Tuesday 20 September 2011

With the Lib-Dems!

In Birmingham for the first Conference of the season: the liberal-democrats.

"Community Futures", the liberal democrat paper on the sector raises issues about sector independence. But I wonder just how much the Party "gets" the sector. There are certainly many third sector folk in the party and traditionally the party has been strongly behind community activism.

But over recent years, as the lib-dems have grown in local government their commitment to community activism seems to have dimmed. So in the Lords they have been critical of the localism bill and the various rights to challenge and acquire assets. They have opposed the extension of the right to challenge to health. Some lib-dems have dismissed the role of the third sector in health as a "trojan horse". Hardly flattering to the hundreds of thousands of staff and volunteers who work in health and social care.

Of course there are also great advocates of our sector : MPs like Jenny Willot MP or my friend Leila Ferguson , CEO of West Berks Mencap.

Supporting citizens and community organisations against the power of state monopoly or councils ought to be core to liberalism. Our sector should be central to Lib Dem thinking. I am meeting a senior councillor, Gerald Vernon-Jackson from the LGA and Portsmouth to talk about how to develop that relationship.

Arrived in time for a splendid lunch with CityUK, the financial and banking organisation we are working with as SIB in promoting a more responsive financial sector. Lord Newby was the key speaker- he is their " spokesperson" on treasury matters in the Lords and chairs the all party group on social enterprise. Dick and I have known each other for years ; he is a good and committed politician and made clear he believes the banking sector needs to lend to the third sector and support innovation.

One of the values of attending these party shindigs ( and I'm doing all 3 ) is the people you meet; other members, lobbyists, politicos ,media and friends. So an afternoon of meetings which culminated in the event of the day; the joint ACEVO-NCVO fringe meeting on sector independence and campaigning.

This is a deliberate sign of the times. We intend to do a lot more joint meetings, events and conferences together , as Martyn Lewis, the Chair of NCVO said.

It was a good meeting: Dame Suzi Leather ,Dame Clare Tickell and Baroness Clare Tyler.

Clare Tickell talked about the balance between being sycophantic and friendly to government with being critical. How do you speak truth to power? She said that many of their supporters and volunteers are very angry about what is happening to young people in communities. So campaigning is crucial.

Clare Tyler had an interesting perspective as having been in Government and now for the last 4 years in the sector. She rightly pointed out that the debate on independence is not an either or. It's more nuanced than some pundits would have you believe. She said we can become a little too obsessive about this issue.

I had this very discussion with Caroline Slocock, Director of civil exchange, who is doing the work on the newly established panel on independence. It was reassuring! I was worried this would be too negative and critical but clearly Caroline is well up to the more nuanced debate we need in this important area.

Late to bed.....a breakfast meeting beckoning.....

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