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.


DW said...

Damn well said. I read the article this morning with shock and disbelief... more and more does Nat Wei's "big society" simply look like a "bad society".

starcourse said...

Sir Stephen. Shaun Bailey is a good guy. He's not an Oxbridge graduate like you (or me) so maybe shoots from the hip a bit, but please cut him some slack! He's done great work with disadvantaged kids on the estates round here, and his heart is absolutely in the right place.

I don't think he was saying the disquiet was "just" from vested interests, and you must admit that some charities have become a bit too dependent on state "funding".

Unknown said...

Politicians are frequently out of touch with the reality of the people they are supposed to be governing but this governemnt is particularly disconnected (and the consequences for our society and future generations are frightening). We need as many people like you who has expertise, insight and clout to stand up and lead the voice of protest - and we need to collectively support you - the risks of not doing so are too horrendous to contemplate for the vulnerable and disadvantaged and they don't figure on the governments radar screen!