Thursday 31 March 2011


Well, that was a night. Farrer's , The Queen's solicitors had kindly put on a reception to celebrate my recent Knighthood ( the gregrious Anne-Marie Piper our ebullient host ).

A grand selection of the great and the good and the not so. Both the current and the last Cabinet Secretaries, various media stars like Michael Crick, assorted sector gurus and board members mixing with old Oxford friends and members of the wonderful Bubb family.

My Chair made a lovely speech, which if I got the drift right, she used to liken me to the enigma machine and marmite! My own, mercifully short, contribution reflected back on the inauspicous fact that the last of my ancestors to be knighted got himself beheaded a few years later for upsetting Henry VIII ! This has not deterred me from speaking out on cuts!

Great to see Stuart there, coming with his own personal protection in the shape of Sam Younger, the CEO of the Charity Commission!

And here is a picture to treasure of the Knights of the not so round third sector table....

So a somewhat bleary eyed early morning start to get to Canary Wharf for a big Reform conference on the Big Society. I was on the opening panel , chaired by my favourite think tank leader, Nick Seddon.

Roberta Blackman- Woods MP talked about the Labour Party stance in a thoughtful and interesting speech. The Labour Party is starting a policy review of its approach to BigSoc. It needs to, as we are never quite sure whether its a " cover for cuts" or an idea they thought up and the Tories stole!

And I'm still celebrating yesterday's great news for the Social Investment Business of the endowment of the community builders programme. The good news was capped by Andrew Lansley anouncing yesterday that he is increasing the budget for the Social Enterprise Investment fund by at least £10m. This fund is managed by the SIB. So SIB goes from strength to strength; a major vehicle for driving up social loans to the sector.

No wonder the champagne was flowing last night! Much to celebrate in what is otherwise the slough of despond of spending cuts.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Give Greg a clap!

The government have announced today that they are transferring the money in the Communitybuilders programme. Directly into the Social Investment Business as an endowment .

Communitybuilders is now an endowed fund, owned and administered by the charity, the Adventure Capital Fund ( part of the Social investment Business )who can now continue to fund and support community enterprise projects beyond the end of March 2011 when the scheme was due to cease .

This is great news for community enterprises and the sector more broadly. It will be a source of funding for the foreseeable future and shows the Government’s commitment to support the development of the sector and its role in empowering citizens and communities .

It is a bold step to take a big slice of public funds and endow it to a charity. It makes complete and logical sense as it frees us up to provide more flexible and innovative loans and gives us the potential for leverage.

It is a real endorsement of the success of the Communitybuilders Fund to date and of ACF’s pioneering model of social investment over the last decade. The ACF has been making investments in community enterprises since 2003. It has been subject to a very positive external evaluation.

One of the key findings of that evaluation was that you can make loans to quite small organisations and help them thrive. It also shows how loans help drive more sustainable organisations. The report should be read by all those loan deniers out there who think that loans are a satanic tool.

As well as loans the approach has been one of " engaged investing" so loans are coupled with a range of investment tools and support services to organisations looking to develop income streams to become more sustainable.

It has demonstrated the power of loans. Now we can do more of them!

The endowment will obviously concentrate on making more loans, and so creating a fund which will recycle repayments back into the sector. But we are also going to pause and give thought to how best develop our social investments.

I’ve blogged before about the value of loan finance to sector organisations; this endowment means we can support many more third sector organisations into the future, helping them to become financially stronger at the same time as they deliver new community hubs, regenerate neighbourhoods and work with their local council to take on asset transfer projects.

The Communitybuilders programme operates around the country. And has invested in volunteer-run radio stations, a " community university", adult education classes and family support services for people living in some of our most deprived areas. We have enabled organisations to invest in buying farms , churches and ships! We invested in a brilliant sustainability project in Manchester which recycles waste produce from the Market.

I’ve been the Chair of the ACF , part of The Social Investment Business, since September 2006. Its been a great experience!

Now politicians often get brickbats so when they do something visionary they deserve strong credit, so I would like to pay tribute in particular to the local government Minister Greg Clark MP who recognised the value of making an endowment as a way of levering capital and gave it his crucial backing. Without the bold political decision to do this , it would not have happened. Greg understands the power of loans to grow community enterprise so was prepared to back the endowment idea and to make it happen, and it even got crucial HMT backing ( so thank you Justine Greening MP too! )

The endowment approach creates a blueprint for how to get the best value from government funds in the future, and so we are looking at how his approach might work for the running of the Health social investment fund and for the Futurebuilders loan book.

Great news!

Employee engagement, Wei and Lambeth dining

The traffic was appalling;and though I allowed plenty of time for the crucial pre meeting networking I was late for my event at No 10. Fortunately arriving just in advance of PM.

It was the launch of the taskforce on employee engagement which ACEVO has been strongly supporting and involved in. Of course the room was stuffed with the great and the good of the commercial and public sectors. The likes of Gus and Philip Green and the CEOs of SERCO, Lloyds etc.

I must say the PM was looking chipper- joking about the Cabinet meeting he was going to and then, of course Libya ! He even congratulated Brendan Barber for his successful March and rally on Saturday!

There was an interesting discussion on how to engage employees and how important that is for productivity and innovation. I think this is one area where both sectors can learn from us: both from how we engage with staff who may not be amongst the best paid in the country , and our huge volunteer workforce.

I suggested that this was partly because of the major alignment of our people with mission and the ethics and integrity of their organisations, but also because of leadership. Strangely, up to that point no one had actually mentioned the importance of leadership, as Philip Green ( not that one! ) commented on later , suggesting how interesting it was the third sector were the first to mention how that element is crucial.

Although I do think the sector is better than most I also know we can take employee engagement for granted. So we are going to work with the taskforce to drive this up the agenda in the third sector.

Then it was onto a very enjoyable lunch with Lord Nat Wei; charming, and on issues like social finance, very on the ball. We talked about how the sector can best maximise access to tendering opportunities, the need for consortia and capitalisation.

Then back to the office where we were getting some hassle from councils we had named and shamed in The Times story that morning. A good piece by Jill Sherman, speculating on whether Pickles will go further than his strong speech on councils not making disproportionate cuts to the sector by giving statutory guidance.

And the evening rounds off with a marvellous Lambeth dinner party with old friends; at the home of no less than 2 ACEVO members; Deborah Arnott ,the champion of non smoking and Jon Davies,who has been around our sector for some time and is currently going for a range of interesting sector CEO posts. They had asked their neighbours; Clare Gerada , the President of the Royal College of GPs and Lord Matthew Oakeshot, scourge of the wretched bankers and their bonuses!

Inevitably talk turned to Andrew Lansley and the NHS reforms....

Friday 25 March 2011


Good governance in a third sector body is a real driver for change and progress. Bad governance is fatal. And core to the task is the CEO - Chair relationship.

Yesterday I had a day of it! In the morning I had the ACEVO board of trustees meeting under the admirable direction of my Chair Lesley-Anne Alexander; who drives the agenda forward in a charming but efficient manner. We aim to finish in 2 hours and on the dot of 12.30 she draws the meeting to a close.

Then in the evening I Chair a meeting of the non exec directors of the Social Investment Business. We too have a 2 hour meeting but I fail to end at 7pm- I'm 5 minutes over.

But it has led me to reflect on what makes a good meeting of trustees- directors. Perhaps key to it is a clear understanding of the distinct roles of the non exec and the exec. The non exec is there to provide scrutiny of how the organisation is running. But not to run it. And the non exec is there to help lead strategy development and direction but the executive , having drawn up and proposed ideas then implements.

And it is the job of the Chair and CEO to ensure the boundaries are kept. You cannot have non execs substituting their judgment on finances over the FD and CEO but the role of the non exec is to make a judgment that the budget presented and then monitored is sufficient for the purpose and , crucially, the business is on course and not heading for the knackers yard.

For me its been incredibly useful to perform both roles. As a Chair you get a different understanding of the pressures on a CEO. My SIB chief is taking up a third sector Chair role and I'm sure that will be a great advantage to him and us. Amusingly his CEO is an ACEVO member!

And one of my SIB non exec directors is the Chair of my Chair. There is a lot of this interchange in our sector and I suspect many ACEVO CEOs also chair another organisation.

This helps underline a better understanding of the distinct- if at times overlapping roles of the CEO and Chair. At their best they form the linchpin for driving an organisation forward. If dysfunctional they can bring ruin.

That is why at the core of the ACEVO offering is support on this relationship and development opportunities to provide advice and help.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

The Budget; start up Britain includes us!

Well, some good news at the start .

The Community Investment Tax Relief is to remain. I wrote to the Chancellor urging him to keep the relief. Thanks George.

Interesting he announced more apprenticeships for young unemployed. That is good. But we need to go further by bringing back the Future jobs Fund. It will happen. No government can or should ignore the scandal of growing youth unemployment. More measures are needed.

I have been critical of HMT and HMRC for the past few years for failing to act on simplifying gift aid arrangements. So it was very heartening that he announced what sounds like strong and important changes in the scheme. He is right to say a country must be judged by the compassion of its people. Reforms to support giving are crucial to this. Government support to ramp up giving is very welcome. The changes on inheritance tax are an important step forward. Gift aid on small donations , as in money we put in buckets at the tube etc , is an excellent change, in particular as well as radical simplification to the scheme .

I was rather hoping there might be more money to address the growing " pot holes" in our sector, which councils are currently hacking away at, as opposed to the £100 million potholes scheme he did announce!

I have written to the Chancellor welcoming the measures on charitable giving, the recognition of our call to retain CITR, and calling on him to ensure that the "start-up Britain" campaign takes full account of the value and potential of our sector and social enterprise. But I will also be making clear that in addition to the positive measures in the Budget, we need action now from the Government to get a grip on local cuts to the voluntary sector. That is where ACEVO will be focusing our efforts in the coming days.

But what is crucial, and what I think the Treasury always misses is that our sector is a crucial part of the UK economy. We provide major stimulus to innovation and enterprise and to growth in service delivery. So we should be a crucial part of local enterprise partnerships. But we are not. We should be core to any growth strategy. We are not; though we appear to be core to local councils cuts strategies.

Strategic grants

Waiting at luggage reclaim is not often exhilarating but it was yesterday. Standing waiting for bag laden with dirty washing and bottles of wine ( strictly within allowed limits he advises hastily ) I get a text from my Deputy, Dr Kyle which puts spring in my steps.

ACEVO's bid for a strategic grant with OCS has been agreed with an exciting partnership bringing in New Philanthropy Capital and Euclid Network. We are one of only 9 partners in a refreshed scheme. And our allocation has increased from £210k to £415k. This is great news for ACEVO members, allowing us to continue to build on our very strong reputation of representing them at the heart of government.

There were two important hallmarks of our bid. Firstly we wanted to underline the work we do across Government on sector- state relationships, particularly in delivering public services, maximising resources and in how to demonstrate impact.

Secondly we wanted to emphasise our experience in working in partnership across the sector. This includes work with Volunteering England, Social Enterprise London, BTCV and the newly merged Locality.

We also made clear a commitment to work more closely with NCVO, with an MoU outlining key areas of collaboration. Much is made of the supposed rivalry between our organisation but in truth there is much common ground. There are also differences in emphasis and approach on matters. Why wouldn't there be? No one expects the CBI and the IoD to say exactly the same thing or act in the same way but both clearly defend and promote private sector interests. In a diverse sector like ours one should not just expect different approaches but welcome them.

However on the core messages, we are at one and we intend to work more closely together in the face of the cuts and threats to the sector. So we will be running more joint events for example and increase the liaison between us at both executive and board level. Some people would probably be surprised at the contact between myself and Stuart and between our Chairs, but they shouldn't be. And the fact that I and Stuart have differnet approaches on issues is not a problem but an opportunity for the sector in promoting our value and voice.

There is a strong shared interest in the lead sector organisations working closely with Government to promote the sector's role. And that does not compromise our essential role in speaking out when we need to defend and protect our sector from bad government decisions ( whether local or national ).

We can help shape and deliver Government agendas that promote sector interests and public service reform is forefront in much of this; which is why ACEVO works with OCS, DH, DWP, MoJ, DfE, CLG, HMT and No 10 to ensure the terms of trade are right.

ACEVO has been at the very front of the arguments on cuts and our voice is loud and insistent. It must be. Government sensibly recognises this entirely legitimate role -as demonstrated in the decision on our strategic grant.

Monday 21 March 2011

So,farewell then Sydney!

All good things must come to an end and we are at the airport heading back to Heathrow.

But a splendid weekend ; a visit to the Opera House to see the Barber of Seville, Mass in the oldest church in Sydney ( St James ) and lunch with an old Oxford friend Rob Scoble.

Rob Scoble and I at bronte beach

Rob is now a novelist and biographer. He is writing the first definitive biography of Baron Corvo ( Frederick Rofle ). As a present he had unearthed an old photo of me ( allegedly ). Here it is.

Note the fashion statement with the jumper ( or is that a tank top? ). Was that knitted by mother I wonder? Anyway a different era!

Coming away, the news is of the generosity of Dr Rob Brown, leader of the Greens and Tasmanian Senator , who has given his house and land ,Oura Oura , to Bush Heritage Tasmania, a non profit he helped establish to protect the wild lands of Tasmania. It is in this very house that he set up that non profit , with money from an environmental award 20 years ago and which has ever since been buying land to protect it from logging. Oura Oura ( it means the yellow tail cockatoo in the aboriginal language ) will be the trusts' 33 rd property covering almost a million hectacres. As the Sydney Morning Herald reports it ,

" nestling below a craggy bluff, beside a fern lined river, is an old weatherboard cottage. Home to platypus, perergrine falcons,quolls and bandicots and visited by Tasmanian devils and wedge tailed eagles.It's an idyllic location and one that has played a role in tumultuous events that have shaped the nation ".

It was a discussion around the kitchen table at Oura Oura in 1976 that led to the successful campaign to stop the Franklin river barrage ( see my previous blog from Tasmania ). From such small beginnings great campaigns can be unleashed. Such is the power of our great third sector.

As Rob recounts in the newspaper interviews,

" There were 16 greenies in beanies in the kitchen on a very cold last Saturday in June 1976. Activist Kevin Kiernan suggested we take the name of the great American environment group "the Wilderness society" and it was agreed. "

The Wilderness Society is now a great environmental charity in Australia and continues to fight for the protection of the environment.

Rob Brown recounts how he felt that he could not simply sit on his verandah enjoying his glorious mountain side property and its caliming views but had to get out and do something to protect such beauty for future generations by active campaigning.

A stirring story. But one that is so often repeated in our sector. Courageous and visionary folk who are determined to take on vested interests on behalf of us all. Whether that is the likes of Octavia Hill forming the National Trust or Sue Ryder and Leonard Cheshire founding what are now great and distinguished charities, or in previous ages the radical Tory MP who could not stand cruelty to animals and got off his backside to do something about it- founding what is now the RSPCA or another liberal MP who formed the campaign to stop slavery , William Wilberforce ( and vigorously opposed by the powers that be at the time!

Amusingly the Sydney Morning Herald reports the marvellous story of Rob Brown's gift alongside ( without any hint of irony ) a nasty piece of journalism where they report, shock horror, that many of today's green activist non profits have been receiving grants from the State government for projects and work to protect the environment whilst at the sane time daring to campaign for a carbon tax!

Only goes to show that our great third sector pioneers often have to take on an entrenched and viscous establishment to get justice and change!

So ,refreshed I return to the UK ready for the fight ahead!

It was even raining in Sydney when we left- a friendly reminder of what probably awaits in dear old Blighty.

Friday 18 March 2011

Bring back the Future Jobs Fund!

So unemployment has now hit a 17 year high. 2.53m last quarter. This is disastrous. And shows no signs of getting better as we know , there is significant job loss already in the third sector and , post April , I expect it will get worse.

And the real shock is the growing army of young people unemployed. We have to learn the lessons of a previous lost generation. Members report that what is particularly damaging are the young kids who have lived in a family where no parent has had a full time job and now face that same situation themselves. There are very serious social consequences to this.

We can also expect to see a ramping up of attacks on the so called " work shy" or scroungers. Calls for peole to get on their bikes or the buses to find work. Attacks on scroungers are the traditional way in which politicians deny the reality of joblessness and avoid their responsibility to do anything about it.

It was a major error of Government to scrap the Future Jobs Scheme. This was making a real difference. And the scandal is that they cancelled an independent evaluation of the scheme being carried out by a university. So when you hear DWP politicians say " it wasn't working", don't believe them. It was. If they were worried it was not then they would have asked the independent evaluation to review it first.

It was a knee jerk and senseless act to scrap a scheme that is now palpably needed.

The reality is that it was strong and popular. The third sector had risen to the challenge maagnficently. Consortia and partnerships had been developed so that even small organisations could take on one or 2 youths. And the fact is that many of those yopng people on the 6 month FJF placements went on into training or jobs. We took our responsibility seriously to place people. What is happening now I ask?

My splendid Vice Chair has blogged about the success of the scheme they were involved in as Social Enterprise London.
But as the situation becomes more serious I'm sure government will find they need special schemes to stem the tide of youth unemployment. Obviously too embarrassing to call it a future jobs scheme. How about " big society new deal for youth" ? Other suggestions?

So I have left Melbourne on the way back to Sydney. I have risen to the Bogg challenge.

" Me as I leave 38 walter st"

Thursday 17 March 2011

Vinous delights for St Patrick

Happy St Patrick's Day! We drove past a particularly happy CĂ©ilidh in central Melbourne; but we were on the way to the wineries of the Yarra valley.

20 years ago I bought 2 gorgoeus bottles of Yarra Yering pinot noir. And today I actually went to the vineyard itself. What a joy the tasting was as I looked out to the vines surrounded by the Northern Divide mountains! And I came away with a bottle of the Dry Red No 1, 2004. One bottle only- it is somewhat expensive. But another top tip from Bubb for the third sector's wine lovers! You can get a bottle from Berry Bros!

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Investing in innovation; loans are good

The Social Investment Business plays a crucial role in making loans to support innovation. One of the important lessons we have learnt is that even small community organisations can use loans to grow.

Against a background of cuts in grants this must be a strong way to defeat the cuts and take advantage of future growth.

SIB are working on two projects which have received funding from the Department for Education. Both projects partner with ACEVO member 4Children in the important area of early years and childcare services. This work is all about building the sector’s capacity to both reform and deliver services for young children and their parents – showing the sector can play an active role in public service delivery in a crucial area.

There are thousands of organisations – large and small – providing care, education and play for children . And our sector’s role in improving child welfare has an illustrious history; with the big national charities history stretching back hundreds of years.

Indeed it is thought the very first Government contract for the delivery of public services was for children- with Coram Fields back in the 18th century!

These days, these organisations face the challenge of surviving through the current climate of cuts, and alternative ways of ensuring they can continue to be there to help some of our most needy children is very, very welcome. Loans will grow as a feature of a diverse income streams for charities.

Again,we think loans are new innovation for our sector. In fact charitable foundations were making loans to encourage social entrepreneurs in the 16th century!

The benefits to society, communities, parents and, most importantly, children themselves of getting the right support to children in their earliest years is well known – and expenditure on people at that age is a money saver for government in the long term. So investment in innovation is crucial.

Children’s services are an area where a lot of innovative developments are taking place for the sector. The good old Big Lottery Fund recently announced the Improving Futures Fund, a £20m programme that will fund charity-led partnerships supporting families with vulnerable children.

Loans will be important in securing government contracts. This is exactly what sector organisations should be doing – getting paid by the government in exchange for their crucial work (although I know some people still have trouble understanding the concept that charities can earn money this way, just like private sector service providers!).

With the diminishing access to grants, public service contracts are going to be one way for some community groups, charities and social enterprises to source alternative forms of income, and demonstrate that they can provide a measurably increased social impact when delivering these services.

It’s also great to see the encouragement of charities to work together locally to provide the best service to those need it the most. Working together in consortia also gives charities and social enterprises, big and small, the opportunity to deliver local services and play a part in winning local authority contracts. This will also lead to a stronger local sector which is less reliant on grant funding.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

A third sector lunch...

In Melbourne with Gerard Menses the CEO of Vision Australia and David Thompson of Jobs Australia.

Gerard Menses, left and David Thompson, right

Gerard is clearly an Oz version of my very own Chair- he has overseen 8 blind charity mergers! He is seeing my Chair soon, possibly before I do!

He has taken over the chairing of the Victoria peak body for the third sector from David. They have " peak " bodies rather than umbrella bodies here in Oz , (just to confuse my friend Robin Bogg I guess? )

David I have known for many years and I think this is the third lunch we have celebrated over the last 5 years. Why he even follows the Blog and was curious to know who this Robin Bogg fellow is ( aren't we all! ).

He knows my taste in fine wine and turned up with a bottle of Grosset, Polish Hill Riesling 2010 from the Clare Valley,SA. The Italian restaurant, Masani, has a BYO policy on wine. Now this wine is in Langton's top 100 wines of Australia- in the top 10. I can tell you it was superb and I went straight from the restaurant to buy a bottle to bring back to London. My top tip- get this!

We have a very Oz laid back lunch, sitting in the sun on the side walk - you get the picture!

David runs Jobs Australia which is a national network of tsos in the work and training world. The network helps members make the most of their resources to help the unemployed. Its a network funded by its members. In Australia, the third sector plays a massive role in providing employment and related services.

But there are problems with the contracting arrangements with Government. The contracts have become excessively micro- managed. The technology allows government contract managers to interfere with indivual's prorgammes. So , for example David told me a contract manager will ring about "Fred Smith" and want to know what action is being taken to implement sanctions for not attending a course or interview.

The system has become dominated by political worries on the work shy and the need for sanctions and the third sector has been steadily drawn into a punitive system not of its making. There may be a message here for our own sector as we increase our role in provision and as the Government get more aggressive about the so called "work shy".

We talk about the problems we now face in the UK sector. Chaos as David describes it. He wonders if leadership will be tested as CEOs face up to running organisations in hard times when they have had 10 years of relative plenty. Of course the cuts will test the mettle of all our leaders,but the problem is that some of the cuts are so severe and stupid that really good, efficient and excellent organisations go to the wall. Once a third sector body goes it can't be brought back. So I argue mergers and partnerships will be much more to the fore than previously. Gerard, who also oversaw a coming together of many anglican care chariites before taking on Vision Australia much agrees!

Monday 14 March 2011


The first I heard of the disaster in Japan was a text from mother - wondering if the tsunami was heading our way! Fortunately not! But the news is bad. 2 years ago I was in Japan for the launch of JACEVO, the Japanese third sector leaders body, which they modelled on ACEVO and is now going strong with support from Government for Leadership development of the sector.

Sendai, the centre of the earthquake, was one of the cities in which we launched JACEVO. A charming place with marvellous castle and shrines in the hills above the city. Appalling to think of the loss of life and damage. I have sent a message of comradeship and support to our colleagues in JACEVO.

Prof Ushiro, who chairs JACEVO tells me that their vice Chair , Bat Kato San, who comes from Sendai, is well. Their third sector and civil society generally will be sorely tested over the coming months so we must wish them well.

Looking back at my Blog from Sendai I wrote at the time (September, 2009).

Sendai Launch

The scaly dead fish staring at me first thing in the morning is not the way I wanted to start Saturday! My second Japanese breakfast and I'm dreaming of cornflakes! But the ryokan in the seaside resort of Atami did have a hot spring so it was most relaxing. Though not the time when I managed to wander into the women's section of the springs.....much giggling all round as I bade a hasty retreat. And I even dipped my toes in the Pacific!

This was just a one night stop on the way to our 4th and final JACEVO Launch in Sendai in Northern Japan. More questions on social enterprise and the concept of loans. Then a final dinner with the cream of the non profits in Sendai- jolly lot shown in photo here

One of the younger activists , who is also an artist drew out my name in japanese kanji characters and the translation means " breakthrough knight". Well , well, not inappropriate I thought !

Sunday was a relaxing day, being taken around the City by one of the non profit sector trustees. We have a final breakfast ( and goodness it was with cornflakes) with the President and CEO of JACEVO. We have been discussing drawing up a joint membership agreement and they are planning on translating some of our publications, particularly on public sector reform and the case for more third sector delivery. It is clear the new Government are very interested in such reforms and also giving the sector a more formal role working with government. So we are clear that our links will grow and strengthen. So now its back to Tokyo and onward to Korea.

I'm back from Tasmania and leave you with a couple of final images.

Cuts are bad for us!

As we get nearer to the new financial year, yet more evidence is coming in of the effect of cuts on our beneficiaries and vital services we provide. The services for children and young people are particularly at risk. There have been massive cutbacks for youth services. Whilst we don't see the immediate effect of these cuts, we will.

The last few weeks have seen the publication of two important pieces of research from ACEVO members, 4Children and the Daycare Trust, both of which suggested that significant numbers of Sure Start centres risk closure in the next twelve months. A survey of managers based in Centres across England showed that 250 are expected to close in the next financial year, 2,000 will be providing a reduced service and 3,100will have a decreased budget. These are pretty stark figures given the overwhelming evidence showing the hugely positive impact these Centres can have on improving the life chances of children and families across the country.

I fear this will become another example of the growing gap between the rhetoric from government, in this case through the endorsement of reports by both Graham Allen and Frank Field, and the reality of delivering services on the ground. For many years, the third sector has been at the forefront of advocating for investment in high quality early years services which reach out to the most vulnerable families, whilst also acting as hubs for the whole community. The Social Investment Business has made some top quality and important investments in this area.

Many of the most innovative services that have sought to engage with the hardest to reach or have focussed on making the links between complex mental health conditions and parenting skills have sprung from our sector organisations.

For example, in their Children’s Centres, Action for Children have established household budgeting sessions, social English Groups and Stay and Play sessions in which parents who are engaged in substance misuse can receive treatment while their children are cared for in a safe, nurturing environment. Taking a holistic approach to supporting families who are impacted by a number of issues that range across health, social care, education and financial and social exclusion is by far the most cost effective way of addressing some of the most endemic problems facing local communities. Indeed, research from the New Economics Foundation showed that for every £1 invested in the services delivered by Centres run by Action for Children, the social return on investment was £4.60.

And for the scale deniers amongst the Commons backbenchers; those who dare to criticise great charities like Action for Children because they have the temerity to bid for contracts to run these services and so have the majority of their funding from government, let's remember where innovation comes from!

ACEVO has established an Early Years Taskforce, chaired by Anne Longfield, Chief Executive of 4Children, which will be working to articulate a new vision for Early Years services which marries up the need to provide support to develop healthy, resilient and happy children with the requirement to drive cost efficiencies across the sector.

Local government is becoming increasingly important to the third sector. ACEVO is organising a top level seminar wirth our colleagues council CEOs to discuss how we can move beyond cuts to more joint delivery.

Last week we launched the findings of research conducted with IPPR North into the relationship between the first wave of Local Enterprise Partnerships established in the North and the local voluntary sector and social enterprise.

The government has made its commitment to rebalancing the economy very clear, and the new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have a central role to play in this. But if they are to be successful, it is crucial that they draw fully on all resources available to them – and this means utilising the knowledge of our sector.

With more employees than the finance sector and a turnover greater than the car industry, the third sector is a significant economic force in its own right. A point which has too often been overlooked in the past. In many local authority areas third sector enterprises will be amongst the biggest employers outside the public sector. Councils which have employment and economic growth high on their agenda can therefore not afford to overlook this part of the sector’s role.

Not only does the third sector contribute significantly to the economy and economic development but they also offer added value in their unique understanding of local communities and the issues, an ability to identify policy gaps and to act as a critical friend where necessary. However our report Drawing on all resources suggests that many of these new partnerships are missing a vital trick by failing to engage effectively with the sector.

Despite the White Paper on regional growth including explicit recognition of the voluntary sector as stakeholders of the new partnerships, only half of the LEPs examined had a representative from the voluntary sector on the board, and one LEP made no mention whatsoever of the role the sector might be able to play in growing the economy.

Our report sets out recommendations to the voluntary sector, central government and the partnerships themselves on how to promote such engagement.

We are urging the government to be more explicit about the role of the voluntary sector in rebalancing the economy, to encourage the second wave of LEPs to consider the role of the sector more specifically in their proposals and to send clear messages about stakeholder engagement needing to go beyond public and private interests and to include the voluntary sector and social enterprise.

Our research focussed on existing LEPs in the North as this is the region of the country most in need of effective LEPs, due the expectation that it is here where the impact of the spending cuts will disproportionately negative.

ACEVO first wrote to Greg Clarke MP expressing our concern over the lack of involvement of the voluntary sector in the government’s plans for the new partnerships following the lack of reference to the sector in the initial letter inviting local authorities and private groups to establish LEP.

Well, its another long 9 hours on the ferry back form Tasmania so plenty of time for blogging as I sit in the sun on the top deck....

Friday 11 March 2011

Mt Cradle and voice for Big Society

The view was spectacular, but somewhat close as we skidded on the steep corner of a gravel road leading up to our tree top Lodge in the Cradle Mountains. A restorative gin was necessary on arrival, but sitting on the verandah overlooking a quite magnificent view across the vast national park soon revived spirits.

Tasmania justifies that over used term " awesome " , in its majestic countryside . The clean air and water ( rain falling from clouds bowling in from the Antarctic ) make you realise how polluted a city London is.

But the majesty of the countryside is also its downfall. The place is rich in natural resources, raw materials and gems,timber and hydro-electric power. So the last 4 decades have seen many rich fights between environmentalists and mining and commercial interests.

It has meant Tasmania is home to one of the world's first organised green movement. The criminal flooding of lake Pedder in 1972 spawned the " wilderness Society" , a civil society organisation dedicated to protecting the natural beauty of the country and opposing the rapacity of the government and its business allies. They learnt from the failure of their campaign to stop the spoilation of lake Pedder so that when it was proposed that Lake Franklin, one of the last wild rivers,was to be damned they set up the " franklin blockade" in 1982 . Thousands of activists from all over Australia and abroad ( including our very own dear David Bellamy ) went into the area to be damned and stopped the work. Despite thousands of arrests the campaign succeeded .

Bob Green, the current Tasmanian Senator and Green leader ( I blogged on him yesterday ) was a prominent campaigner in that brilliant episode of an earlier " big society" speaking out, taking action to protect the future .

I guess in miniature its what we were doing in the UK when HMG foolishly decided to sell off our ancient forests. Thank goodness common sense prevailed there.

Protest and direct action are clear marks of a vibrant and democratic civil society. They must be at the heart of any notion of a bigger society. Yet somehow when one reads the neo romantics of the big society network one imagines its all about benign individual acts of kindness and delightful volunteering . Taking a cup of tea to one's next door neighbour , rather than sitting in front of a bulldozer. In fact both are necessary forms of an active society that cares.

When you see the glory of the mountains and lakes of tasmania , you know that fighting for a greener world , like many of my acevo members do , is a noble cause. The active voice of Big Society is to be treasured; a gobby and noisy third sector is a sure protection against the evils of those who put short term gain above long term care for our natural heritage.

So I blog from Cradle mountain and leave you with some delightful images of today's journey. Tomorrow its off to see the Franklin river and glory in its continued existence!

Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday 10 March 2011

To Tassie...and loans

So, it's raining. Not an entry of interest in a blog in the UK obviously, but it's not so common here. Must be to do with Lent I guess. Anyway I blog from the " Sprint of Tasmania", the ferry that plies its trade across the somewhat treacherous Bass Straits from Melbourne to Tasmania.

The waters here were only chartered in 1800 by the English naval office Matthew Flinders. Before that it was thought Tasmania was party of the Aussie mainland.

An island of particular beauty and environmental challenges. The Senator is that wonderful environmentalist Bob Brown, who leads the Australian Greens ( the world's oldest Green Party )and is the country's most outstanding politician. A man of principle, he outclasses Julia Gillard , the current PM who he supports in their coalition government.

I met Julia when I was last here to talk about the work of Futurebuilders in the UK and the importance of social finance. She was greatly interested but I'm not sure anything has come of it! She is now hugely compromised by the pressures of leading a minority Government.

A poor example of her leadership has been to oppose Bob Brown's call for the introduction of same sex partnerships along our UK model and, as a first step ,to recognise the partnerships and marriages of same sex couples who marry abroad when they return to Australia. The Greens have been championing reform. Julia has opposed it, mired in the macho male politics of the Australian Labor movement. You would think she would show leadership and make a stand on principle, but she has adopted the reactionary role. Shame on Julia. Good luck Bob in your campaign. Let's hope you will be as successful her as you were in your great campaigns against the Tasmanian mining and damming companies back in the first great global environmental campaign against the Franklin Barrage back in the 80s.

We're off for a long weekend on that wonderful island 40 degrees south and the last stop before the Antarctic. You can look forward to some spectacular photo displays on the next few Blogs!

Now following yesterday's Lent message for George, let's continue the investment theme. Growing access to investment is crucial for growth. That's true for the public and private sectors. And it is true for the third sector; its just we are generally denied access. That's why I've argued we need to keep CITR . But the major change must come with the new Big Society Bank.

I mentioned recently I’d met with Sir Ronald Cohen about the Big Society Bank. He and Nick O’Donohoe, the government’s advisors on the Bank. I am obviously pleased to have the opportunity to make sure that the extensive experience of loan finance, of organisations such as The Social Investment Business (which I Chair), will feed into the Bank’s development and that lessons can be learnt from all the available data, including independent evaluations, such as the hugely positive report on the value of Futurebuilders.

I was interested to get news about Francis Maude’s confirmation, during Cabinet Office questions last week, that the Big Society Bank will give loans, not grants. The temptation is to think this Bank is there to make up for unwise and stupid cuts by councils to grant programmes. But while access to grants is clearly diminishing, access to loans remains feeble.

I’ve blogged enough times about the huge demand The Social Investment Business has experienced for its loan Funds. The demand for loans from charities and social enterprises has far outstripped the available capital in the past. At times, across Futurebuilders, Communitybuilders and SEIF funds, applications have reached £90m a month. There are powerful social and financial arguments for developing the social investment market further and the Bank is a very welcome step towards this.

When looking at how the social investment market should develop, it will be important not to over-complicate this early stage market. So called ‘simple’ products like loans offer an accessible way to create a social investment market in which valuable product innovations like social impact bonds can then develop. These new financial products will be exciting, but it will take some time to see their impact – so it is important that there are complementary and sustainable sources of finance available to the third sector.

The best result that the Big Society Bank can achieve is a well-developed, liquid social investment market offering charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations the chance to access capital in order to compete for a much bigger role in public service delivery.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

"Remember that thou art dust....

And unto dust thou shalt return ". The stentorian tones of the Archbishop of Melbourne at the Ash Wednesday Mass in St Paul's Cathedral were a brutal reminder of one's transitory existence. In fact strangely comforting in giving a sense of perspective on life's travails as I have been feeling Lenten. My cold has developed into something more nasty so my tour of the public sector in Footscray continues; from the library to the medical centre.

I phoned and got an immediate appointment. Wonders! Trying the same with our dear Charlbury doctors inevitably ends in failure. I wonder if GP commissioning might herald a more customer centred approach from our Doctors? Anyway a course of antibiotics will fend off the day of dust a tad longer me thinks!

Now I have a Lenten message for the Chancellor as he contemplates the Budget for March 23rd. Letter despatched to him recently about the Community Investment Tax Relief.

The report of the Office of Tax Simplification has the suggestion that the Government should scrap CITR. This wicked proposal must be resisted.

At the heart of the Government's reform plans is enabling third sector organisations to deliver public services.

However, this will not happen without investment. The Government has acknowledged that a "lack of access to capital is still holding social ventures back. It can frustrate investment in key areas such as buildings, equipment, technology and staff training. New social ventures struggle to get going without start-up capital. Social ventures already trading find it difficult to cope with 'lumpy' cash flow without working capital." [Growing the Social Investment Market: A vision and strategy]

Hence there is a crucial role for Government in promoting social investment, as suggested in the Cabinet Office paper and the Government's ambition to make social investment a "third pillar of finance for social ventures, to sit alongside traditional giving and funds from the state.

All this makes it precisely the wrong time to scrap a tax relief aimed at promoting investment in social ventures (CITR). Doing so would not just remove an incentive for social investment, it would send a terrible message to third sector organisations and investors that the Government is not serious about investment into the sector or enabling social sector organisations to deliver public services and build the Big Society.

CITR may well be imperfect, as the OTS report argues, but if the Government is serious about attracting investment into the third sector as part of its Big Society agenda, the answer is to make it work better - not scrap it.

So my Ash Wednesday message to George Osborne is to urge him to resist the tempations of the Office of Tax Simplification and not to scrap CITR. Unless , of course , something better can be devised to promote social investment to replace it .

Given the lamentable failure to reform gift aid,the possible scrapping of gift aid transitional relief and the problems of irrecoverable VAT I would strongly suggest not giving the sector any further kicking. We are doing penance enough.

I rather took to George Osborne MP when he spoke at our ACEVO Tory summit. Indeed I'm vaguely related. He is from an anglo - irish family as I am , and my Great Great Uncle Osborne Limrick's mother was from that distinguished family. But I suspect addressing him as cousin George is a step too far...

The Archbishop of Melbourne,the Most Revd Dr Philip Freier

Ex ( Non ) Libris and Melbourne Pancakes

Beware the barbarian Burghers stalking our Town Halls and using the cuts to decimate our glorious library services. Why, even that wonderful institution, the Charlbury Library and our splendid librarian ( who always makes sparkles so welcome ! )is under threat by the philistines in the County Council.

Libraries are a national treasure. Indeed they are a wonderful English institution we have exported to many parts of the English speaking world. I popped into the Library at Footscray yesterday to take out a few books and check up on travel to Tasmania. It was full of the old and young, sedentary and manic,student and pupil; much as in any English town.

Now these marvellous institutions are being dumped. And some councils cynically pretend this is all " big society" ( as in " you run it and pay for it cos we can't be arsed" ). They think that community organisations should take this on. It a form of dumping not bigging society.

Of course this is not to say that libraries could not do with a dose of change! Maybe , in some cases , we might see a better service emerge, if we can stop councils slash and burn ? What councils should be doing is talking to charity and community organisations about how we could run a service together. This is exactly what Eric Pickles has been telling councils to do. A message he repeats at the ACEVO- Action Plannig Conference in Central Hall today ( the estimable De Kyle is opening to some 1400 delegates! )

Counilc and the sector should think about how to expand the use of this asset and think of enterprising ways to make the service pay. Perhaps deals with Starbucks? More sofas? Organic cafes. Job centre advice units. Health checks. A third sector desk in every Library where you can go to check up on volunteering initiatives. With thought councils could start to rationalise the use of all our civic offices and assets and get more joined up.

And why not a mix of professional staff and volunteers to ensure 7 day a week opening. And evenings too. Now wouldn't that be a novelty.

And whilst on the subject of libraries , who runs one of the country's largest?

Why , a charity! RNIB have been celebrating 75 years of " Talking Books". They were developed in 1920 to help soldiers returning from war blinded and not able to learn braille.

By 1926 they were developing LPs to be played on gramophones and this was largely responsible for the growth of LPs for music as well! Another brilliant example of Big Charity innovation!

In 1998 the search for digital innovation began and they developed the " daisy player". By 2002 books were recorded digitally.

Since the service started 75m books have been issued to more than 2 m people.

A new book costs £2500 to produce. The service costs £4m pa . Many Councils s pay subscriptions for people. This is now being cut or under threat in large numbers of councils. An example of what council staff see as something they don't need to do and charity can get the money elsewhere or get more volunteers. But it won't happen.

A great example of an innovative charity but now under threat. Like the library service more generally.

Well, its Shrove Tuesday and down under in Melbourne we will be celebrating in traditional style. Pancakes made not bought. Lashings of sugar and lemon. For tomorrow we fast!

Enjoying the Shrove Tuesday pancakes!

Monday 7 March 2011

Big Society needs Big Charity, and Melbourne!

There has been an absurd attempt by some to denigrate the role of big charities. I blogged about the nasty attack by Policy Exchange which managed to combine illogical argument with viscous denigration. Just recently , in the Commons debate on Big Society a rather silly Tory backbencher intervened to suggest that any charity that gets more than 80 % of its funding from the State should be de registered. It clearly had not occurred to said MP that this would immediately sabotage his Government's public service reform programme. It would undermine IDS's attempt to reform welfare to work as most of the charities wanting to grow and deliver more would fall foul of this silly notion. It would undermine efforts to expand our rehabilitation work or work on Free Schools. It would mean that all the current GP consortia that are becoming charities and social enterprises would be unable to do so.

In fact Big Society needs Big Charity. If we are to grow service delivery you need both the power of economies of scale, infrastructure and capacity, together with the strength of the local and community organisations. They are not at odds with each other.

Two examples of why we need Big Charity.

First , big charities invest a £1billion a year in research.

Data available from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show funding from UK based charities for research to higher education institutions in the UK at £917m in the years 09-10. This has grown from £726m in 2005-6.

Second, Big charities are major contributors to innovation. It is a myth that all innovation stems from small scale organisations or individuals( whether in the third sector or private sector ) . Much comes from systematic and rigorous research and development. This is what Big Charities are able to contribute.

Hence the pioneering work of RNID on the digital hearing aid. The work of RNIB in developing the micro-chip that translates written programme info on the TV screen into speech.

There are countless other examples of innovation. And of course innovation , if it is to make a difference more widely, needs to scale up. Which is what Big Charities can contribute.

The PASC is to have hearings on " big society". I'm looking forward to taking on the scale deniers and charity haters . Time for their illogicality to be exposed for the nonsense it is.

Now back to the travels. I'm off the horse and down in Melbourne. Staying with old flatmates from my Clapham Rd days. Timmy is a senior social work manager for the Victoria Health Dept, working in mental health. Daniele works in a charity helping vulnerable Somali and Ethiopian women refugees. They have 3 splendid children and live in Footscray, a working class inner city suburb with the most fantastic victorian wooden houses. It is a "Notting Hill " in the making.

And it is hot. And as a punishment for past crimes I haven't been able to desport myself on the beach 'cos I have caught a cold. Still, the Australian chardonnay and Shiraz makes a fine medicine!

Friday 4 March 2011

Knights on horses...

" Did you move those black snakes off your land" , Zukanka asked of her neighbour as we walked by? Just the everyday chit chat up here in the Blue Mountains. But when we were offered the choice of a bush walk or horse riding the later was clearly preferable; at least you are off the ground!

We went up to Echo Point to see the " 3 sisters".

These 3 mountain escarpments are an important part of an aboriginal Song line. There are 7 in total. When you stand at the Point you look out across a landscape unchanged for millenia. Not a single house or settlement to be seen for as far as you can see. Just forest and the mountains. Its a national Park; belongs to the nation and well looked after by the Heritage service. And as yet no ridiculous Government proposal to flog it off aka the ill fated Forestry commission sell off .

It has been interesting to discuss the relative positions of our 2 countries third sectors. Here they are not facing the massive cuts that we are. The funding of the sector seems to be improving and there is pretty good interaction with Government. Interestingly they are seeing some tension between the big charities and the smaller local based community groups.

Anyway let me leave you with some pictures from the Blue mountains national park...

Thursday 3 March 2011

Down Under and Eric

A meeting with the policy unit at No 10 then it was back home to pack. I'm off on holiday down under; flying to Sydney. Rumours of a one way transporation ticket courtesy of the Coalition government are to be discounted!

I'm off to see friends and have a break though its to difficult not to give in to the temptation to meet people from the Australian third sector. I have some good contacts in what is a strong sector. For example , half of all Australian welfare to work services are provided through the sector.

I spend the entire Feast of St David in the air, my partner and I arriving bleary eyed in a sunny Sydney at 6am. Spirits soon lifted as we sit with an excellent Oz chardonnay by the Opera House! ( That's lunch time by the way, not breakfast in case you were wondering! ).

This meant I missed the ncvo conference and Eric's announcement.

Along with our colleagues in the other national umbrella bodies we have been making clear our strong opposition to many of the cuts being made by local councils. I have been having a number of discussions about this with both officials and with Eric Pickles himself ( who I know from way back in local government days; I have to admit I rather like him ! ) . I know from him that he has been dismayed at how some councils too readily cut into the sector's budget because they thought it easier to cut us as we will just find the money and volunteers elsewhere. Shameful.

So it was good to read Eric's speech at the ncvo conference as I travelled up on the Blue mountain train to an old sector friend in Mount Victoria. I realise I set a bad example reading and replying to emails on holiday but frankly if you are a CEO it goes with the territory. But being down under we are 11 hours ahead so I ration my time doing this so that it does not unduly interfere with the important task of rest , relaxation and enjoying the fine wine and food of Oz.

Eric made clear he expects local authorities to behave reasonably in the way they manage their relationship with the third sector. He set out his Big Rule for councils ; the three tests of reasonableness.

- First, that councils should not pass on disproportionate cuts to the third sector.

- Second, that they should talk to voluntary and community groups at a very early stage about how services need to change and be reshaped .

- And third, that they will have at least three months notice about the need to end or alter a grant or other support. This would extend the Compact principle of the 3 month consultation period. This later point is crucial and I think we now need to argue for this principle to be extended to the localism bill , in guidance. Around the " right to challenge". This Right also ought to extend to requests to reshape services locally or even nationally.

Eric defined disproportionate cuts in his speech as bigger reductions to budgets than they take on themselves. He also gave a commitment to consider giving statutory force to these expectations should local authorities fail to meet them.

This is potentially an important statement from Government. It fires a warning shot across the bow of local government. Eric also made it clear that he expects those Local Authorities that have made disproportionate cuts to the sector to reconsider.

So no we need to act to ensure these pledges are implemented. We need to be contacting councils to ask how they will respond. And we now need to discuss with Government how we extend the localism bill to make a Right to challenge and to reshape. Such a challenge needs to be extended across State services, so not just councils but PCTs, Job centres and other parts of Government. And this Right needs to be seen as much wider than an individual council or local cvs. The Localism Bill does not limit the Challenge Right to just a local sector body. It could be a challenge from a national charity operating locally or a partnership of national and local.

This is an exciting feature of the Bill and one ACEVO members are keen to exploit. As well as local - national ventures we might want to team up with the private sector or make joint ventures with local councils.

Anyway I'm now in the mountains, staying with Zusanka Kutana who is on the Commonwealth civil society Committee with me. She is the programme officer for the World Council of Indigenous people. Her house , which she built with her father , is up in the monutains. Stunning views. Exotic trees and animals. And lots of dangerous spiders and snakes. I'm looking carefully where I tread. Anyway enjoy the photos.

The Blue Mountains- Mount Victoria

The Blue Mountains- New South Wales