Wednesday 19 January 2011

An irritating PAC !

The Public Administration Committee have had an un-illuminating session on funding the sector. What seriously irritated was the usual nostrums about proportions of state funding meaning we are no longer charities . There was one MP who even made the clearly illogical statement that charities who get most of their funding from the state have been nationalised. And I won't even go into the usual canards being trotted around the committee room on administration , advertising ( shock horror ) and , perish the thought , campaigning! Let's deal with what I see as a dangerous and pernicious argument on " state funding". It is time we stopped the sneering about this and worried about where these arguments can lead.

Could said MP who thinks some charities have been nationalised also explain to me if he thinks that major private sector companies like Capita , Serco or A4E have been nationalised because they too get most of their funding from state contracts?

It is time this argument was dealt with by us , rather than appearing apologetic . I regret that we can sometimes be complicit in a train of thought that leads us backwards to Victorian concepts of charity and away from our modern day enterprising third sector.

So let us be clear . Our sector has been delivering services to the homeless , to children , to the poor and unemployed for centuries. Indeed charities were the public service for hundreds of years. We now accept that the State should provide welfare services to all , often at the point of need and not for those who can afford to pay. We believe as a country that our children deserve support and succour. The old should not suffer the deprivations of age simply because they cannot afford to pay . We believe that many of these services should be paid for by us all through taxation. We also believe that often these services cam ne better provided through charities and social enterprises. Our role in delivering good services , on contract , has grown. Rightly so. Receiving money for a contract to deliver services does not turn the charity into an arm of the State , anymore than it does for SERCO or the thousands of private sector companies also delivering public services.

And does the fact that Barnadoes or Action for Children or Tomorrows People or Turning Point derive most of their income from contracts turn them into limp wrested apologists of Government ? Anyone who knows those CEOs know how silly that is.

What is key is that organisations have sustainable and varied income streams. So Barnadoes have contracts across many parts of Government and local councils. They also fund raise. Trying to set artificial limits on how much a charity should receive from contracting , as opposed to Fundraising , is a dangerous path to follow. I am always astonished by those in our sector who think that getting.grants is OK but contracts not. Or that there is something inherently virtuous about not receiving state funding. When I hear the sector leader who proudly boasts they receive no money from the State, I think , why not ? We have a democratically elected Government who use tax money for the public benefit. This is not Russia or Zimbabawe where state money may be tainted. it is not yet a sin to take money from our Government in pursuit of our goal to help our beneficiaries. The idea that there is something inherently dodgy about taking a contract from Government to provide homes or jobs to those in need does a disservice to all those of our beneficiaries who rely on us to support them. If you apply this argument to it's logical conclusion then a charity that got to the point where it might have a majority of funding from contracts or grants would then have to refuse to help people unless they could replace contracts with donations.

What I find particularly worrying about these claims , is the idea that great charities should somehow withdraw from delivering , say , children's services for Government and now rely on private donations. When I read the blogs of people like Tim Mongomerie , the Tory blogger , or hear these calls from various MPs, what I suspect is they may really want is a return to Victorian philanthropy , where the State withdraws and if you are poor or oppressed you rely on the whims of private donors. Perhaps I am too harsh. Perhaps they have simply not thought this through.

Let us also remember there are services that the State funds which simply would not get funding elsewhere. Vital support for asylum seekers or excluded communities. One lesson we must all remember is that we have a richly diverse sector. One rule and approach for one charity is not right for another. We must celebrate those charities that have grown and expanded , delivering more contracts from the State to help their beneficiaries. Good luck to them. The current Government reform programme will expect this to grow. And acevo will push for that to happen.

I regret that these arguments were not as fully rehearsed in the Public Administration Committee as they deserved to be. Let me at them.........


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