon that might serve as a warning is that of the so-called 99ers –people who lost their jobs and have been unable to find work for 99 weeks – the point at which their unemployment welfare is turned off. There are now upwards of 1.4million 99ers in America facing a life with no benefits and few prospects for finding a job in a market in which companies are still not hiring."

Back to the book! It is a fact that the Church in Britain in particular has played a crucial role in developing charity. Indeed, as I pointed out in my recent Lecture for centuries the role of church and charity was the same.

Click here to read it.

And today we can see among ACEVO's membership, faith groups play an important role. We have a special interest group that brings those members together. So let's celebrate the contribution they make.

And let's also remember this isn't just about jam and Jerusalem. The faith groups play a crucial role in social action. Just remember the role they played in make poverty history.

And never mind "American Grace", let's remember Amazing Grace, the hymn written by an Anglican priest, Fr Newton, a great friend of Wilberforce, who campaigned against the slave trade and his hymn became the anthem of all those who stood up against a recalcitrant establishment for universal human rights.

Our sector will always stand up to support the oppressed. Our voice is going to be much needed over the coming years.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Rock on , Dame Suzi!

Fantastic to wake up on a frosty morning ,putting the croissants in the oven, to spot the front page of The Times. The Chair of the Charity Commission warning universities that they could loose their charitable status if they don't ensure admissions from all classes in society. She is right on. And it's fantastic to have her using her position to speak out. She also warns of the dangers of smaller charities losing support and the problems for the Big Society idea if charities cannot play a full and expanding role. We all know that wretched local councils are slashing budgets for our sector. One Council Leader I know blithely asserted that " we will be able to fundraise instead ".

It is great to have the Chair of our regulator speaking up for us and asserting the role and importance of the sector. Speaking truth to power is at the core of our task. And whilst I for one will always assert the vital mission of charities and social enterprises in delivering public services I will aloso have no fear in reminding Governmentswhen they get thngs wrong.

It may be relatively new for the Charity Commission to tale such a high profile role but in these difficult times it is crucial they do. So rock on, Dame Suzi ,we need you ! And when we see the inevitable smear stories emerging about her , let's ensure our sector makes clear it's support for her. This is not the times for ducking behind fences or running for cover!

Friday 26 November 2010

Adieu Leeds

It's always interesting to be in a conference with health professionals. You get an inkling of their strange closed culture where acronyms abound and patients intrude but rarely. Not that they are not fine people with great brains, but our health service is too dominated by the professional and there is not enough interaction with patients or citizens.

We have to hope that the Lansley reforms will encourage a better approach. This will happen especially if the role of our sector expands.

I see that happening through our role both as providers and as a voice for patients and communities. So many organisations in health and social care both provide a focused client based service but also advocate and campaign on citizens behalf. RNIB or RNID , MIND and Rethink ,Diabetes UK or Action on smoking, lots of local support groups provide an extremely important role which we now need to capitalise on.
There is a real challenge for our sector in engaging in GP commissioning. We need to be in their with the GPs persuading them we can support wellness as well as tackling sickness. We can provide the patient voice. And we can deliver cost effective services.

Our host at Leeds Castle was Baroness Julia Cumberledge. An old friend from her days in the 80s when she was a health minister. She greeted me warmly!"Have you still got that marvellous old leather suitcase?". She said it had always amused her and officials that this young radical(yes, that's me! had this old traditional case. But then ,as I said, I have always believed in the strong confluence of radicalism and tradition.

Although there are said to be 3 ghosts here I failed to spot Martyred Ancestor wandering the grounds carrying severed head. Shame as I'd have liked to see the bloody visage to spot any facial similarities! I did however see the Constable's quarters, where GG12, Sir Edward Neville lived during his tenure here .

Sir Edward is on the official Catholic Encyclopedia of English Martyrs and as a descendant I think this should confer a certain holiness on me. Indeed protect me from criticism. Either that or, as the head hunter David Fielding said, it showed a remarkable lack of political savy!

And the cold but sunny weather was glorious as I walked out around the moat this morning.

But with snow coming there is a need for log fires!

Well , all good things come to an end and its' back to Brixton, via the solicitors to sign my Will. So did you take advantage of the charity make a Will month I wonder? Never know when the next beheading is coming eh!

Big Society Bank

An exciting report by Sky News business editor is worth reporting in full.

"Britain’s high street banks are in talks to commit more than £1bn to a community projects-focused ‘Big Society Bank’ as part of an unprecedented pact being thrashed out between the industry and Government, I have learned.

Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander UK are close to agreeing to fork out hundreds of millions of pounds each to the project, which has been given the secret codename Project Merlin.

David Cameron has pledged to establish a Big Society Bank to fund major community projects. Money from dormant bank accounts will be provided to help set it up.

I can also reveal that the ongoing talks between the banks could result in an extraordinary series of pledges being made (almost certainly privately) by the Government.

These could include a commitment to maintain a regulatory level playing field; an agreement “not to impose any further UK-specific payroll, activities or transactions taxation” on the industry, according to somebody involved in the talks; and a deal with the City regulator to offer favourable treatment to the capital provided by the banks for the new Big Society initiative.

According to a document circulating in Whitehall, a copy of which I’ve obtained, the banking sector will play a pivotal role in David Cameron’s Big Society agenda by helping to establish a new institution that will “act as a sustainable provider of wholesale finance to Community Development Finance Institutions across the UK”.

“In addition to surrendering funds from dormant accounts, the Merlin banks agree to advance the Big Society in two ways. First, they will continue to support communities through institution-specific initiatives, through which they currently contribute £[x]m per annum (in cash or in-kind) and expect and intend to maintain that rate of investment,” the document says.

“Second, they will support the successful construction of the Big Society Bank…including, subject to objectives, business plan and structure, the injection of £[x]m of capital over two years, commencing in the first half of 2011.”

My understanding is that the total amount committed by the five participating banks could be between £1bn and £1.5bn over two years although the numbers have not yet been finalised. On top of last year’s Bank Payroll Tax on bonuses, and the new bank levy, that’s not an insignificant sum.

If a final agreement can be struck, the pledge would be an extraordinary one from the banking industry, and would form part of a wider pact aimed at delivering a ceasefire in hostilities between the banks and Government."

If this is true it is superb news for the sector and a major breakthrough. One of my concerns about basing a Bank on just dormant accounts would not give enough capital access. It is estimated that only some £60m would be available at the start.

Against demand this is triffling. When Futurebuilders closed loan applications were running at £60-90m a month.

But we also know that the commercial banking sector is poor to pathetic at lending to the third sector.

To get the scale we need I always thought at least 1-2 billion was needed. Against the background of the service delivery reforms, we need proper access to capital funds. Unless there is effective access we cannot compete for tenders where payments are based on outcomes.

Francis Maude's plans for mutuals require capitalisation. That will not come from local councils or health authorities.

So I'm hoping this story proves accurate. It is what it is needed. If true the government have pulled off a blinder. Congratulations.

Thursday 25 November 2010

At Leeds Castle!

Attending the Sir Roger Bannister Leeds Castle Summit, hosted by the NHS Confederation. Well where else would you discuss the future of the NHS? Henry VIII refurbished it for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, before going on to take a radical hack at the Church and grabbing its assets! Is that why we are here? A commentary on Andrew Lansley's plans for the NHS?

ACEVO has being working closely with the Department of Health on reform plans and how we can help reshape the health and social care systems to place third sector organisations more in the driving seat.

As citizens and communities demand a bigger say in their health care, as demographics and spending challenges drive innovation our health service is changing. We need to ensure that is for the better.

And I have an added reason to be at Leeds Castle, as I told the delegates to much amusement! My Great-grandfather 12 was the Constable of Leeds Castle - during the time of Henry. Appointed in 1534, Sir Edward Neville had a brief tenure as he was beheaded at the Tower in 1538 for his adherence to the Roman Catholic faith and opposition to Henry's marriage.

So an ancestral "speaking truth to power" gene perhaps? I hope I carry on the tradition, though possibly not to the point of losing my head!

Bedroom fit for a CEO.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Glamour and unappealing local Councils.

It was a glittering affair. Old Billingsgate. The Guardian Public Sector Awards (I had been one of the judges). I'm a terrible fidget at these things. Hardly in my seat for the first course before off to work the other tables.

Had a good chat with Rt Hon Francis Maude MP who had made the opening speech. Then spotted my magnificent Vice chair, Allison Ogden-Newton, CEO of Social Enterprise London, ensconced on one of the top tables with Jeremy Vine of the BBC, Darra Singh (who runs job Centre plus for the time being until the third sector takes them over) and some grand designer chap whose name escapes me but is frightfully famous.

Lots of my members there looking glam. Andrew Barnett of Gulbenkein spreading delicious gossip, Paul Farmer of MIND, Steve Moore of the BigSocNetwork and many others who I probably failed to spot as a result of my increasing myopia and the general romantic candlelight gloom.

I had arrived late (so missing the so called champagne reception; dreary Cava I suspect but times are hard!) as I had been Chairing the Social Investment Board. Key plans to develop and discuss. We are setting up a taskforce to look at the future of social investment against the background of huge opportunities to capitalise the sector over the next decade. You read it here first.

Local Authorities are proving a major obstacle for the sector. Yesterday we had the first of three meetings being held between us, NCVO and NAVCA and the Local Government Association in Leeds. Turnout from local Councils was dreadful. Junior officials - I guess their bosses are far to busy putting the finishing touches to the cuts package for their local charities to bother coming to talk to us.

Two more to go with Stuart speaking in London next month and me in Bristol in January. But unless the LGA promise to actually get an appropriate level of attendance I doubt we shall bother. It's insulting. Clearly Big Society is Small Deal as far as Council Leaders are concerned.

My Deputy has written a fantastic article for The Guardian on BigSoc. Worth reading. Click here.

'Big society' has little resonance, says Acevo's deputy chief executive Dr Kyle. "David Cameron's key idea has so far fallen short of the community-led approach which it promised."

But it explains why the idea behind this is worth supporting and developing and why the sector should take advantage of the opportunity it represents.

But what to do with local Councils? The Localism Bill is out shortly. Some good things their on right to bid and acquire assets but if they are simply decimating sector organisations the very infrastructure of civil society is damaged, and thus our ability to rise to challenges of community empowerment.

ACEVO is holding a private dinner between some of our members and Council CEOs on 1st December. We shall be having a frank exchange.

And finally I do listen to my readers' concerns! So. "Anon" I accept your comment on readability (echoed by my sister Lucy so I'd better take note) and we have changed the background! Hope Robin approves.

Friday 19 November 2010

Watch it !

BBC Children in Need is on tonight at 7pm on BBC One. Tune in to watch the exciting appeal, where people around the country will be doing their bit to raise money for disadvantaged children and young people across the UK. Hosted by Terry Wogan and Tess Daley, the seven-hour show will come live from BBC Television Centre and will feature some of the UK’s top TV, musical and theatrical personalities and acts. It's a great third sector organisation. Let's all support our colleagues !!!

Commonwealth Big Society,Bills and colds..

So I end my BigSooc week by talking to a consultative session of commonwealth associations about whether this idea has traction across other countries. I have been a member of the Commonwealth's Civil Society advisory committee for some years , extolling the virtues of a bigger sector. I said hay our role is two fold. To expand our delivery of citizen focused services and to promote a healthy democracy. A strong civil society makes for a strong dmwocracy. As one of my colleagues from our umbrella sector says in his strap
Ine, " dissent improves democracy".

As I make my weary way home to nurse my incipient cholera, I hear that the private members bill sponsored by Tory MP Chris White got through it's first stage. The " Public Services ( social enterprise and social value ) Bill. The key part is to put a duty on public sector commissioners to take into account added social and environmental value when assessing tenders. Acevo and all the key umbrellas have been backing this. But of course it goes nowhere without Government support. Putting social value at the heart of government commissioning as the bill proposes would revolutionise the way public money is spent in this country. It would enable all third sector organisations to do more, commissioners to get better value, and people across the country to benefit from better services.

So the task is to lobby Ministers for their support. Acevo has already started. This will not be easy. When officials realize the implications they will fight it. However Nick Hurd did indicate at the great 3SC reception in the Commons on Wednesday that they will consider supporting this as it runs along Big Society lines.It was great to see Harriet Baldwin MP and my Vice Chair on the Social Investment Business eaking in support of the Bill and showing how SIB has been able to grow organisations to take advantage of public service reck through loans.

I'm lookin forward to a quiet weekend and getting over my grumpiness and illness. Have been causing havoc with my cold ( or cholera). I wasn't able to make the meeting of the DCLG third sector advisory group and they were most put out as they had provided biscuits just for me. And my Deputy, the wondrous Dr Kyle who went in my place found himself speaking to a paper I had asked for and on which he was somewhat less than well briefed by his hopeless Boss. I was then admonished by my brilliant Director of Strategy for off the cuff remarks that appear to have got into some media column ( don't know how that happened ).

But next week is another country. And I have had 2 brilliant ideas......

Charity Foundations damage the planet!

Been a bit of a Big Society week! Started off with a Joseph Rowntree Foundation dinner on Tuesday night at the RSA to discuss "The Big Society". A collection of media, bien pensants and other pundits discussing a Government policy that has yet to be adequately defined so that gave ample scope to the gathering to define it in ways that fitted each of our own hobby horses. A few insights amongst the genteel waffle though as my cold/cholera was making me grumpy I left early and bumped into no less than Sir Stuart himself wandering the streets! We had a rather amusing interchange on the subject of BigSoc but it would be most indiscreet to reveal more!

More BigSoc discussion on Wednesday when I had a meeting with my top 300 Members at CCLA. A fascinating account of the economic and political context of finances by their erudite CEO, Michael Quicke. He described the "difficult and dangerous economic climate" where ideology as well as economics is determining actions. He suggested that politics as much as economics determines policy. The key issues for our sector would be how far the gap between rich and poor expands and how far inequality grows between North and South. He suggested that the charity sector will do worse than the economy as a whole.

But against that background there are opportunities for growth and the trick for charities is to be open and up for the challenge. For example, there will be a once in a lifetime chance to acquire assets.

One of the issues we discussed was the need for the sector to provide scrutiny to what is going on when bodies like the Audit Commission will not be there to do so.

Then Thursday (wearing my smart Social Investment Business hat) I hosted a lunch at the Royal Commonwealth Society for charity Foundations. Lord Wei was our guest speaker and he did not disappoint. Once he had moved past the usual stuff on BigSoc he gave a very compelling and inspiring talk on the role for social finance and new forms of support and brokerage for our sector. I was stuck by his analogy with the Green Movement. Twenty years ago the Green issues were seen as at the fringe but now are seen as crucial to a sustainable future. He suggested that new forms of social investment are only emerging but will be seen as a crucial aspect of a growing civil society in the future. He is spot on.

And talking Green that led to a great debate on whether Foundations are doing more damage than good. They use their investments to support oil drilling and energy consumption. They have very poor climate or social checks on their investments. So making a few grants for sustainability projects against the background of their massive and bigger support for climate damage is bizarre.

And is it not bizarre that the Banks, who have huge experience in making loans, set up Foundations who then make grants not loans!

I used my Chair's stick to prod and poke them! I had started by quoting the Secretary of the Carnegie Trust speaking to the Nathan Committee in 1952 who said it is the job of Foundations "to live dangerously". Are they?

Of course I was partly just being provocative to spark discussion as the people we had were a great bunch and the role of grant making Foundations is a crucial one. But I hope they will start to think more about how they use their vast wealth to support more social investment and to look to a growing role for loans as well as grants.

One of those attending (he shall remain anonymous) suggested we needed an Enquiry into the Foundation sector, perhaps led by the Charity Commission (their anally retentive guidance is a key factor in encouraging climate damage by Foundations!).

It's an idea I shall pursue. And a final thought, contributed by Mark Campanale, who is setting up the Social Stock Exchange, who said how come the millions of third sector workers contribute their pension funds to climate damaging industry but not to social enterprise or socially responsible business!

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Any is more mutuals?

The Government have announced plans to encourage more spin-offs of public services through mutuals and cooperatives. Surely a greater diversity of providers of public services has to be a good thing. Whether that is the private sector, mutuals and cooperatives, third sector organisations, or partnerships between all of these, more diversity will inevitably bring better quality and more citizen focused services.

So well done to Francis Maude MP in terms of the announcement today. But I had a strange sense of "Déjà vu" as I listened to Francis in the shower this morning. He started talking about Central Surrey nurses. Where have we heard that before? I recall Tony Blair talking about them, and indeed Gordon Brown and Andy Burnham. They are of course wonderful, as everyone who knows what they have done will tell you.

The problem is that it is only Central Surrey. There is no Central Norfolk, Central Kent, Central Cornwall etc. The remarkable thing about this example is that it is so rare.

The Government simply have to understand why it is that if Central Surrey Nurses are such a brilliant example it hasn't happened elsewhere? Unless the Government understand the barriers to the creation of more Central Surreys they will not achieve their ambitions for more mutual spin-offs.

Let us be clear there are substantial barriers. And these barriers have increased for the last six months.

First of all there is a very simple problem that as soon as an organisation spins off from the public sector it incurs a VAT bill, shortly to be at 20%. It all also acquires various other costs that now become more transparent than they were when the particular unit in question was part of the public sector.

And for staff contemplating the establishment of a mutual they need to feel that there will be a continuity of contracts from public authorities. Experience of the last few months is hardly helpful. We have seen a string of public authorities, local Councils and Health Authorities trying to renege on contracts, revising the prices downwards and, in one disgraceful health example asking for the money back.

And as Francis Maude said this morning he would expect that any proposal for a new mutual would be framed as leading to a "substantial reduction in costs".

I think it would be great to see a flowering of more mutuals or social enterprises and it is something we very much support. Something that the Lambeth Cooperative Commission has been looking at. It should be encouraged. As with Francis I agree that there is huge professionalism and commitment amongst public sector workers but given the barriers, given the need to cut costs and the lack of incentives, I am not sure where this one will go.

Clearly ACEVO, and organisations like Allison Ogden-Newton's wonderful Social Enterprise London, will provide support and encouragement. Allison's organisation has provided a very useful Transition guide and I have been talking to her about how we might support the training of leaders in the public sector who want to make the transition to a different culture and different ownership form. The third sector has a lot to offer.

So will there be a rush to mutuals? I wonder?

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Developing Cholera and wowing MPS

I have managed to arrive back from India with an 'orrible cold. Though, as I explained to the Chair and Chief Executive of the Charity Commission over lunch today, this could well be cholera, malaria or something worse (a cold seems so prosaic!).

My Chair and I were meeting with Suzi and Sam to chew the cud in advance of the strategic review they are instituting to look at the role of the Commission in the light of significant budget cuts. In fact, the cud chewing took place at the extremely splendid social enterprise restaurant "Acornhouse" on Swinton Street. A great restaurant and they have just introduced their new menu, which I can thoroughly recommend. The seared scallops with artichokes and the beetroot risotto were terrific. I recommend it. Click here.

I am impressed with how Sam has started as Chief Executive and I think both he and Suzi make a formidable leadership duo. We need their sagacity and nous in the coming months.

Board appraisals are very important. I am depressed about how few Boards in our sector undertake appraisals. Yesterday, as Chair of the Social Investment Business, myself and my Chief Executive met to hear the results of a recent Board appraisal for SIB. A fascinating exercise; confirming trends that we have known about and throwing up some some surprises.

And it's always good to get feedback. The appraisal process involves the appraisal both of myself as Chair, and of Jonathan, as Chief Executive. I was complimented on my strategic and networking skills and rapped over the knuckles for failing to spend sufficient time on things that I find slightly less interesting. (You can guess what they are, can't you?) I have resolved to do better.

And then Jonathan and I went off to 'wine and dine' a number of Conservative MPs and talk to them about the work of the Social Investment Business. Nicky Morgan MP (Loughborough) and Richard Fuller MP (Bedford) are both of the new intake and have great experience and insight to bring. We had a lively discussion about the role social investment can play and the importance of capitalising the sector to play a bigger role in implementing "Big Society" ideas. I do have to say I was particularly impressed with Nicky Morgan, who has been awarded the "Bubb rising star to watch" award. This is a coveted prize as of course I was one of the early forecasters of the rising star of one Ed Mililband.

And just to show political balance I had a meeting this morning with John Healey MP, who is the Shadow Health Spokesperson. John is a great guy and no doubt well trained from the time he spent working in the third sector. I stressed the importance of a vastly expanding delivery role for third sector organisations, for example long-term conditions, end of life care and, of course, in social care and personalisation. I also took the opportunity to hammer further nails in the coffin of the "preferred provider" policy and made clear that the current Government's "any willing provider" policy has to be the right approach and one that the third sector supports strongly.

Monday 15 November 2010

And what will Robin do now?

I wonder...

New look! What you reckon?

Well my rather wonerdful Head of Comms has been redesigning the Blog layout!

What do you reckon ? Marks out of 10 ?

I do like the tasteful shot of Charlbury in the background ; you did recognised that I'm sure!

Europe and Innovation!

Yes, I know; Europe and innovation, not words normally seen in same sentence!

The European Commission have announced a so called "Strategy of the Innovation Union". Perhaps you missed that! They seem to have discovered it's quite a good idea; though this is from an organisation that could be seen as the polar opposite of innovation!

It says,

We must champion social innovation. We must develop a better understanding of public sector innovation, identify and give visibility to successful initiatives, and benchmark progress.”

For Euro nerds you can read the whole document here

However this new direction does seem to offer something for Europe's third sector.

The Innovation Union will focus Europe's efforts on challenges like climate change, energy and food security, health and an ageing population.

So past the gobbledygook what does this mean?

In the past, the European Commission has struggled to accept the concept of innovation beyond scientific research and development.

Through recognising social innovation, the European Union will be championing innovation, both in and lead by, civil society. This is a first for an organisation that has failed to recognise the power and strength of Europe's great civil society organisations.

But frankly, what we most want is funding!

And I think this is good news? Funding for social innovation will be designated within the existing structural funds which have so far been managed by local authorities and not very accessible to third sector bodies.

The Commission will launch a European Social Innovation pilot which will provide expertise and a networked 'virtual hub' for social entrepreneurs and the public and third sectors.

It will promote social innovation through the European Social Fund and Social innovation should become a mainstream focus in the next generation of European Social Fund programmes.

Starting in 2011, the Commission will support a substantial research programme on public sector and social innovation, looking at issues such as measurement and evaluation, financing and other barriers to scaling up and development.

Euclid played a not insignificant part in this development. As part of the lobbying by Euclid on European funding we argued strongly for a refocus on innovation and the third sector. So well done to the Euclid team for playing their part in this new funding stream.

And even more important Euclid has secured its first tender from the European Commission, as a member of a coalition of academics, universities and social innovators.

The project, unromantically named "The Innovation Society, Sustainability, and ICT (INSITE)", will look at the relationships between innovation, sustainability and ICT.

There are 11 partners in this coalition, including The Hub Brussels and researchers from the Santa Fe Institute in the US, who are leaders in the field of complexity theory.

Euclid will examine how we manage our network to engage in small-scale social experiments, how to monitor their effects and how to scale-up the most socially valuable.

The project itself is at the forefront of social innovation research in Europe. It will reinforce Euclid's reputation as the European network of "civil society innovators.". That can only be good.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

What an amazing sight to see the pictures of Daw Suu released from her imprisonment and speaking to thousands of adoring Burmese. What a courageous woman.

Burma is an extraordinarily beautiful country. I have always been fascinated by the country since childhood;my Uncle was in the RAF and organised the wind down of the base there on Independence. I have visited on a number of occasions as guest of the Burmese Anglican Church, the last time for the consecration of the Archbishop of Burma in Rangoon.I tried to get a meeting ,indeed her grandmother was a Burmese Anglican but that was not possible , though I did manage to get a letter of support delivered. There will be huge joy amongst all the Burmese,not least the small but heroic Anglican community there.

Let's hope those leads to change in that wonderful country.let's remember there are still many political prisoners still incarcerated there.

Friday 12 November 2010

The Transition Fund and the "Open Letter"!

ACEVO is to provide expertise to help shape the new £100m Transition Fund. ACEVO have been announced as a partner of the Big Lottery Fund in the delivery of the Office for Civil Society's new Transition Fund. The new £100m Fund, announced by the Chancellor in the Comprehensive Spending Review, has been established to support third sector organisations who may be badly effected by public spending cuts and who need to adapt to new public service markets.

ACEVO's expertise will play a key role in supporting the Big Lottery Fund in the shaping of the new Fund.

There was a lot of competition to run the new Fund but we felt there was a synergy between ACEVO and BLF so I was delighted when I got the news in India that our bid had won. And much credit on that goes to Seb Elsworth! So let him get a mention on the Blog;

As the press release said!

"Speaking on today's announcement, Seb Elsworth, Director of Strategy at ACEVO said,

"I'm delighted that ACEVO will be one of the organisations supporting BIG in the delivery of the Transition Fund.

"Using our expertise around the sector's relationship with Government in delivering public services, we will work with BIG so that the fund can help organisations make the transitions they need in order to compete in new markets, and continue to deliver services in the short term

The Fund is mentioned in the "Open Letter" that Francis Maude and Nick Hurd have written to the sector.

See here

It is right we see policy development in the round and the opportunities, as well as the looming threats posed by severe cuts in support, particularly by local Councils and some Health Authorities.

I also think that OCS are beginning to repair some of the early damage when the Government conspicuously failed to consult or involve the established sector in plans and policy. The new DG at OCS is clearly intending to involve us more widely.

And the emphasis in the letter on service delivery and our growing role as well as a recognition of the barriers we face in commissioning, is excellent.

Sam, Nat, Gareth and Nick

The weather forecast for our Annual Conference proved rather prophetic, "widespread gales; severe in places". As I said to delegates, somewhat of a metaphor for our sector at the moment! But my key message, which I think our CEO membership very much supported was one of optimism.

Our Annual Dinner was certainly along that theme. We had Rory Sutherland, the Head of Ogilivy and Mather in the UK, speaking. A masterpiece in public speaking with some fascinating insights. I liked his point about why we were spending vast sums on a high speed rail link when actually, rather than trying to save half an hour of the journey time, the money would be better spent on nicer trains where you can find a seat, get wi-fi, attractive staff, gourmet food and arrive on time. An example of an engineers' solution triumphing over what consumers actually want.

Sam Younger, the new CEO of the Charity Commission, also spoke. Sam is proving to be an excellent new broom. He is clear that the huge cut to their budget means a fundamental change to how they operate. I had a good discussion over dinner about this - for example on how they treat charities who want to pay Trustees or change the Board to a more corporate model. It's time for a more enabling approach; trusting Boards to know what is best for them. After all if a charity believes it needs to pay Trustees then why should they be prevented? We will see change here. Bring it on!

Wednesday saw an interesting meeting. Nat Wei called a Roundtable between ACEVO and the CBI to talk about how business can contribute to "Big Society". A number of the contributions, including mine, stressed the importance of a major shift of balance in provision of public services to a big role for independent providers. As I said in my speech to members, when you look at proportions of delivery; in public health only 7% is accounted for by the third sector, 5% in rehab services.

Nat was on good form. I detect he is growing in the job and understanding better the role the organised third sector can play.

I left the Cabinet Office to be confronted by a demo. What, I quipped, protests about ACEVO cuddling up to big business! But no, it was revolting students.

I needed to get across the road and through them to get to a lunch. Ironically a lunch at the Liberal Club with Nick Clegg MP! I resisted the temptation to mention where I was going as I made my way through the rather pleasant and accommodating crowd!

The event was a lunch for the Lib-Dem Anglo-Israeli Association and Nick was speaking. He came over for a word - remarkably remembering our chat over lunch at an ACEVO event in Sheffield a year ago!

Nick Clegg and my left shoulder...

Good to discover that the new Head of the Office of Civil Society, Gareth Davies, is an old member of my Oxford College (Christ Church). Gareth came to our Annual Conference Dinner; where my Deputy, the estimable Dr Kyle, gave him a brief tour de horizon of our great sector! And then I saw him again at Christ Church in Oxford last night as we were both speaking at a College careers event.

It was great to be back at College and I even managed to get there in time for College Eucharist in our marvellous College Chapel - see below!

Had a very energetic discussion with Gareth over dinner. I approve. Clearly a Civil Service high flyer and with the skill and brain to really push our cause across Whitehall.

This is a man we can do business with!

Thursday 11 November 2010

Leadership- a Bridge over Troubled Waters!

The cuts have created a sense of doom around the sector. Doom and gloom are not the best way to lead organisations so I wanted to use my speech to today's ACEVO annual conference to point to the sunny side of the road.

It's always a great occasion when we have our national get together. This year we decided on a different approach to the Conference; rather than having the usual line up of politicians we have gone for using our own Leaders and on expanding a range of workshops and seminars rather than the set piece plenary sessions. And time for networking obviously!

If I may be indulged, this is a precis of the key points from my speech to the largest gathering of the year for third sector leaders,

I used the theme of, "Leadership- a bridge over troubled waters". Oldies like me will remember that wonderful Simon and Garfunkel song. And no-one would say we are not in troubled waters. CEOs have to use their leadership to bridge the troubled times and bring us safely to Jordan's shore.

I said:

*While sector leaders face "turbulent and tough times ahead", the opportunities for the sector to deliver more public services could see it increase its income in key areas by up to £2 billion.

*We should be in no doubt that the coming years will hurt for many of our beneficiaries and many of our organisations. Some will go under, many more will contract.

*But there are opportunities amidst the gloom. Opportunities for our organisations to do more, to deliver better services for our beneficiaries, and to do so despite the contraction in State spending.

*Taking just those areas the Government said in the Spending Review that it would consider setting proportions to be outsourced and two public service areas where the Government has been equally clear it sees a significantly expanded role for the sector – offender rehabilitation and public health - ACEVO estimates the sector's income could grow by up to £2 billion a year by 2015, despite the contraction in overall spending.

*Another example; community health services, where the NHS spends £7 billion a year, of which only around 7% goes to the third sector; or services for offenders, where the Government spends £3.5 billion a year, of which less than 5% goes to the third sector.

*These are areas where the potential of our sector is almost entirely untapped. If the Government translates its words into action, we will see significant expansion of the third sector's role in these areas.

*What do we want from Government? We need them to be more transparent on what they commission from the third sector and to collect relevant data so that it is able to monitor the degree to which it has been successful in opening up services to third sector providers.

*If the Government is serious about this agenda, it will need to measure and monitor the proportions of services delivered by the third sector. Otherwise it will be shaping Government policy and spending public money in the dark.

So I conclude on the need to be hard-headed about the years ahead. There is no getting away from the fact that the cuts will hurt, hitting many of our organisations and our beneficiaries hard. But we must not be blinded to what opportunities there are by the bad news that there certainly will be. We need to see those opportunities and seize them.

*And that is why Leadership is so crucial for our sector CEOs. We point the way ahead. Whilst we warn of danger we are optimistic for the future and we set the that tone for our staff, our volunteers and supporters and, most of all, for our beneficiaries.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Personalisation; core to reforming public services!

Well, I made the launch of our two new Commission reports last night! Somewhat bleary and jet lagged but at least we had drinks laid on to dull the pain! I blogged on the Lambeth Commission report yesterday so today let me update you on the other Commission.

I wonder if the recent speech by David Cameron on a "people power revolution" is set to fail unless the practical underpinnings are put in place? This was a key issue that was raised by the report of the National Commission on Personalisation, Chaired by three brains Matthew Pike.

The Commission on Personalisation report, entitled, "A People Power Revolution: Making it real" To read both the National Commission and the Lambeth Commission Reports click here.

The National Commission’s final report was released yesterday. It warns that whilst personalisation presents the biggest opportunity in decades for a revolution of our public services, unless charities and local authorities work together and Government puts the necessary underpinnings in place, personalisation and ultimately plans for a “people power revolution” will fail.

The Commission’s report argues that personalisation and devolving power over public services could bring more tailored and responsive services which would not only result in better outcomes for service users but also greater efficiency for taxpayers.

It is also, at the most basic, the best way to deliver services; by putting people in charge of the service the receive.

However the Commission argues that we have reached a fork in the road and that a devolution of power within the welfare state will remain rhetoric without a boom in civil society and unless Government sees the promotion of civil society as fundamental to the success of its ‘people power revolution’.

The Commission makes a series of recommendations that embody a new mutualist approach to public services:

- Encouraging people to pool personal budgets and self-funded contributions

- Supporting a new bottom-up model of quality assurance

- Funding independent information and advocacy

- Encouraging providers to band together

- A new form of Social Investment Relief to increase the sums invested in civil

Speaking last night at the launch of the report, Matthew Pike made the point that "Ahead lies either merely a devolution of theoretical rights with a lack of practical underpinning which would result in wasted resources and worse outcomes for service users, or an ambitious revolution of rights accompanied by new structures which makes individuals lives better!". That's Matthew for you.

Nick Hurd MP came for the launch and made a strong plea for the sector to take up the opportunities that a radical approach to public service reform will bring. He said the forthcoming White Paper, setting out how the Government will approach reform offers a chance for major growth and, in answer to a question about ACEVO's prediction that this could be as much as a £2 billion boost to the sector suggested it might even be more over the long term.

It's a theme I shall be reflecting on at our National conference tomorrow.

Nick Hurd speaking at Coin Street Launch

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Official; ACEVO sector's top lobbyist!

Great to be back. Even greater to get an email confirming ACEVO's status as the best lobbyist in the sector. And indeed up there with the CBI and TUC. Where, of course, we should be!

A new website called "Who's Lobbying” (click here) has been set up to show lobbying trends in the UK, and was linked by The Guardian on Twitter this morning. The site opens with an analysis of who is meeting with Ministers.

It shows that the top five organisations with the most meetings are:-


We come in at number four. But what's amazing is that ACEVO have a fraction of the resource of these guys. We have an infinitesimally smaller staff group and much less money. Yet we compete on the strength of our top team and our ability to be up there with solutions to problems. Governments want to talk to a CEO body that comes with ideas and answers. Not whinges.

I have to say it made me very proud of my staff and my great policy and strategy team. Forgive the gloating, but if a CEO can't do that.....

What a great start to a week when we have our annual National Conference. Conference dinner tomorrow. Conference Thursday. My speech is already done! Read it Thursday.

Back home! Lambeth Launch.

A flight at 4.00am is very anti social! But a pleasant last day in Madras; paying respects at the Shrine of St Thomas the Apostle, visiting the Cathedral of St George (His Grace, Rowan Williams was there only two weeks ago; well done to you on your comments on housing!). And the museum.

The museum might well qualify as one of the world's worst. Pity the guide book didn't suggest taking a torch! I'm sure the Indian miniatures are a delight, and the oil paintings of former Governors may well glow, but it was hard to see a thing. The title of the place "Government Museum" says it all. The only well kept bit of the museum was, surprise, surprise, the Superintendent's House!

It was a hot day following on from cyclone Jal which visited us in the night. Goodness it was wet and windy...

Good to get back to Lambeth, though not the weather! I'm very fond of this marvellous London Borough; having lived here since 1978 and been involved in many local and borough wide organisations; not to mention being a Clapham Councillor, member of the local health authority, Chair of Governors of the largest secondary school amongst other things!

I got back in time for the launch of the Lambeth Council - ACEVO Commission.

UK’s first so- called "Cooperative Council" has set out a new, and I suspect, innovative approach to partnership working between Local Authorities and the third sector.

"The Lambeth Commission on personalisation" to give it its full glorious title, today launches its final report focusing on how the third sector can ‘Survive and Thrive’ through radical reforms in public service delivery and deep public spending cuts. In particular, the report addresses how third sector organisations in Lambeth can adapt to the Government’s drive to devolve power to service users through the personalisation of public services.

The Commission brought together senior Council officials and third sector leaders to explore ways of ensuring moves towards personalised public services.

One of the aims of the Commission was to identify and make significant progress towards filling the gap in terms of the support local third sector organisations need from the Council to be able to adapt to the major changes ahead in commissioning.

The marvellous Jeremy Swain, CEO of Thames Reach,(around as CEO as long as I have!) Chaired the Commission. It's worth repeating what he said,

Personalisation is going to pose many challenges for third sector organisations, not least in the context of recession and public spending cuts. Lambeth have made a great start in putting the practical underpinnings and support in place needed to make it work at a local level. I’m confident that through a co-operative partnership, the third sector can offer fantastic services that empower the community and our service users in Lambeth in new and innovative ways.”

The Lambeth Commission Report is being launched tonight alongside ACEVO’s National Commission on Personalisation’s final report at Coin Street Community Centre in Lambeth. A fitting spot! I was involved in the campaign to ensure that the GLC's wicked plans to cover this part of Waterloo with nasty office blocks was defeated. A great local campaign that drew together community organisations and activists and politicians saw this off and now this part of the South Bank in London has social housing and social enterprises as well as the lovely Coin Street Centre, (beloved of politicians who like launching things in community organisations that are not too far to get too). It was a great example of community organisation to thwart idiocies by local authorities. Somehow I doubt it would have earned us volunteering nectar points?

I will be going, bleary eyed no doubt as I stagger from my jet lag 11 hour overnight flight. I can hear your sympathetic sighs!

Monday 8 November 2010

Postcard from Ooty

Tea Plantation, Ooty

Plantation Palace

The Maharajah's ballroom: Note dreadful late Victorian furniture!

The Ooty Club; where the rules of Snooker were invented.

Sunday 7 November 2010

State Sponsored Volunteering

Volunteering appears to be entering a new phase with a more active State involvement or direction. Is this a good thing or not? In as far as we can determine , the Big Society theme implies more people volunteering. Yet we know a number of facts about volunteering. It has been static for 2 decades,levels are higher among more affluent classes and lower in deprived communities and amongst the unemployed. If people are to play a bigger role in communities we nee to drive up volunteering. But how will this happen against a background of massive spending cuts?

2 recent Government initiates are interesting. First there is the report about a London Council developing plans to offer reward points for volunteering. A sort of " nectar" scheme for volunteering. At first glance this sounds bizarre and not quite in the spirit of the whole concept of a voluntary unselfish act. Collecting points for helping out at the local youth club so you can purchase a barbecue set invites derision. And yet I wonder. Perhaps we should not be so snooty. This type of scheme , properly run and managed might just act as a fillip to more volunteering,so why not. It is certainly worth pursuing. We shall see.

My worry is simply that if this scheme is to be sponsored by the State,what will they classify as appropriate volunteering. What activities will they decide qualify for points? Helping old ladies counts , but demanding a better deal for the worlds poor does not? After all ,the majority ofeople who volunteer do it as a form of social action. Making poverty history or encouraging more sustainable behaviour are activities at the heart of civil society and volunteering. So having the local council decide what counts as volunteering is " Big Brother" not "Big Society ".

Then there are the plans outlined by IDS for form of compulsory volunteering for those on the new universal credit. He has announced plans for a 4 week stint of community work. Again at first glance these seem to run counter to the notion of volunteering as a voluntary not compulsory act. But again ,if this is properly managed I suspect this could work well. We know that many people who have been long term unemployed have lost skills and motivation. Volunteering with good schemes run by professional third sector organisations can prove a good way back into work. There are many Acevo members who run superb schemes to skill up and motivate and provide the essential way back to work. But as they say,one volunteer is with a hundred conscripts. So any scheme has to ensure that compulsion does mean people on schemes who would rather not be there and are disruptive. Acevo members taking part will not take part in schemes unless they can be sure they meet good quality and professional standards. We are not arms of a coercive state and any schemes will have to meet our definitions of what makes good volunteering or we will not take part.Acevo will work with DWP in ensuring these plans achieve those objectives; an element of " encouragement" may not be so bad? Lets see

But members will want to work with the DWP in schemes that really do work for the jobless and moves to encourage people back to work and out of the dead end of joblessness.

Cyclones and Presidents

Well, a cyclone and a President have arrived,both bringing chaos. Our last day in Ooty was a treat; a sort of trip down Raj memory lane. first stop, St Stephens Church,foundation stone laid in 1829. Immaculatly kept church and churchyard full to brimming with dead British Sahibs.There was a memorial to a " Hughes Hallet " in the Church, perhaps a relation of our very own Thomas Hughes Hallet, the CEO of Marie Curie! Then back into the auto rickshaw for a trip to the Ooty Club , founded in 1840 and perhaps the main reason people refer to this town as " snooty ooty ". As you would expect there are numerous mounted heads and tiger skins on the wall and the dining room has a range of photos from the days of the Ooty Hunt! the main point of interest is the billiard room,as this is where the rules of snooker were invented. I was shown round by the Club Secretary , only too delighted to be tour guide to returning descendent of an East India Company soldier! Next stop the mostly splendid Botanical Gardens , laid out with the advice of Kew Gradens back in the 19th century and the flower beds would not have looks out of place in a London municipal park. But enough of the Raj, it was back to Madras, getting there just before the cyclone Jal hits.

So this morning was a trial making my way by rickshaw to St Mary' Church for the morning Communion,surrounded by the memorials to a bygone age.......

Saturday 6 November 2010

Hot Water Bottles and a Maharajah

It was the arrival of the Hot Water bottles that capped an amazing day!
What better way to spend ones 58th year than in a Maharajah's Palace? The Fernhill palace at Ooty was the summer home of the Maharajah of Mysore, at a time when this was the British hill station for Madras; now a rather quirky hotel .

A somewhat eccentric place; a cross between a huge swiss chalet- Scottish hunting lodge. The Ballroom contains the sort of furniture one remembers from Great Grannie's and with masses of photos of the Maharaja's hunting parties , which unless one knew better,would assume were the quintissential english Hunt.

We are in the Kodagh suite, with an attached room for the Aide-de- Camp ( as it says over the door). So useful I'm sure. And with our own courtyard where morning tea can be served.

Ooty was established by a Scotsman in the 1840s. He discoverd its gentle fresh climate as a welcome relief to a humid Indian summer. And you can grow tea here, so we are surrounded by plantations which produce high grown Orange Pikeo  of renowned quality.

Of course the climate has one draw back. It is rather cold at night; hence the hot water bottles. But that rather took me back to my childhood in the glorious 50s. I used to go to bed with a hot water bottle;with a nice wooly cover if I remember right ! I suspect my staff have no idea what one of these things is, let alone actually used one.

 And Ooty itself is a trip back in time. The shops are very like ones I'd visit shopping with mummy back in the 50s. Wood display cabinets. The shirts etc all neatly tidy away in their boxes on the shelves. And purchases involve taking one's invoice to the payment clerk before emerging with them in a lovely brown paper bag.

But the highlight of a visit to Ooty is the train journey. The nilgri blue mountain steam train makes its arduous ascent by narrow gauge up the mountain with the steam engine pushing from the back.


The journey of 5 hours goes through 16 tunnels and 19 bridges climbing steeply up through densely wooded mountains and tea plantations. The views are magnificent. Monkeys clamber around you at the station halts, stealing your pakora bites if you are not careful! Built between 1890 and 1908 it is one of the last remaining fully working steam journeys of the world.


I have always enjoyed the fact that my birthday is on Guy Fawkes Day and so always accompanied by fireworks. And so it is here in Ooty. Fireworks galore cascading over the town and firecrackers in the streets. All for me? Well , perhaps it is the fact that it is also Diwali!


Wednesday 3 November 2010

Postcard from Madras

In the later decades of the 18th century two young Irishmen decided to seek their fame and fortune in India. The country was being opened up for trade by The East India Company (they had their Charter the year before Queen Elizabeth signed the Charitable Uses Act of 1601). They had established a trading base and military fort in Madras in 1640. There was much skirmishing with the French down the coast but we soon saw them off (how times have changed? Or have they?).

The two brothers, William and Paul Limrick, set off from County Cork though their paths were to take very different routes.

They were the sons of the Rector of parishes in the South West of County Cork, the Rev William Limrick and his wife Elizabeth Somerville, (who was also the daughter of a local County Cork Rector). Paul clearly decided to follow the family clerical path and studied at Trinity college, Dublin, taking a Doctorate and Holy Orders. He was appointed to the East India Company as a Chaplain to the Calcutta Presidency in the 1780s.

His brother William was clearly not of a holy bent and decided on the army, arriving in Madras on the ship, Walpole, in 1788. He was based at Fort St George, enrolled as a cadet. He fought in various campaigns under the Duke of Wellington (a fellow Irishman), the most famous of which was the Battle of Srirangapatnam in 1799, where the British finally defeated Tipu Sultan. He clearly did well as he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

With his salary and booty payments he sent money back to Ireland where he had a house built in 1800 in a village that became known as Union Hall, to commemorate both the Union with England and the building of William's Hall! He retired back to Ireland in 1805 where he raised a family whose descendants still live in that village today.

Paul was not so lucky. He too prospered in Calcutta, becoming Rector of St John's Church and Chaplain to the Governor General of India. In 1809 he was appointed the first Bishop of Calcutta, but on his way back to Canterbury for his Consecration he was drowned at sea.

And where is this story going you ask? Well, I'm now in Madras; come to see Fort St George where Colonel William Somerville Limrick, my Great, Great, Great Grandfather was based.

The Fort still has many of the buildings used at the time and it is still an army base. The Church of St Mary, built in 1680, is the oldest Anglican church east of Suez.

Hard to imagine the Fort as it then was. There are some prints in the Museum showing what it was like then.

Fort St George from a print of 1797

Fort St George from a print of 1804

It's somewhat different now, though the Church of St Mary's is unchanged over the centuries. And my comfortable eco-hotel, the Raintree, is undoubtedly better than the conditions William would have put up with.

But it's always fascinating to step in the paths followed by one's ancestors.