Friday 25 February 2011

Postcard from Milan

Every good boy deserves a treat (even hackneyed old third sector CEOs!). And so I have a day off and my sister Lucy and I are in Milan to see that fabulous Opera Tosca at La Scala! It's a new production and we are looking forward to it. My sister is a near professional singer, member of the Royal choral Society, and we both love opera.

The sun has been shining on the righteous and we spent the morning at the Sforza Castle. Lots of knightly armour I was keen to try on ...

Now it's lunch, with Massimo Pierdicchi from Intesa Sanpaolo S.p.A., one of the corporate sponsors of Euclid Network. We are talking about the work we do in the Balkans with leadership development for NGOs there. I know it's leave but too good an opportunity to miss seeing Massimo (my sister is off to see The Last Supper).

In May I shall be in Serbia on the last leg of a twinning programme. Biljana Dakic Djordjevic spent a week with me earlier this month and now I am due to spend a week with her. That will undoubtedly be an experience. Seeing Serbian civil society in action! Bank Intesa have been sponsoring.

So now I finish the Blog. A glass of Prosecco has arrived. It's time to relax.
Enjoy my day off! Arrividerchi.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Banks and The Moral Maze

An interesting meeting yesterday morning with fellow Knight, Ronnie Cohen, to talk about the new Big Society Bank. This is going to be an exciting venture, full of potential and possibilities for our sector. A world leader. We are on our way to establishing a real market in social investment in the UK.

If we are to grow the sector's role in service delivery we need access to capital. If Government move contracts to payment by results (which I believe can be beneficial for charities) then cash flow and capital become rather crucial; if not show stoppers.

So my views were; let's get this cracking quickly, let's not mess around too much, at least initially, with fancy new ideas for social finance but get loans out through the various intermediary bodies there are in our sector.

I had thought appearing on The Moral Maze on charity and Government roles would be somewhat easier than it was. I faced a gruelling quiz by feisty Clare Fox, of the Institute of Ideas, about the wicked State and how charities have become grovelling stooges of such (I think that was the gist of the points). Melanie Philips, by contrast, was more sympathetic though catching me out by asking me to define charity and not mentioning altruism. Oh dear. It was a good point and I gave her a less than satisfactory answer and so spent my journey back home kicking myself!

And as I got stuck in I'm afraid I was starting to bang the table to emphasise my points. Naughty me. The producer had to motion me to stop so I put my hands to my side. When I listened on iPlayer later I was rather happier with my performance. I sounded more coherent than I had thought.

It was somewhat of a media day yesterday as I also did an interview for ITV's Tonight programme (due out on March 17th 19:30). This is on cuts, though I did try to put this in perspective in terms of recent speeches and the article by David Cameron on how the sector will be key to reforming public services.

And in the meantime my Director of Strategy, the universally regarded and wonderful Seb Elsworth, has been putting together the ACEVO bid to Cabinet Office for our strategic grant for the next three years. I have been making helpful (or unhelpful) CEO type contributions! We are making a partnership bid and it has some exciting aspects, as well as demonstrating how we work with other umbrella bodies. Due in Friday I'm saying no more! The bid will underpin the work we do across Government and with OCS and build on the highly regarded work of ACEVO's policy team (perhaps one of the strongest teams in the sector I would argue). Attempts to prize more information from us by the sector media will be resisted!

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Moral Maze- Tonight!

So I’ve an interesting evening ahead of me! Tonight I’m joining the panel of Radio 4’s great show on religion and ethics, the Moral Maze, to debate the history and purpose of our sector. Other guests this evening include Nick Seddon, Director of the think tank Reform and Mike Short, from Unison. Description below. It’s on from 8pm onwards for those who want to tune in … I’ll be sharing how I get on tomorrow!

David Cameron this week announced plans that will completely change public services, bringing in a "presumption" that charities are just as able to run schools, hospitals and welfare services as the state. He wants a massive shift from provision funded by the taxpayer to services supplied by volunteers and funded by philanthropy. But is this a proper role for charities to perform? Is it right that levels of public donation to this or that good cause should set priorities that used to be weighed up by democratically-elected MPs and councils?
And as charities become more professional and more competitive in their fund-raising, are they forgetting their place? Manchester, among many other local councils, has brought in bye-laws to control high-street 'chuggers' (short for 'charity muggers') who allegedly annoy shoppers. Research shows that the proportion of national income given to charity has stubbornly failed to increase despite all the efforts of some of the 'big boys', who
have bosses on six-figure salaries.
Charities already run schools and have a major role in the provision of housing, welfare and amenities. NSPCC and RSPCA inspectors are taking on the role of the police in cases of alleged child-abuse and cruelty to animals. Does the protection of birds really need all that money? Is cancer research really more important than all the other kinds of medical research put together? Are we heading for a national system of resource-allocation based on nothing more objective than tear-jerking adverts and pester-power? Has the 'third sector' got out of hand?
Is this, as Sir Stephen Bubb of ACEVO has written, "an exciting opportunity for the third sector to play a far greater role in delivering care and promoting the citizen's voice..." - or will giving more power to charities lead to injustice and unfairness, to responsibility without accountability?
Debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Michael Portillo, Melanie Phillips, Claire Fox and Matthew Taylor.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Mergers and rationalisation

An interesting article in The Times recently by Camilla Cavendish It is worth reading as it make some interesting points. Here it is in full;

"Nearly half the budget for voluntary organisations comes from the State. We need fewer, better charities

'What would Jesus cut?" is a question that seems to fit the moral outrage of our times. Let's see. Sex scenes, perhaps. Moneylenders' bonuses, for sure. Probably not VAT, for the VAT rise will bring in infinitely more cash than closing libraries, and shoppers seem to have shrugged it off already. But possibly - hear me out - some charities. He might question some of the Good Samaritans who need the taxpayers' help to volunteer.

I recently went out visiting with a charity that is operating in what turned out to be a rather crowded market for good works in one London borough.

Our first stop was a doddery old lady on a tidy estate. She looked a bit puzzled when I asked her about the charity's work. "Well the Social came this morning," she said, trying to help. "And the day centre is very nice, my neighbour takes me." My enthusiasm for the charity dimmed. But its eager young staffer didn't seem to notice that his work was, if not actually duplicating, then apparently adding nothing noticeable to her life.

Not all charities are equal, however well meaning they are. That is the brutal truth, temporarily concealed by the orchestrated outrage over cuts. The head of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo), the eloquent Sir Stephen Bubb, has called for charities to be ring-fenced from local authority cuts, to protect the Big Society. Does that include all 50 breast cancer charities? Why? Sir Stephen might do better to find ways of distinguishing the truly great from the merely nice. For otherwise we risk losing some excellent organisations such as Fairbridge, ThePlace2Be, HomeStart and others (insert your favourite) that have proven track records of real value.

The coming cuts do look worryingly indiscriminate, because the coalition has put its agenda of devolving power to local authorities ahead of trying to knock sense into them about what to cut. Many councils are inclined to protect their top salaries, bureaucracies and in-house contractors at the expense of libraries, bus services and homeless shelters. Ministers will get the blame for this, and they should have known better. But they are partly trapped by the extent to which some charities have been nationalised.

I have sat on a number of charity and non-profit boards over the years, and run a non-profit organisation. One thing that has become perfectly obvious is the jump in government involvement. Public money made up around a tenth of charity budgets in the 1980s. Now it is nearly half: and more for some of the biggest, such as Barnardos and Action4Children.

As a result, the default position for many fundraisers is to look to the State. A whole industry has emerged of charity consultants who know how to fill in the complex forms required to unlock public money. They will write your equal opportunities policy, your health and safety policy, your governance code. It's quite an art.

In the 1990s I led a regeneration partnership that became skilled at raising money from quangos, local authorities and central government, as well as the private sector. We made ourselves a safe home for government "overspend" by always having a project ready to go. We ticked the box on ethnic minority employment because we employed a lot of Irish builders, and we discovered that the Irish counted as an ethnic minority. I drew the line, though, when I was asked to join a group with the sole purpose of extracting money from an EU fund, for which we would have had to invent schemes of no real value to our community, only to our balance sheet.

Public officials, only human, often prefer to dribble money out to many groups rather than concentrate cash on a few where they could have more impact. Research by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations suggests that the number of charities has doubled in the past 40 years, to 160,000. Many in the sector see that as a sign of success. But is it? Such a vast cottage industry in the private sector, some of it duplicated, would by now have resulted in consolidation.

I once set up some charitable schemes for Pearson plc, the multinational I was working for. As one of the world's biggest publishers, we were passionate about literacy. When I researched it, I had to report back to the board that the field was saturated: almost every other large American company already had a literacy programme. But despite this, what infuriated me was there were still millions of people who were illiterate. Couldn't they have worked together?

An untold story is that beneath the cascade of government cash, private donations in Britain have stagnated. The NCVO says that the number of individuals giving to charity, as a proportion of the population, is in long term decline. The virtual freeze in private giving during the last economic boom is perplexing. Labour made generous provisions for Gift Aid, yet neither rich nor poor upped their giving significantly.

Was that because people felt less need to donate at a time when charities appeared to be prospering? Were they sceptical that their money would be well spent? Martin Brookes, of New Philanthropy Capital, which helps to connect donors to charities and to analyse their performance, says that few charities are really professional about proving their worth. He has suggested that charities should answer the same challenging questions that the Treasury routinely asks of departments in the Comprehensive Spending Review (why should we fund this? Who else could do it? And so on). But his idea has had a decidedly lukewarm response from the sector.

If one good thing could come out of austerity, it would be a better connection of money to the most effective good works. The Government is putting £200 million into a Big Society bank to fund innovative social enterprises. Mr Brookes suggests it spend the same again on an impact fund to tide the best charities over - if they can rigorously prove their worth.

We need to find a way to increase private giving, and to help people to give more time. The increasingly onerous requirements imposed on trustees and school governors, and CRB checks, are barriers that many of us have run up against. That is one of many areas where the State must retreat.

If governments knew best, there would be no need for charities. The State is not good at helping Mrs Jones feel less lonely or sticking with Dan long enough to get him off drugs. We need a voluntary sector, but one that is smarter and slimmer.that will take honesty,not divine intervention. "

The financial crisis that faces many of our organisations will properly turn attention to mergers or alliances. But also, as we grow we will face more scrutiny and ,inevitably , more attacks. It has already started with the nonsense on big nationalised charities.

Acevo has been hosting the Impact Coalition. A grouping of charities who have got together to promote transparency. It is an important coalition and one that needs to be strengthened. Acevo is currently looking at how we can do this. We want to see how to provide more resource to promote what we do as the coalition. And we want to het the charities that are involved in the coalition to give it more support.

I'm on my way to Leicester to speak at a major conference for the voluntary and community sector in Leicester. I shall be arguing that to take advantage of the new rights in the localism bill and the new opportunities for public service delivery we must be fit for purpose. This is not the time for pity but for action.

Friday 18 February 2011

At Windsor..

Well, what a week! I started it off with telling the Prime Minister about the damage the cuts are doing to charities and I ended the week telling HM The Queen about cuts to charities. HM asked about ACEVO and said to me charities seemed to be having a hard time. I told her that our Chief Executives were indeed having a difficult time and there was real worry in the sector.

I have to admit I was a little more nervous talking to my Sovereign than I was to her Prime Minister!

We decided to go down a day early so I did not spend the small hours fussing about; so my parents and I were able to go to st George's Chapel in Windsor Castle for Evensong. The choir is superb and the singing of Tippett's adaptation of the Negro Spiritual "steel away" was moving (and it helped calm the nerves).

But it was certainly nerve-racking and thrilling all at the same time when I finally made it into the Castle for the Investiture!

The rehearsal was amusing. I had to rehearse kneeling and standing up and the three steps back and bow. I did it well.

There is something special about kneeling in front of your Sovereign, but I was hoping the sword didn't slip and give a whole new meaning to the cuts to charity! The only disappointment is that HM does not actually say "Arise Sir Stephen".

We were in the Waterloo Chamber of the Castle, with those magnificent pictures of the heroes of the glorious defeat of the French all around. And then it was off with all family for lunch at the Sir Christopher Wren House Hotel.....

And here for your delectation are the photos.

With Ma and Pa

With my Mother, Brother and two Sisters

Thursday 17 February 2011

Big Society Bank

At the end of last year I wrote to the Chancellor urging him to consider a tax on bank bonuses, in order to ease the £1bn cuts our sector faces in the year ahead.

This morning I received his response. Read it here.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Attacking charities

Neil O ' Brien of the Policy Exchange should be ashamed of himself. In an attack on a range of incredible charities ( big charities, hiss boo ).
Ike Bernardo's , Turning Point ,Mind and Age UK amongst others he writes ,

" But can this Big Idea get a fair hearing if the bosses of top charities attack it? Right now popular and well known charities, hooked on the crack cocaine of government handouts, are wailing like mad as their grants are reduced, and they are turning their ire on the Big Society.
State-funded charity?
As charities have become more and more dependent on the state over recent decades, they have become exposed to the budget cycle in government.
Views about the right relationship between charities and the state differ. Bosses of large charities have steadily accepted more and more cash from the state over recent years. The traditional left perspective is that there is no problem with the government funding charities. In contrast, speaking for the libertarian right, Guido Fawkes has pithily observed that “A charity that relies in the main part on taxes is no more a charity than a prostitute is your girlfriend”

Yet again we have someone who fails to understand that big charities are being contracted to provide services which otherwise the Sate would provide. We are contracted to do so because our service delivery is more customer focused and often more cost effective. these are not cash handouts or the beneficent gift of a dotting State.

So shall we get the script right Neil. Do you think that the Government should pursue it's policy of opening up public services to a diversity of suppliers. .

Or do you think we should tender on the basis that we offer these services for free ( though obviously the private sector would be paid ) ?

Or are you saying we should withdraw from all service delivery and only provide those services where we can. Fund raise?

And do you think that Serco and Capita should stop accepting all that cash from the State? After all they are mainly funded from The State' contracts.

The attack is unpleasant and accompanied by insulting language which damages a poor case. Fortunately people trust charities a darn sight more than they do think tanks. You should ne ashamed of yourself Neil.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

The dust settles around Big Society

You can imagine the scene. I'm in the gym. With my personal trainer and I step off the running machine to do an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield. On my mobile. Quite what the good burghers of Sheffield thought of the heavy pumping gym music heaven knows. They must have wondered quite where I was. But of course it was Big Society. I was in Brixton Rec; a social enterprise!

Mind you, this scene may be difficult to imagine. Exercise and Bubb seem an improbable combination! I also get a text from my Vice Chair the magnificent Ms Social enterprise London to tell me "woke up,turned on the TV and you were not on it. Are you well?"

And I admit after a marathon 23 separate media interviews I'm fair whacked nd have taken the morning off. I need to do some essential grooming! I'm at Windsor Castle on Friday for my Investiture. I'm beginning to get nervous. Will HM spot my bald patch as I kneel before her? But my nails are clean and my Morning Suit is well pressed.

So where are we on Big Society? No new announcements but I detect a change of tone that augurs well.

# there is now a stronger emphasis on public service reform and charity and social enterprise delivery- with practical and important measures to back that up.

# at last there is a recognition that cuts damage the story. I hope we will soon see an end to silly spin about "the majority of charities don't get any public funding". Of course they don't. The majority of charities are the cricket and bowling clubs, the bird watches and railway enthusiast, the bell ringers and keepers of the village hall fabulous people who make Britain a better place to live. But they are not delivering key public services. They are not at the front line in saving lives and providing care and compassion to the vulnerable. And it is those charities and community groups that are having their grants and contracts slashed. And our beneficiaries who suffer. So less of it, Nick and Francis.

# there are signs that the Government may want to do something about council cuts and provide more " bossiness" (as DC said in his speech yesterday)

# the mystic meg groupies that surround the project are being reigned in. The problem with all new political ideas is that they attract the zealous evangelicals who think this is the new time religion. Yesterday's launch was not quite tambourine time but the intro by John Bird was bizarre. Hopefully we will have less of the "one day we will each encounter it in our daily lives wherever we live, and work, and play - at which point we will instinctively say, "that's Big #Society"!

# there are signs they want to listen to and involve the sector's Leaders. A partnership approach rather than a solipsistic, year zero, one. Perhaps that means we can ensure the much touted Community organisers arrive minus the tambourines!

# the Budget is due in March. I will be astonished if there is not an announcement to help the sector;

# and most important of all was yesterday's launch of the Big Society Bank. This is one of those historic moments. It's a world leader as Sir Ronnie Cohen pointed out. Our sector needs access to capital. The great example of Futurebuilders shows the way. This is essential to build our capacity to deliver more public services. I was at the launch and I paid public tribute to Ronnie and to Nick Hurd MP and to Francis Maude, MP, who have driven this through. They understood the power of the idea and its potential. So credit where credit is due.

And finally it is nice to be getting emails from members egging me on and saying thanks for pushing the charity case. I thought I would share one as an example of what we face as a sector.

"your continual argument that Charities cannot do their work without the infrastructure and funding from various parts of government is much appreciated.

As the CE of Red Balloon Learner Centres, a charity that recover severely bullied children, we are at the point where we need to know what is happening vis a vis funding - or the future is bleak for this group of children.

Red Balloon started in 1996 in Cambridge. For 13 years we existed with the support of the local authorities who recognised the valuable work we were doing and have paid around £15K per year per child for their children to be recovered. (A full time academic and personal and social education designed to get them back to school - we recover 95% of these children). The target group were 'ordinary' children who had been severely bullied - not children with special educational needs in the accepted sense of the word. They are eminently recoverable given a recovery programme.

Over the past two years that funding for ordinary children has been reduced and cut until now only those with Statements are being funded. The children we were set up to recover were self-excluders, academically able, willing to learn, wanting to behave and above all needing a safe place to be. They were not willing to go to school to be further bullied. They were not Statemented, nor did they have Special Educational Needs.

We thrived in this environment and grew to open three other Red Balloon centres one in Norwich, Harrow, Merseyside. There are six further centres on the cards, Warwick, Reading (with houses, staff and ready to go if the funding for children was there.

We have put the expansion programme on hold and are now seeing if we can hold out by keeping the four centres open and running despite the cuts. It is unlikely we will be able to survive longer than September 2011

This is the human face of cuts. I wish Carrie Herbert well in her task of getting support. It is a salutary reminder of what we face and why I will continue to harry the Government on cuts.

Monday 14 February 2011

Not the relaunch, part 2

Now you know you have arrived when you discover that Nick Robinson is reading your Blog. Hi Nick! I spoke to him this morning at the not the relaunch event in Somerset House with my colleague Sir Stuart. We were seated at the side of the room. Was there a metaphor here? Big charities at the margins? But no. It was because we had been girded out of our seats on the flimsy excuse that that was where the PM would be sitting.

It was a good speech. David Cameron is a superb communicator. It was a top class performance and you can tell that this is something he believes in. He wants us to play a bigger role in service delivery and to grow. In my question to him I described how I had been depicted as a fan of Big Society on BBC Radio Humber, which had surprised me as I have been a vocal and vociferous critic of the cuts. I said we strongly welcome the emphasis on public service delivery. I warmly welcomed the Big Society Bank, but I said that cuts are damaging the very organisations that have to deliver a bigger society. I urged him to look at action on local Councils to stop them making cuts.

Although he said they could not order a cessation of the cuts he did seem to hint at action they maybe looking at. And a bit later he said that we might need "a bit of bossiness" to deliver the Big Society. I agree. So a green light for ACEVO to hammer home the point. We shall. Let's see if we can get action from him on Council cuts.

But my am I feeling tired. A good job Sky News put some make-up on me before I did the recent news slot! And I'm looking so old. Those jowls. Still, it makes me look a sage and experienced. Which of course I am.

Let's see if this speech and the recent press helps promote the cause of a bigger society. We certainly need to work with them on this. But to do this those around Cameron need to involve the wisdom of the sector. Get the big charities on board in delivery. So more idiotic attacks from so called Big Society advisors or other pundits. Get it real and rooted in our great sector

The Government also need to stop attacking Big State. The reality is that we need to work with local Councils, with Health Authorities to deliver more innovative and properly funded public services. We also need to work with business. An excellent article in The Times today about how big business can play a role in delivery. This is right. We need to encourage partnerships between the third sector and business. Partnerships like the one between Turning Point, Catch 22 and Serco in running prisons. Partnerships that are emerging in the work programme. So a little less of the romanticism about us all doing a little more volunteering and promoting a joined up partnership approach would be helpful.

The narrative has been poor. It can improve. And we can help do that. But first, Prime Minister, understand you cannot pull the rug from under our feet and expect communities to thrive. It was the central point of my question to you. I await the answer. Then together we can.

Not the relaunch! part one.....

I pity the poor people of Humberside who awoke to the grumpy tones of Bubb explaining his view of Big Society and denouncing cuts. And as I had to get up at 5.30 to do this I was grumpy. No breakfast and a cup of not delightful BBC coffee. And it was a marathon media event. I moved onto Hereford and Worcester, Three Counties Radio, Merseyside, Lincolnshire, Leeds, Manchester, Coventry, London, Tees, West Midlands and Nottingham. Goodness. I should have been sponsored. And all this on top of a late evening at the BBC doing a pre-record for Breakfast News.

I sit in a tiny studio on Millbank, with a rather lovely view out over the Thames. I do my Blog in between my interviews. I have a somewhat bizarre experience of talking about BigSoc and then swing my jowly visage pop up in front of me on Breakfast News. Closely followed by Nick Hurd on the sofa flirting with the attractive BBC presenter (no Nick, that's not what we mean by the Big Society!).

On one interview I'm described as a fan of BS. I was a bit taken aback, but in a sense I guess we are in the sense that this is supposed to represent a power shift to citizens and communities. The vision being outlined by DC later sees a much bigger role for the third sector in delivering public services. The establishment of the BS Bank to loan fund this expansion is crucial. The failure of the Government to properly define the vision and the inept attempts by various of the supporters of the concept has damaged the message so when there are cuts it is not surprising that charities get angry about cuts.

But in the speech by DC we move away from some of the romantic nonsense about us all doing more and stepping up we get to the nitty-gritty practicality of our work in communities. An understanding that volunteers need organising and training. They need support. So that means money. The move to a bigger role in public services is something I have been advocating for a decade. So good to hear the Prime Minister talking about a massive expansion of the role the third sector plays in delivering public services. This is grounded. Let's have more of it.

As the marathon ends I emerge into the sunny morning to head to the PM speech I feel a bit punch drunk! I am certainly earning my salary (Chair please note for upcoming appraisal)!

But this isn't just an exercise in media vanity. It's a superb opportunity to get a message across about cuts in our funding. We are angry at cuts. Rightly so. And if I can hammer home the point in every interview I do then that is good. And frankly it has been the relentless pounding by ACEVO on cuts that has helped shift opinion and partly explains the not relaunch this morning by David Cameron.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Big Society Mark 2

Sunday is full English breakfast day,but I had only just got the sausages on , whilst listening to the morning service from the charming Worcester College , Oxford when the phone goes. BBC wanting me for the news, so it was straight down to Millbank where I did a slot for the BBC , then Sky and then a studio session for Sky with Phillip Blond and the Archbishop of Southwark ( RC).

David Cameron ,writing in the Observer , has acknowledged that the cuts have damaged the message of Big Society and is emphasising the role of public service reform and the delivery of services by the third sector. This is welcome. Many of us in the sector have felt the messaging on Big Society has been confusing and the lack of effective narrative by Government has clearly damaged the project. The waffle and , frankly wacky stuff about volunteering ( the latest from the big society network talks of a thousand acts of kindness and making volunteering delightful ) has obscured what should have been central. A shift in power to our sector and to citizens and communities. There is a stronger message. And one we want to support.

In fact the package of changes to procurement announced by DC on Friday,the forthcoming White Paper on service reform and the establishment of the Big Society Bank with more money , tied up with the changes in local government ( rights to challenge and right to buy)health,education,rehabilitation and work will mark , over time, a major change in scope and power for the sector and our beneficiaries.

What we now need is for Government to work with our sector in ensuring plans are sound. We cannot have a merry band of community organisers parachuted into communities unless they are tied into the established community sector. There is somewhat of an irony in having a top down centrally driven initiative for community organisation! The community sector needs to be involved in the planning. And the idea must be based in the growing network of community hubs , not something apart from that. And of course we cannot have a position where existing community development is being cut only to see new funding for a central initiative. If there is to be a community organiser qualification then that has to be consistent with the work of the third sector skills body and based on the century of experience of community development in our sector. There is always a danger that governments think they have discovered something new when it's been around for ages and just needs more support.

Sector Leaders need to be at the table and in the driving seat so we can make this happen. There are definite signs that at last we are being seen as the enablers rather than the usual suspects.

The announcements tomorrow on the Big Society Bank promise to be good I hear there wil be a good founding chair for the bank as it starts up. I have long argued the need for a bank And we will have to beware those that see this as just another grant making organisation. This is about loans. Access to capital for our sector. This above all could be the initiative that is revolutionary. We know from the work of Futurebuilders that there is appetite and demand for loans. The new Bank can be a trend setter , showing the High Street Banks that lending to third sector bodies can be profitable and is a new untapped Market as service delivery opportunities open up.

But there remains one problem. Council ( and to a lesser extent health) cuts. I think the time has come for councils to be directed not to make unproportionate cuts. I suggest a Big Rule to support Big Society. It has 2parts;

1. No cuts to sector organisations are bigger than for direct council services and,

2. Where cuts are made there is a moratorium of 6 months whilst talks are held with the sector organisations to give them a chance to propose how they could reshape services.

Unless we can see an end in sight for cuts , and things look to be getting worse not better , then it will be difficult to win over our sector. And we are crucial to the achievement of a bigger society. In the early days of the project it was clear that those proposing the idea thought they could do it without us. They thought we were the old guard. The usual suspects. Tainted by years of Labour so there was a feeling we needed to be sidelined. Indeed there were a number of disgraceful attacks on big charities. Remember the notorious Wei speech on the " big charity mindset " !

But I detect that is over. Whilst there are no new announcements or ,as yet any new money , ( though who knows what may come in the budget) I see a change of tone and direction which emphasises public service reform and a big role for the third sector in delivering that. Good. This is something we can support strongly and work on with Government.

And now it's time for Choral Evensong from Gloucester Cathedral on Radio 3 ,always a highlight of Sunday afternoon and late Mass. It's an early start tomorrow as I have to do radio interviews and then get to the PM speech on how he is recasting the message.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Big Society Ambassador attacks charities!

What a great start to the morning. Just finished my bacon croissant and I read the Times. Apparently we are to have some Big Society Ambassadors. Presumably part of their role is to explain what the concept is. If that is true we are in for trouble.

Let me tell you what the new Ambassador Shaun Bailey thinks about " big charities", as reported in The Times. Talking about big charities who have been protesting about cuts he says it just about , " a few people with their vested interests who think they were going to make a lot of money ".

This is a disgusting slur on the work of some of our countries most loved and most effective institutions. Our " vested interests" are the most vulnerable ,the most needy and the most damaged parts of our communities. Blind people supported by the incredible work of RNIB. Children at risk of abuse and victims of mindless cruelty supported by Action for Children and Barnadoes. People at the end of their life given care and compassion by the great Hospices and people at he end of their tether advised and helped by the Samaritans. So when we argue against cuts and demand that they are halted It is because the big charities are at the forefront of saving lives and making Britain a better society.

And shall we get our script right? I thought that the Government and local councils and health authorities are keen to expand the role of charities in delivering public services? They have been contracting with us because we provide better services which are often more cost effective. And the reform of public services is about expanding that role. So the Government need charities to grow. Big charities are essential to reform. We underpin the project.

But he goes on. He says needy charities should not be allowed to derail the project. Let me just suggest that if you don't want to derail the Big Society project then you will pack this in. It insults the work of millions of staff and volunteers across the land who work or support big charities. He suggest that we are " almost a civic union ". That's great reading for us all. It's no wonder that we don't know what on earth big society is if an Ambassador for it talks like this. Might be rather nice if you wanted big charities involved. And as the Big Society idea is not exactly loved attacking our sector is not a terribly good way to make it more popular.

And I'm afraid Nat Wei has been writing on this. Lord Wei suggests charities have been existing in a funding "bubble" and need to adjust to new reality (a sort of "get real" call!)

“The Big Society is not just the third sector made bigger. It’s a power shift to citizens and while the voluntary sector will take some of these powers it also needs to change its mindset. The culture shift is at every level.

“The previous government left expectations there would be increasing grant funding. That is not the way to run a voluntary body, which needs to have sustained earned income. We’ve had a huge bubble which has distracted the voluntary sector and the challenge for it is to return to some balance.”

A funding bubble eh. Is that the bubble of contracts to deliver vital services. Meals on wheels. Transport for the disabled ? Care for the mentally Ill? Is this suggesting that councils stop funding this. End their contracts and we all go out with our begging bowls?

This has to stop. A warning for all those promoting the project. Attacking big charities or the sector as a whole will not just be counterproductive but dangerous. We are trusted. Politicians are not. Attack us at your peril.

Right, now for a walk. My hound has been pulling at my sleeve as I blog. Anxious to be out. But I had to set the record straight. I'm on Sky on Sunday with Nick Hurd. I can set the record straight there.

Friday 11 February 2011

Health, me and the PM

Great to see the article I'd written on the role of charities in health published this morning. It reads well (he says modestly!). Here it is in case you missed it;

Charities can offer better service than the NHS

Stop arguing over private or public delivery on health and choose what is best for patients

St John’s Hospital in Bath was established in 1180 to provide healing and homes by the bubbling spa springs for the poor and infirm. The charity is still there 830 years later: a much valued health and care service for the elderly.

This demonstrates our country’s great charitable tradition in health. The Government’s desire to put citizens and patients first is both core to the current health reforms and a guiding mission for the country’s great charities and social enterprises. The words of the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, “no decision about me, without me”, are our driving passion.

We have a dual role: to deliver health services, undertake research and provide care and compassion to those most in need; and to act as an advocate and adviser. We are sometimes a challenger of the health establishment and always a doughty champion for patients.

For these reforms to be a success we must ensure a much stronger role for the third sector. That is why we strongly support the policy of “any willing provider”. The previous Government was profoundly mistaken in pursuing a policy of the NHS as “preferred provider”, which implied that services from our sector were less valued than the State’s. In fact, through a big expansion of the role of charities and social enterprises in providing care, we can provide more cost-effective and citizen-focused services.

This is not about privatisation. What matters is what is delivered, not who delivers it. This must be at the heart of health service reform.

Charities can offer a better deal in so many ways. In 2008 the NHS spent just over 0.05 per cent of its healthcare budget through charities. In other words this is a virtually untapped resource waiting to be used.

To me, competition in the NHS means British Red Cross volunteers being able to help more people to adapt to life at home after a lengthy spell in hospital, so preventing the need for readmission. Those who get this support are often aged over 65 and have experienced a fall. Volunteers bring them home, settle them in, advise neighbours or relatives of their return, check on pets, help to prepare a meal and make a further visit to ensure that they are safe and well. Such schemes can save the typical NHS commissioner up to £1 million a year.

Competition in the NHS would also mean an environmental charity such as BTCV running more “green gyms”, which give people a physical workout while taking part in environmental projects. So far, more than 10,000 people — often referred by GPs — have taken part. An evaluation found that the positive impact on mental and physical health, not to mention the acquisition of new skills, means that the State saves £153 for every £100 it invests. On top of that, it has a positive impact on local communities and the environment. Do we want less of this or more? I suspect that for most of us the answer is obvious.

Those who rely most on the NHS are the vulnerable, the very people charities were set up to help, precisely because they were being let down by the status quo. If groups such as the Red Cross and BTCV can do a better job than the NHS, we should let them.

Promoting wellbeing and preventing ill health have for too long been neglected aspects of the NHS’s role. These reforms rightly put emphasis on public health. Giving a role in health back to local councils is long overdue. The new health and wellbeing boards may provide the opportunity to get more resources behind public health as well as, for the first time, giving elected councillors the chance to scrutinise NHS resources. Preventing diabetes through better education, diet and exercise is always a better approach than picking up the costs of a growing number of people with diabetes. Charities such as Diabetes UK, working with councils and GPs, are critical to achieving that.

Of course there are challenges in introducing reforms. Of course proper funding is crucial. We want to ensure that there is a strategic approach to commissioning, including national guidelines. We want the new GP consortia to take full advantage of the opportunity to expand their work with our sector.

The challenge we face as a country is to build on the sure foundations of our NHS to provide service that recognises and expands the work of charities, promotes partnerships between State, third and private sectors and moves on from arcane arguments over privatisation.

And The Times also had a brilliant summary of the problems of Big Society and how to solve them by Phil Collins and a great letter from my Chair in response to the Francis Maude MP article.

I'm blogging from H M Treasury where the Prime Minister has been announcing new procurement and commissioning arrangements to free up the process for SMEs and charities and social enterprises. He was clear that we are part of the SME community and contracting has to be changed so that we can bid easier and better. He must have mentioned charities some 10 times in his speech and even referred to me directly. Then shook my hand on the way out! I made the point to him that we welcome the initiatives and I referred to Chris White MP's Social Clause Bill and how important that is.

And now the weekend beckons. Though I'm spending Sunday morning on Sky News. There you go; no rest for the wicked!

Thursday 10 February 2011

Talking and banking...

In a cab off to the Commons Committee on the Health Bill. Well prepared (I hope) and well admonished by my team about what to say and not to say. I shall enjoy this. I shall promote and defend the "any willing provider policy"!

I've also put the finishing touches to an article for a national paper tomorrow on same subject. Look out for it!

After that I move on to speak at two conferences and hopefully time to eat and think in the meantime. I have not prepared for the other speeches but God will provide.

This week has been rather dominated by media; calls and releases. A call from the News Editor at the Sunday Times last night even interrupted my listening of the Archers, shock horror.

The news yesterday on the Big Society Bank is good. Readers of Blog will know I have been banging on about this; the need for an adequate loan fund. I said £60m is not enough.

So it was good to get a call from Nick Hurd MP as I stood on the steps of the British Museum telling me they have an extra £200 on top of the dormant account money. This is a serious start. This can be built upon. And will. I understand more announcements are on the way.

But we have to be clear that this is about access to capital. It is not another grant fund. It is not transitional relief for ailing organisations. It is about access to capital for third sector organisations who want to deliver more public services.

For too long we have been cut off from traditional sources of capital. The banks do not lend to the sector. That has to change. One of the positive things I want the new Bank to do is set an example; that lending to social causes can be profitable. Futurebuilders has shown the way. Our default rate is still at only c2%. And that remember is for what are officially classified as "unbankable" loans.

So I tell Nick we are pleased. He should be congratulated for his dedication in getting us this far.

I was also delighted that Ed Miliband MP raised the closure of libraries in his constituency at PM Questions yesterday. It is a disgrace that the County Council plan to close my own beloved Charlbury Library. This is where I do my Blogging at the weekend, so it's practically a national treasure (blue plaque can only be a time away). Save my Library David!

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Spooky and Health

Well that was spooky! Walking along Whitehall talking to Andrew Lansley's Special Advisor on aspects of the Health Bill I bump into... Andrew Lansley. So some useful lobbying. I'm speaking to the Committee stage of the Health Bill at the Commons on Thursday so I'm getting briefed on key points we want to raise.

We strongly support the "any willing provider" concept, just as we opposed the misjudged "preferred provider" policy of Burnham. It is time for the health and social care market to be opened up to the myriad ranks of brilliant third sector bodies delivering health and social care and acting as a voice and advisor to patients.

As I've written before, this reform is a gamble. But we must work with the new GP Consortia in delivering more citizen focused services. This will be hard. Some GPs get it. They see the important role we must play in, say, long term condition management. Some do not.

And there is a need to ensure effective strategic direction for commissioning services. The DH and Monitor must be clear on their roles to provide advice and support for good commissioning. And some services must still be commissioned nationally.

The involvement of local Councils in promoting healthy communities is a welcome aspect of reform. The underlying problem faced by our health service is that we do not have a National Health Service. We have a national sickness service. Too few resources or attention is paid to promotion and prevention. Too little attention paid to how we can manage conditions through support in the community and, in the example of diabetes, better exercise and diet as opposed to pills.

So today is prep day. I'm speaking to the MPs in the morning, then on to speak at two conferences. Is a good job that having been around for yonks I don't need to spend too long preparing a speech. And I don't do PowerPoint; which is the death of good speaking and the prop of the nervous youth. And if I can't wax eloquent on the topic of the day - well that would be shocking.

Speaking truth to power. It's core to my role. But don't be fooled into thinking it's easy. An interesting phone call yesterday warning me I am not popular in all quarters of our governing class! But as a Big Society Knight I say that if I don't speak out against the cuts I'd be betraying the members who put me where I am.

I'm also clear that keeping your head below the parapet is a poor strategy that simply ensures you are ignored, taken for granted or dumped on. The leaders of the third sector are powerful figures. The public trust and support us. It would be a big mistake to take on the sector. I think the article by Francis Maude in yesterday's Times was unwise "Big Society is not about about pouring taxpayers money into the voluntary sector". This implies Government handouts to prop up charities as opposed to funding for the crucial work we do for our beneficiaries; people at the sharp end of deprivation, in excluded communities untouched by the state. To characterise our opposition to cuts as mere money grabbing is a an unfortunate reflection on the work of our sector in delivering a fairer society. I trust Francis will reflect on that before making that comment again. Members are not happy.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

A thinning Big Society and my pate!

Well, Mothers can be the sharpest critics! My mother's main comment on my appearance with Nick Hurd MP on the Channel 4 News slot with Jon Snow was that they had done a shot from behind us which showed off my bald patch (what bald patch I said!). My sisters Sara and Lucy were also commenting cruelly. Never mind what I was saying of course! (And note to self; next time they do the make-up before show ask them to tackle the pate!)

I was delighted that I had put on one of my Victoria Richard's ties today. She runs a brilliant social enterprise and Jon Snow is a great fan. He had one on too, though not the same one or that would have looked decidedly odd! I complimented him on his recent Desert Island Discs appearance. He was a chorister and so, like me, loves choral music. One of his choices was Herbert Howells, Collegium Regale, which has a stunning Magnificat. Listen to it and be awed!

And we all need something to cheer us up at the moment. It's depressing to get daily emails and calls from members angry at cuts. It needs firm action, particularly over Council cuts. Time for Government to direct Councils on this. My argument is that this is in the spirit of localism; to stop Councils undermining the empowerment of charities and voluntary groups.

I was supposed to be at a party last night in Speaker's House to celebrate Dame Elizabeth's retirement. The Dame has been a long standing member of ACEVO. Indeed her pink handbag was one of my earliest memories of an ACEVO meeting when I took up post in 2000. Of course she had already been in post for a long time by then! Nearly 40 years at the helm. What a star!

I didn't make it, but ironically that was her fault as her intervention on the cuts to volunteering sparked all this media interest, and by the time Nick and I had finished we had missed it!

I've just read through today's Times, which is full of stories on the Big Society, as well as an irritating article by Francis Maude (theme; "Big Society is not about pouring taxpayers money into the voluntary sector", as if, Francis!)

Now I'm on my way to our Big Society Commission, being held at one of our corporate partners, Farrers, the legal firm (the splendid Anne-Marie Piper is their charity partner and a force in the charity land!). We meet in the very room where Charles Dickens signed his will and the Charter of the Bank of England was drawn up. The sense of history is so appropriate for what we are doing; charities have been around for centuries and delivering what we now term a Big Society. I wish the Government would recognise our strength and collective wisdom and use us, not cut us.

Monday 7 February 2011

Time for action

Well. Dame Elizabeth, a vision in pink on BBC breakfast show telling Wei what's going wrong. A great interview on "Today". She highlights the problem that cuts are making for the mission to drive up volunteering.

And last week, the Cabinet Office announce that they are to end strategic grants over four years. Some of the biggest grants go to volunteering England (at 1.6.) and CSV at 1.1m. This is on top of the slashing of the grants to the youth charity V.

But what I find extraordinary is that the Cabinet Office say this is to cut our dependence on handouts. This line was repeated this morning. We are told we must stand on our own two feet.

What they appear to miss is that these strategic grants are made as a transaction in return for services. Its not a handout. It's about supporting our capacity building of the sector, about providing the Cabinet office with advice on what is happening in the sector and how to best target programmes.

But what maybe sinister is that this implies an agenda to cut back the Welfare State. Spend less on core care services and rely on charitable donations.

The Institute of Economic Affairs give the game way today when they say we should cut money to charities. They say we are over dependent on the State for funding. But they miss the point that this is money for contracts to deliver services; for children and young people, or the elderly, the disabled or the jobless. Services that were once provided by the State. And which the Government with another voice say we should expand. Are they seriously suggesting we provide this contractual work for free? Are they saying when Government contract for services from the private sector under the work programme they should be paid and we do it for free?

It is insulting to describe the money that goes to charity from the State as a handout.

I'm on my way to the BBC to make exactly that point. And then for Channel 4 News. Good job I had a relaxing weekend in Suffolk, staying near glorious Southwold with an old friend from Lambeth, Sharon Atkins. Marvellous cook, she is onto her second book on Caribbean cooking. Fine wine, fine food and gossip. It's what makes for a magnificent weekend. All CEOs need it. And in the battles ahead we need to be strengthened in purpose, resolute and in great health....

Thursday 3 February 2011

Where next?

The story in today's papers about Liverpool pulling out of the Big Society vanguard project is an illustration of how problematic it is to promote the concept of Big Society against a background of cuts. It's worth reading the full letter from the Leader of the Council,

"Liverpool City Council has a long history of working with its local communities. Our voluntary and community sector is well established and extremely successful. They have a passion and vision for the city and for the people they serve.

You will recall that you announced Liverpool as one of four ‘Big Society’ vanguard areas last summer with Phil Redmond leading the initiative.

Later in the year, Liverpool City Council was asked to assist in this initiative around some key projects, including running a ‘parallel vanguard programme’. We took up this challenge wholeheartedly and have invested significant resources to deliver this substantial programme of activity.

When we agreed to become a Vanguard, your government promised to work with us to remove some of the problems and blockages that were preventing us from successfully delivering our Big Society programme. I have to say, the government has failed to deliver a single change that we have requested, which has severely hampered many parts of our programme.

Liverpool has been doing the "Big Society" for many years. We call it "working with our communities" and it is something we are very much committed to. We pride ourselves on our excellent working relationships with our community and voluntary sectors, and indeed have done our utmost to support these sectors - as they are crucial to the success of our city.

These organisations - run by thousands of dedicated and passionate people right across the city - play a vital role in helping build vibrant and cohesive communities. They provide hundreds of services essential to a thriving society.

But their ability to help us improve the quality of life for Liverpool residents has been seriously undermined by two government decisions. Firstly, the loss of over £100million of Area Based Grants to Liverpool has put many organisations very survival at risk. These funds, aimed at tackling deprivation, were widely utilised by the voluntary sector. Secondly, Liverpool’s extremely poor local government settlement means a huge £141million reduction in council spending over the next two years. This level of cuts will significantly impact on council services, including the funding of many of our voluntary and community groups.

How can the City Council support the Big Society and its aim to help communities do more for themselves when we will have to cut the lifeline to hundreds of these vital and worthwhile groups?

I have therefore come to the conclusion that Liverpool City Council can no longer support the "Big Society" initiative, as a direct consequence of your funding decisions.

This comes on top of the news, as reported in The Guardian, that Nat Wei is reducing his (voluntary) time commitment to the Big Society advisory role in Government, and the implosion of the Big Society Network.

All of this was predictable. If you bypass the existing structures of the third sector and try and do it all on a year zero basis you will get your fingers burnt. Who knows about community development. The established third sector bodies like the Community Alliance. Did they get pulled in to No: 10 and asked how to do it ? No. In the drive to get more volunteers, were the well established volunteer bodies like BTCV, volunteering England and CSV called in and asked to deliver it? No.

But as I said in my open letter to the PM published in The Times the concept of Big Society is important and crucial to the Government's overall policy direction. We salute the concept and want to work to make it happen. That is why many of us are so angry about cuts. They undermine and weaken the very sector that is needed to deliver the idea. Perhaps now we will see a greater emphasis on how reforming public services to empower citizens and communities is the key to a Bigger Society. The PM's instincts on the role of the sector and how it must be expanded are sound. They are genuine. But he now needs to work better with us in realising his ambitions, and rely less on the slightly flaky gimmicks and advice received so far.

Our Big Society Commission meets shortly in Liverpool to hear evidence and views. It will be fascinating

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Get real on volunteering

New research from the third sector research centre comes at an opportune moment. Governments of all colours like to talk in a romantic and hazy way about citizenship and us all "doing more", helping our neighbours etc.

Indeed at the moment the Government are working on a top down, centrally driven programme "community organisers", to encourage more people to volunteer in communities (ignoring community organisations as it does so, and with Councils cutting their support: crazy world we live in eh!)

The new research shows,

"policies to engage people in community action need to be informed by a more sophisticated understanding of how and why community organisations operate. People primarily take part in community action for very personal reasons rather than from a sense of civic duty, and the research questions whether this can be co-opted to deliver particular policy objectives. Voluntary action for many is about social needs, ‘fun’, doing something different to the ‘day job’ or taking action about something that directly affects them, their families or community.

The research team found that there were major concerns among organisations involved in this activity that the Big Society agenda would create greater inequalities, by favouring strong communities with the resources, skills and knowledge to engage. The research identifies a need for policy to be informed by a much stronger analysis of power relations within and between communities and the state.

Where Governments have been successful at directly motivating people to act, anger has also played a major role. This can be seen in the establishment of the Countryside Alliance, the anti-Iraq war demonstrations, anti-globalisation actions at the G8 and G20 Summits and recent demonstrations against increased tuition fees. Yet this has received very little attention in ‘Big Society’ debate

I had a meeting yesterday at DCLG of the Sector Advisory Board. The Minister was down to attend, but too busy. A surreal moment when we were waiting in the lobby to be ushered up by a civil servant (they don't want you wandering the building looking for leaks!). A civil servant appeared and was calling for the "aspiring communities group". She looked at me. I said, "No, no, we are the expiring communities ".

I made clear to the meeting of officials the anger there is in the sector about uninformed, senseless cuts. I made the point that despite Coalition agreements on fairness these cuts were clearly hitting disadvantaged communities more severely. I said it was time for a direction from the Department. Ministers speeches are not enough. Nudge is clearly not working. I'm afraid the civil servants seemed to think that demonstrates the value of good practise will shame others into behaviour change.

Of course with my decades experience of Local Government from the inside I know this is not going to work in time.

The capacity and infrastructure of third sector and community bodies takes time to build but moments to destroy. We will pay a big price in the country for the axe being wielded over our sector. It's our beneficiaries who suffer. And they are.