Thursday, 2 December 2010

Appraisals, Councils, BigSoc and Big Charity, Small Charity

Appraisals. Very important part of the CEO role! Yesterday it was my Deputy, Dr Kyle's turn. But these things need to be done in a civilised fashion; so we did it over lunch at Roux, a new restaurant on Parliament Square. We were sandwiched (so to speak) between Andrew Rawnsley and a Government Minister, who I didn't recognise so assume was a Lib-Dem, and Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP on the other side.

Fortunately Andrew Rawnsley has a loud voice so we picked up some interesting gossip but it would be indiscreet to reveal that in my Blog - in advance of Andrew writing about it that is!

The morning had started with me making the open keynote speech at an Inside Government event on BigSoc as the Social Investment Business Chair. I think it went down well; a sardonic commentary of the idea but with a strong plea for the sector to rise to the challenge of expanding service delivery with greater capitalisation. I'm speaking with Neil O'Connor, the senior official in DCLG responsible for the BigSoc work, and Nat Wei follows on and draws lessons from the water leak in his flat in Shoreditch.

There was a telling moment when one of my members, who runs an autism charity, told me her worries about localism and neighbourhood budgets.

One of the people they support, a lone parent who lives in a massive Tower Block in North London has two twins with severe spectrum autism. Rain sets them off screaming. How does the local community react? Support? No; they get up a petition to have them evicted and they are afraid to leave the flat as the kids have been threatened with violence.

I offer this story to the Big Society Network as they develop their plans for "Your Square Mile". Will neighbourhood budgets be spent to support those kids? People with mental health problems? Excluded and marginalised communities?

As my member said, "communities are not always kind".

A thought I take with me to a reception in the Commons being held by HFT, a big charity who work with people with learning difficulties (previously known as the Home Farms Trust). The CEO, Brian Perowne, is a good member of ACEVO and he is stepping down and handing over the reins to an excellent chap, Robert Longley Cook, who has been one of the Directors at WRVS. They are unveiling a remarkable "Virtual Smart House". This is a web based guide to what technology can do to support people with disabilities. So we get a virtual tour; from the front door with finger print recognition, to the bathroom where a smart plug has an alarm to tell you it's overflowing and turns red if the temperature is too hot, to the bedroom where a device sets an alarm up if you have left your bed for too long!

All this has been developed by the charity with their own resources. A remarkable example of a big charity innovation. There are many of these and I have written to Nick Hurd MP and Nat Wei pointing them out. Thank goodness for the "big charity mindset" that brings so much comfort to our citizens nd communities. And know they have requests to translate it into use by five other countries.

Whilst in the Commons I bump into Greg Clark MP and the wonderful Baroness Scott, better known as Debbie Scott, the CEO of Tomorrow's People. A useful chat on both the work SIB is doing on the Communitybuilders Programme and on the recent announcements of the framework for Welfare to Work Programme. I had previously been to meet Lord Freud to talk through how the third sector can step up to the mark in delivery, but also crucially how small charities and community organisations can be fully involved in delivery. A major criticism of the last Government's programmes were how they discriminated against small organisations. DWP have done a lot of work on this and the prospectus of the new programme makes clear the obligation on prime contractors to work effectively with charities and the Merlin Standard they have introduced (as a result of the ACEVO taskforce; Lord Freud was Vice Chair). I must admit I have a huge admiration for David Freud. A real star who is committed to reforming our welfare systems and who has made a brilliant transition from working for the wonderful James Purnell to the great IDS!

And then to cap off the day it was dinner at CCLA with local Council CEOs. ACEVO had organised this with Rob Whiteman, the CEO of Local Government's Improvement and Development Agency. CCLA generously laid on a splendid repast and their charming and deeply bright CEO, Michael Quicke, said a few words - CCLA have a strong history as a charity and local Council investor so what could have been more appropriate!

A fascinating discussion. Some real insights into how Councils are looking to change and adapt. We had some great interventions from CEOs of Brent, Barnet, Wiltshire and Shropshire. I think there was general agreement that Councils were moving to a stronger emphasis on their enabling and strategic role and looking to any willing provider to deliver cost effective and citizen focused services.

I was grateful to my charming and glamorous Vice Chair, Allison Ogden-Newton, for telling me I had sat down to eat with my lapel mike still on and that the room was being treated to Bubb munching and she thought I was in danger of also transmitting my thoughts on people's contributions in what might not have been a helpful way!

We are now looking at holding an Awayday with Councils CEOs and our members. That will be fun.

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