Thursday 20 December 2012

Ministers; health and crime

Two meetings with Cabinet Ministers scheduled yesterday. Unfortunately both at the same time so I split the delight between Ralph Michell; my dynamic Policy Director (with Chris Grayling) and me with Jeremy Hunt.

I was seeing Jeremy with Provider colleagues from the NHS Confederation and the Foundation Trust Network. Hunt was impressive; he has clearly been put there to work the stakeholders of the NHS. So untested yet, but he clearly sees that the service has key priorities like long term conditions and the elderly. He spoke about the need to encourage excellence and innovation and the potential for an Ofsted style rating system for hospitals and GPs. All power to his arm I say. The Nuffield Foundation (old friend Jennifer Dixon in charge) is looking at how this might work. Citizens need a better guide to enable them to make effective choices.

Ralph also had a good session with Chris Grayling. He has shown splendid determination to tackle the reoffender problem; the revolving door of people going to prison, not getting rehab and then back in within a year. Grayling clearly sees the need for change and for the sector to be at the forefront. The meeting went well and ACEVO will be working with members to both help develop policy and support members to bid for the new contracts. Although there has been loose talk on how this will simply be a Work Programme clone I'm convinced (although it will be PBR) there will be enough difference to make this work for us.

So now I'm off to the House of St Barnabas in Soho Square. ACEVO Member, Sandra Schembri has great plans for this gorgeous Soho institution that supports the homeless. Sandra has launched a private members’ club in her lovely georgian building in Soho but the fees go to the charity and it’s staffed by homeless people training to work in hospitality. The charity's vision is sustained employment for those affected by homelessness.

Another innovative way we how the sector leading in ways to help the most vulnerable. Much needed against the background yesterday of further cuts to local council budgets!

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Health and Carols

An important day for the NHS. An even more important day for patients and citizens. The publication of "Everyone Counts", which sets out priorities for the new Commissioning Board and
the announcement (three cheers) that information about consultants performance is now to be published.

Of course there has been the usual whinge from parts of the medical profession about how unreliable etc it all is, but I believe the majority of the NHS staff know this is the right thing to do for patients and also welcome it.

In many areas of surgery it has been long known to those in the medical profession that there are differences in outcomes between doctors, some simply the result of experience and practise. So it is well known that the outcomes of surgery can vary quite significantly. At a recent fringe I did at the Tory Conference one of the doctors on the panel instanced prostate cancer surgery. There is a dramatic difference between surgeons who have performed the procedure 10 times as opposed to those that have done this at least 100. The likelihood of serious damaging quality of life side effects is much reduced with a more experienced surgeon. Of course, this raises the difficult problem of how on earth a surgeon gets that experience if we all choose the 100x surgeon! But the information is important. So well done to David Nicholson!

And at the weekend (from the Sunday Times'; which also carried a 4 para quote from me on volunteering!) I was delighted to read the comments from the NHS medical director about the need for the NHS to provide services 7 days a week. About time frankly. The fact that expensive, life saving medical equipment lies idle at weekends is unacceptable in a service that is supposed to put patients first. As Keogh said, why should people be expected to take a day and a half of work to take their aged parent to hospital when hospitals could provide scans and other services at weekends.

In a cash limited NHS we need to use resources more efficiently. We also need a more citizen centred approach; not just the patient but their family, carers and friends. It's good to see the NHS having this debate.

There has often been lip service to putting patients first so now is the chance to make a revolutionary change. And the announcement today by David Nicholson, and his performance on the Today programme were a great indication of the direction of travel for the new Commissioning Board. More please!!

Last night it was Carols in the Royal Albert Hall and the Bubb clan were out in force. My sister Lucy sings in the Royal Choral Society and for a hundred years they have given an annual Carol Concert in the RAH. Not the debased jingle bell stuff , but proper full-on Carols that celebrate Christ's coming, as opposed to Tesco's longer opening hours. The Welsh Guards on hand for the trumpet fanfares and readings by Robert Powell. All terribly splendid and uplifting. I even had head hunter in chief David Fielding along as a Bubb guest!

Monday 17 December 2012

Pol Pot and policy

Governments tend towards the Pol Pot approach to policy making; ignore what the previous lot did and start again. Not always most helpful; and I felt a touch of this when I read Nick Hurd's otherwise helpful comments on a new approach to helping the state deliver better for third sector organisations wanting to deliver public services.

A meeting this morning in Tufton St, more usually known as the supplier of Church furnishings and ephemera to the Higher end of the Church of England. Frances Maude MP and Nick Hurd MP meeting with key sector leaders.

For some of us this has been a long journey. ACEVO has been advocating the role of our sector in delivering public services for over a decade. We know the barriers and the problems that stand in the way. What we need is Government to do something about them. So the first Third Sector Action Plan (author one Ed Miliband) set our bold ambitions and described the barriers. Then did little about them. Similarly the current Government set out their vision in "Open Public Services", a good White Paper but now hardly mentioned or referenced. Certainly this agenda is low down the action pile.

But nevertheless there is progress. The latest plans for reoffending will need a big role for third sector charities and social enterprises. And in health and social care it is simply not possible to deliver change without expanding our sector's role.

So want needs to happen:

* Progress on measures to provide a fair playing field for the sector to compete,

* Loans to enable us to access capital (there is no supply at present)

* A clear policy lead and determination form Government Ministers and civil servants to open up public services for more citizen and community focused approaches

* Bold steps to ensure local government implement the rights in the Localism Act.

* A general "right to choice" enshrined in legislation to ensure people have control over the public services they own and pay for.

It's been a long haul but at least there is now much more acceptance of the rational behind the need for service delivery, and an acceptance of the need to end and promote it across our own sector. Progress. If slow.

Marvellous weather at weekend. So 2 visits to The Plough with the Hound! 

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Street Fundraising: Yes we can!

Seeing Campbell Robb, CEO of Shelter brought home to me why it’s essential the sector unites in defence of street fundraising. Shelter raises millions from their street collections. Unlike others they employ their own people to do the work, rather than an agency. They find this gives them more control and enables them to maintain a strong link with their fundraisers: so, for example Campbell meets with all 100 of them each year to talk about the mission. As he said, last time they met one of the group came up to him afterwards and said how relieved she was to discover he wasn't a w....r; "It would make it so difficult when I'm standing in the rain if I thought you were a twat".

He was clear how important this form of fundraising was to them at a time when they have had to cut back and make staff redundant. And as I told him; it works. I was signed up to Shelter by 2 charming guys outside Kings Cross. I'm glad I did it. And frankly I've never seen street fundraising a problem or seen any abuses. If you don't want to talk to them, that’s fine. Of course I realise some well heeled folk think it’s all a bit naff (and probably hate being reminded how mean they are by not giving more to charity) but if it works its good. I think I could also construct a compelling theological argument that shows that confronting people with their duty to give is good for them. So it’s a blessing not a curse. After all face to face fundraising takes many forms; from raffles in the Dorchester ballroom or the village fete, to asks at Brixton tube.

Moving on from Campbell I went, appropriately, to lunch with Sally De La Bedoyere of the street fundraising body. A good lunch and we swapped notes on the importance of defending street fundraising. As Stephen Cook put it in the recent Third Sector, "some people are chuggers- get over it!"

A pleasant interlude from all this was one of our regular new member lunches. Always fun to meet and great new ACEVO members; notable this time were the CEOs of St Mungos and Marie Curie. On that subject there have been some stunning new appointments to top third sector bodies of our own people. Matt Hyde from NUS to the Scouts and Simon Gillespie to the British Heart Foundation from MS. Both great people and active ACEVO members. Good luck guys!

And lunch today with Gillian Guy of Citizens Advice ; an organisation of distinction and a strong history; right at the heart of helping people battle with bureaucracy and the groping problems of welfare reform and cuts. But now it’s off to see my Chair for one of her regular catch ups with her CEO!

Monday 10 December 2012

The Bazaar, food and cuts

Well, Red Letter day in Charlbury; the annual Church Bazaar and the Farmers market on the Playing Close. I was helping out on the bookstall. Always fun and you get a preview of the best buys. This being Charlbury, inevitably someone passes by who has written one of the books. Andrew Lawson, famed photographer and writer spotted a book on the English coastline he had part authored. So seizing an opportunity I buy it and get him to sign it (Christmas present for someone....). Then it's off with the Hound and my nephew Alexander and partner Tarun to the Plough for lunch on a splendid autumnal sunny day.

Good to hear the programme on R4 on Sunday about Foodbanks and the Trussel Trust, particularly interesting as I has seen Chris Mould from the Trust on Friday. A number of those interviewed made the point that things are going to get so much worse from April when changes to the Social fund mean many more people will struggle at the borderline between poverty and a decent life. It is abundantly clear from those working in the Foodbanks that the Government's changes on benefits are having dire consequences for many families. And now, with the cuts to benefits announced by the Chancellor it will get so much worse.

A backdrop to the release of dramatic figures from the Charities Aid Foundation which shows how far cuts and falling giving are affecting charities. As John Low said it shows one in six fear closure. This is a truly shocking statistic.

This is bad news for so many communities; as demand increases dramatically charities are having to cut back front line services and make staff redundant.

And the response from Government? Well, a tired statement from the Cabinet Office saying they has introduced a number of programmes to support charities. And that our sector cannot be isolated from cuts. This is disappointing to say the least in the week that Third Sector showed many councils are making disproportionate cuts to charities. And in any case one can make a particular case for supporting charities more at a time of austerity.

And the other interesting news at the weekend was the courageous campaign by Nick Herbert MP and leading Tories for equal marriage. Nick is a great guy and so nice to hear him rather than the incessant noise from Peter Bone. And certainly better than the vitriol of the RC Bishops of Scotland. The most recent "contribution" from one of them was to attack the PM for lack of morals. I don't know what it is about the RC Bishops in Scotland but they seem unable to engage in a sensible debate without verbal abuse of opponents. Must be the chilly weather. Time for the thermals!

Friday 7 December 2012

Good Lunch, Good Dinner and Food Banks.

Now I realise many of you think that the life of an umbrella sector Chief Exec is one long eating experience but, yes don't laugh, it is part of the job! No wonder Stuart and I will be heading for diet sheets in the New Year! My first great dinner of the week was in the gorgeous dining room of Farrers , the Queen's solicitors; where Charles Dickens signed his will and the Charter of the Bank of England was agreed.

But on this occasion it played host to a bunch of charity CEOs who were gathered to listen to the CEO of Boots; Alex Gourlay and Ciaran Devane, CEO of Macmillan Cancer. They were talking about the value of partnerships between the private and third sectors.

Boots had decided they did not want to do the usual charity of the year type promotion but to do something that would add real value to a charity and to their customers. They framed a partnership with Macmillan which involves 10 hours of voluntary training for chemists to give advice to cancer patients about their drugs, side effects and where to go for more advice on their condition. Originally designed for a 100 volunteers they now have trained over 1000 chemists. It has been hugely rewarding for the staff involved and has provided real support to people with a difficult and worrying disease.

As we discussed, this type of scheme has much wider application. Chemists could play a much larger role in giving advice, say on long term conditions and provide pointers to charities who can offer more support and advice.

And my great lunch was with an old friend, Eric Pickles MP, the Secretary of State for local Government. Another ACEVO members' lunch, this time at CCLA in the City. I had hot footed it over from the Winter Conference of our sister body SOLACE, the council CEOs network. I was giving a keynote on commissioning and the use of consortia; a chance to talk about the work ACEVO is doing in councils and our consortia tool kit. So I was in the mood to meet with Eric.

He is an amusing and engaging figure (I knew him when he was Leader of Bradford Council) and is sold on the idea of third sector delivery and the greater use of the sector by local councils. He had in fact just come from recording Desert Island Discs. Listen in on Sunday (after the Archers Omnibus). If I'm not taking the Hound off for Sunday roast I shall be. Otherwise it's iPlayer as I am up to date on technology! He had to dash off for a meeting with the PM, such is the life of a Cabinet Minister.

Our ACEVO lunches are Chatham House so I can't repeat all of Eric's tales but he gave us good fare to go with our excellent luncheon repaste. However I can tell you I very much agreed with his analysis that the Localism Act is potentially revolutionary if we use the rights it gives to assert citizen and community ownership and service delivery. The rights have only been in legislation for 6 months so it is early days but if the sector is smart we should be working on our challenge to Councils. And the way they deliver.

We have to continually challenge councils on cuts. Half of local authorities have made disproportionate cuts to the voluntary sector, according to a new report. Compact Voice, which represents charities on the Compact, used the Freedom of Information Act to question 352 local authorities in England about cuts they had made to voluntary sector funding.

Of the 293 that responded, Compact Voice says, half revealed they had made reductions in grant funding to the voluntary sector that are disproportionate to the amount their own budgets have been reduced.

The Compact Voice report on the findings says that voluntary sector organisations are being given fewer opportunities to deliver council services and that the amount local authorities spend on contracts with charities has fallen.They also found that 56 per cent of local authorities said they had reduced the amount of grant funding for voluntary sector organisations between 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Slightly more than a third, 35.5 per cent, said they had increased grant funding over the same period.

This will be particularly crucial over George Osborne's extended years of austerity. Bad councils will again seek to cut into the voluntary sector. Good councils will seize the opportunity for re-shaping services and using the sector to redesign commissioning. We also have to defend communities and citizens from increasingly bigoted attacks from Government. Benefits aren't a bad thing. Richard Hawkes of Scope was right to point out in The Times that benefits actually help people to love their lives. To demonise people on benefits as scrounges is morally reprehensible. Am I the only one getting fed up with hearing George Osborne talk about the hard working person going to work and noticing the drawn curtains of his neighbour. This is exactly the sort of loose talk that encourages people to scorn those on benefits. It is no surprise that disability charities report increasing hostility to disabled people.

So back to the office to meet with Chris Mould who runs the Trussel Trust. They are most famous for "Food Banks" which are now springing up across the country. Run by faith groups and supporters they are a real sign of the times. Hugely relied on by many people bringing up families and struggling in these times of austerity. We had a good mutual moan about how people on benefits are treated. He has become a real source of knowledge and experience about what it is like to live in poverty in modern day Britain. It's a blight on society (no not chuggers) that we now have to rely on the generosity of strangers to feed the poor. There is even a Food Bank in Witney, in the PM's constituency in one of the richest parts of the country. I saw them in action outside Waitrose only last weekend. A brilliant initiative and Chris is to be commended and congratulated for his work here.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Mr Shawcross and independence

Charities should ensure they do not become the "junior partner in the welfare state", according to the new chair of the Charity Commission in his first speech at our recent ACEVO conference. "My personal view is that some charities have become dependent on the state. And I think that most members of the public, when asked, would say a charity is an organisation funded from private donations, not public funds."

Charities must indeed remain independent. Of course it is right for the Chair of the Charity Commission to stand up for an independent sector and our ability to speak truth to power. I recognise that there are those in the sector who have similar worries. He is right to warn that in our work our main priority remains our beneficiaries and our mission. However delivering public services for beneficiaries on contract does not make charities dependent, nor need it mean mission drift.

Mr Shawcross referenced the 1601 Statue of Elizabeth to back up his argument. But that statute defines charities in terms of their service delivery. An Elizabethan charity was not simply dependent on the State; they were part of it. Charity trustees were generally indistinguishable from state officials becuase they were the same people. Many charities at that time were joint ventures with the local council. There was much cross funding between State and charity with no distinction drawn. So charity law is founded on dependence not independence. Fortunately we have progressed.

I am unclear why Mr Shawcross would think that organisations whose mission is to tackle homelessness, support young people and children or the old ,for example, should not be doing that funded by state contracts, even when the majority of their funding is from the State. For example Barnados, Action for Children, Turning Point, the Shaw Trust and Catch 22, are well known charities doing great things; absolutely mission driven by their beneficiaries but with most of their funding from contracts with the "state". Do they appear subservient to the state? I have not noticed a dulling of the voices of the likes of Clare Tickell or Victor Adebowale. Anne Marie Carrie has been admirably outspoken on children's issues. The disability charities have been loud and clear about the wickedness of Government plans on disability benefit despite their services being funded through contracts. Leslie Morphy of Crisis last night denounced the disgraceful plans to take benefits from under 25's on BBC News. The notion these organisations are dependent little satrapies is ludicrous.

Worryingly, these comments appear to suggest that welfare services should either be provided by the State itself or that charities should rely on private donations to do their work. And even more worryingly, in recent pronouncements, the CC Chair has said he rejects face to face fundraising, despite the evidence this raises millions for charities. So we should take less money from the state, and less from donors on the street, at a time when CAF and NCVO have shown giving is down, and when demand for our services is rocketing (see the rise in homelessness in London, up 43%). How exactly does Mr Shawcross want us to deal with these realities?

It is entirely right and proper that the State provides, through general taxation, for the sick and old to be supported. The British welfare state is a glory not a problem. But in delivering that welfare state the state does not also have to deliver those services itself. It is increasingly clear that charities can do this better and entirely in line with charitable mission. To do this in partnership with democratically elected councils and Government is often the best way to ensure good outcomes for beneficiaries.

It is also the case that the "state" is not a single entity and many of those charities I mention have contracts across councils, health authorities, DWP or MoJ and other agencies. This diversity of contracts is a strength, even though in total the majority of funding comes from the "State". And I somehow doubt an abused child is worried about whether the help they get is funded by the State or Mr Branson.

Those who see 'dependence on the state' as a major problem should consider this point: is it 'dependence' that most concerns you, or 'the state'? If it is dependence per se then noticeable by their absence are loud public pronouncements about dependence by charities on other single sources of income, such as an individual philanthropist, foundation, company, or local Lions Club. If it is the state, then your strength of feeling is ideological and is best ventilated with a taxi driver and not inflicted upon hard working charity CEOs who are too busy holding together the fraying edges of our society to be distracted by utopian notions of spotless independence or the scaling back of the state.

Beveridge wrote that, "cooperation between public and voluntary agencies is one of the special features of British public life". Beveridge is right. We are proud partners in the welfare state, and should remain so.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Strategy and Hurd

Core to a CEO job, and at a time when resources are diminishing and demand growing it's not an easy task to see your way through.

ACEVO, as an umbrella organisation has had to adjust to a significant decline in Government support for capacity building. Government have made a mistake in not funding strategic bodies who support the sector growth, but it is their decision and we have to adjust to it. That means more diversity of income and looking at partnership working.

So to that end I have had 2 recent strategic awayday sessions with my Directors team.

I debated whether to have them facilitated. I'm in 2 minds on facilitators: some simply irritate the hell out of me and others think it's a therapy session. Anyway my Membership Director persuaded me we should and we used one of the facilitators from our ACEVO Solutions database. In fact had 2 very interesting mornings working on our strategy in HQ. Delivered by Nic Hinrichsen, ACEVO Consultant, it was a great relief to be working with someone who knew what they were talking about and how to handle us (especially me!).

He came from our pool of associates who we match up with members of the sector to support them in various different means and ways.

Eleanor Dandy here looks after this service and is running the event" ASK ACEVO Consulting" on 11th December for either face to face or remote support for sessions of an hour each. A great opportunity to get support in a variety of different areas from our consultants.

Contact; or call 0207 0144 625

So that's the fun bit of the Blog. Now I turn to Mr Hurd MP, our third sector Minister who has announced he is rejecting the Hodgson recommendation that charity trustee boards be allowed to make their own decisions on payment of trustees. You would think a Government committed to reducing red tape and freeing charities from unnecessary burdens would welcome hodgson. But oh no. Apparently Hurd thinks it's one of the defining characteristics of charity. I bet you some Government minister opined in the same way back in the 19th century when they started paying charity CEOs!

The Government's response to Hodgson's recommendation on trustee pay is a simple failure of leadership, dressed up with a logic that is both flawed and offensive to the charities who want to pay their trustees.

It is sheer hypocrisy for a Government to say it wants to slash red tape to then stop charities deciding themselves whether to pay trustees.

And it is offensive to those charities who already pay their trustees to base that argument on a view that unpaid trusteeship is a "defining characteristic" of charities.

Mr Hurd had a chance to accept Hodgson and free trustee boards to adapt to 21st century governance. He has wimped out.

To say I'm disappointed with Hurd would be an understatement and I have been blunt about him publicly. Speaking truth to power. I'm sure the new Chair of the Charity Commission will approve.

Friday 30 November 2012

The 25th Anniversary conference and Diana

Walking through the imposing gates of the Royal Mint I was musing on the journey acevo has come on since it began 25 years ago. For those that remember those days; and there are many of the founders still around, the national standing of ACEVO now is remarkable. A real voice for sector Leaders, able to speak truth to power and influence Government, but also arguing for a professional and pragmatic
approach to the sector's role.

Our 25th Anniversary Conference was in a new conference facility behind the Mint; not inappropriate as money is much on the mind of the charity CEO!

3 speeches in particular were of note. Prof Anheir is one of the worlds top academics in civil society studies. He was warning against the current trend to too much accountability and audit in non profits. He suggested the current trend to ever more impact reporting and measurement was simply not right for non profits and is a costly burden. And a stimulating contribution from Trevor Pears on the "Give More" campaign.

But the highlight was the speech of Corporal Johnson Beharry VC. He talked abut his upbringing in Grenada and his life of disruption and petty crime as a teenager. And then about the extraordinary events that led to his award of the Victoria Cross, when he saved the lives of over 40 comrade soldiers.

It's worth recapping exactly what he did. On 1 May 2004, Beharry was driving a Warrior Armoured Vehicle that had been called to the assistance of a foot patrol caught in a series of ambushes. The Warrior was hit by multiple rocket propelled grenades, causing damage and resulting in the loss of radio communications. The platoon commander, the vehicle’s gunner and a number of other soldiers in the vehicle were injured. Due to damage to his periscope optics, Beharry was forced to open his hatch to steer his vehicle, exposing his face and head to withering small arms fire. Beharry drove the crippled Warrior through the ambush, taking his own crew and leading five other Warriors to safety. He then extracted his wounded comrades from the vehicle, all the time exposed to further enemy fire. He was cited on this occasion for "valour of the highest order".

While back on duty on 11 June 2004, Beharry was again driving the lead Warrior of his platoon when his vehicle was ambushed. A rocket propelled grenade hit the vehicle six inches from Beharry's head, and he received serious shrapnel injuries to his face and brain. Other rockets then hit the vehicle, incapacitating his commander and injuring several of the crew. Despite his life threatening injuries, Beharry retained control of his vehicle and drove it out of the ambush area before losing consciousness. He required brain surgery for his head injuries.

I can tell you there was hardly a dry eye in the room as he spoke of his leadership and heroism. And he now dedicates his life to working for charity. He received the first standing ovation at an ACEVO conference!

Here he is with ACEVO staff;

And at the Conference.

Geraldine Peacock is known to many of us in the sector as one of the greats (former Guide Dogs CEO and Chair of the Charity Commission). She was on the Panel that appointed me as CEO so many years back. She was due at our Gala Dinner but could not make it in the end but she sent me a lovely note I want to reproduce:

"It seems like only yesterday that I attended a learning set for ACEVNO. The people who attended the programme with me are all now significant leaders in the sector. It just shows how this organisation empowers people. I was very honoured to be Vice Chair and Chair of ACEVO for a number of years and to have the pleasure of appointing you dear Stephen. I think my time and involvement with ACEVO is one of my best achievements."

But to cap off a splendid day I went off to Kensington Palace for the Reception to mark the closing of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. A glittering affair which marked both the end of a Fund that commemorated the humanitarian work of Diana and a celebration of the life of a remarkable woman. I was sorry I ended up stepping on the toes of Diana's sister Sarah as I arrived!

I was the founding Chair of the Landmark in Lambeth back in the 80s, which was the South London equivalent of the more famous HIV-AIDS centre in Notting Hill (the Lighthouse) which Diana had supported so famously.
In 1986 Diana came to the opening of the Landmark and I was privileged to be able to introduce her and ask her to mark the Opening by unveiling a rather tasteful plaque. My young nephew Alexander gave her a bouquet which made the front pages of the press. He and she were very cute! I had a conversation with her before the event and, like so many others, was charmed and entranced by her beauty and obvious concern for the marginalised and abused. Her championing of AIDS at that time was enormously influential in turning public opinion against the bigots who talked of the AIDS plaque. Since then the Memorial Fund has very successfully championed causes Diana felt strongly about like land mines. But it is remarkable that the trustees of the Memorial Fund decided they would spend the donations rather than store up gold for the future. Doing good now when it is needed , not in the distant future.

Rather splendid champagne and good canapes ,after a day of conferencing and networking meant a rather late and meandering return home. A late start to Friday!

Thursday 29 November 2012

25 Years and Still Leading

Well, there were plenty of Lords, Knights and other hot polloi at our Anniversary Gala dinner in the City last night. But I was sitting next to a holder of the Victoria Cross! Not often you get to chat to a real live hero. Corporal Johnson Beharry VC has become an inspirational speaker on leadership and he is speaking to our Conference later today.

A rather lovely dinner. Tani Grey Thompson was a brilliant speaker and gave out our new Leadership Fellowship Awards which are sponsored by ACEVO member, the Leadership Trust.

We also launched our ACEVO/Attenti pay survey last night. David Fielding spoke about the findings and the need for us to get sorted on diversity at the top. Let me give you the highlights.

•The headline finding this year is that median CEO pay has fallen by around 3% over the last 12 months - down from £60,000 to just over £58,000

•With Retail Price Inflation running at 3% this represents a fall in real terms of over 6%

•51% of CEOs had no pay increase at all in the past year- which means a real terms cut when you factor in inflation.

•Of those who did receive a pay rise, 65% saw their pay rise in line with inflation only- that is a 0% rise in real terms

•This shows that the sector’s leadership has responded to the challenges facing our sector with significant pay restraint (in contrast to some other sectors I could mention)

•However, it’s a mistake to think that cutting back on CEO pay is the recipe for solving financial problems. The sector needs the best possible leadership as we respond to the challenge of doing more with less - meeting higher demand for our work with fewer resources. That means both attracting and retaining the best people.

•Perhaps the real story of this year’s data, however, is that the sector’s leadership remains passionate and optimistic despite the challenges we face.

•85% of CEOs are either very optimistic or optimistic about the future of their organisation

•overall job satisfaction is as high as 92%

•What’s more, over 98% of CEOs responding to our survey expressed their commitment to the cause that they and their organisation serve.

•These figures show that we as a sector remain passionate about what we do and confident in our ability to meet the challenge of doing more with less.

•That can only be good news, both for our organisations and for those people all over the country who rely on our hard work, passion and commitment.

The dinner was a superb affair. The launch of our new member benefit; the energy basket. See here.

Now I'm listening too William Shawcross, the new Chair of the Charity Commission. Our regulator. I'm not sure we will be getting a progressive approach: but I may be surprised. No mention of charities being allowed to pay trustees. We shall see if he supports the Hodgson Report. He made some slightly odd remarks on the role of Government and independence which reflect a somewhat old fashioned view of the 21st century third sector. But it is early days and I'm sure he wil be listening carefully to the views of the sector's Leaders!

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Reception overload

Yes, I know. You feel sorry for me. All those receptions, dodgy canapes and crap wine!

Started on Monday with the 10th Birthday of the Social Investment Group; one of the early pioneers of social finance in the UK. I've been Chair now for 7 glorious years. We were making loans when most people thought it a crackers idea.

A lovely evening in the British Academy in Carlton house Terrace; next door to Gladstone's old home! And a session with just some of our investees. We have helped 1,300 organisations through loans over our decade. Not a bad record eh! Indeed we heard from one of our earliest investments, in Liverpool and who have now been back for 13 different loans for their community enterprise (a cool £6 m in total). Nick Hurd MP was there to pass on birthday wishes from the Government.

Then Tuesday was the Kings Fund annual gala reception. All the Health Establishment out in force. Met lots of friends and colleagues from my listening exercise days; including Andrew Lansley! Amusing chats about bizarre Observer article which they thought had uncovered a vast capitalist conspiracy to privatise the Health service. But then our sector loves a good conspiracy; facts no problem.

And tonight it's the ACEVO 25th anniversary Gala Dinner and the launch of our annual pay survey results. The dinner is at the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel near St Pauls. An occasion to celebrate 25 years of CEO leadership and the leadership of ACEVO in driving a more professional sector. We have achieved much in those 25 years. We will celebrate that tonight. Reception. Launch of Pay Survey, Dinner and Tani Grey Thompson as guest speaker. Then tomorrow our Annual Conference.

But let's be clear. It's not all partying. In the meantime we have had to respond to the Work Programme statistics. My comments in the Times today sum it up;

" Sir Stephen Bubb, Chief Executive of ACEVO, which represents charities said the Government’s handling of the whole affair had been a “shambles” as it had tried to spin the figures and shift the blame to benefit scroungers.

"The simple fact is that the Work Programme is the Government’s answer to long-term unemployment, and unless we want a repeat of the 1980s, with thousands left on the scrapheap, the numbers have to improve. It’s time the Government stopped spinning the data and started talking to charities about how we make that happen"

Tuesday 27 November 2012


So finally they’re published!

The statistics on the Work Programme, that is. And about time too. The Government has done good things in making the public sector more transparent and open, but the decision not to publish this Work Programme data until now was pretty indefensible. As was the decision to try to divert attention away from the numbers - by briefing the Telegraph about the number of jobseekers “not playing by the rules”.

The stats, it has to be said, do not make comfortable reading. The Work Programme appears to have missed its minimum performance targets in the first year. This will in large part be down to those targets being based on overly optimistic assumptions back in 2010 about how well the economy would do – but a welter of different numbers and commentaries is already hitting the ether. ACEVO members can get their heads round the numbers by coming to our briefing on 6 December, where Dave Simmonds from the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion will be giving us his analysis. Email if you’re interested.

But the important thing is now that the numbers get better. The task is to get the long-term unemployed into work, and prevent them from being left on the scrap heap as has happened before. That is what we need to focus on. So ACEVO is launching a review, overseen by a group of members, to report in spring 2013. It will look at the challenges ahead, and ask what we need to do to meet them. And it will make recommendations for what should come after the Work Programme once the current contracts are over. Again, members can find out more by coming along on the 6th. We need to focus on solutions – and that’s what we’re going to do.

Monday 26 November 2012

What a wonderful world, the Future Jobs Fund and Evening song.

Got back from the Charlbury Scouts and Guides coffee morning (I bought a delicious Victoria sponge) to hear the inheritance tracks of John Major on R4 Start the Morning. I have to say Major was impressive (of course he also was a Lambeth Councilor) but I particularly liked his choice of Louis Armstrong's brilliant "What a wonderful world". As I walked the Hound over to the Plough in Finstock in the gorgeous autumnal sun I reflected that however tough or stressful the job gets the fact is we do live in a wonderful world so we might tackle a budget deficit but these things are ephemeral. The daffodils will appear again in the spring, the roses in the summer and the leaves turn in the autumn. And the canopy of the Fall leaf on the oaks in Cornbury park was testament to that truth. But let's not get too sentimental....

My nephew Oliver was making his debut in his College Choir at Evening song for the College Carol service on Sunday so my 2 sisters and aged parents went along to show support. Brasenose College (Oxford naturally) is a splendid institution and the Chapel is particularly gorgeous. Small but a hidden gem. And Oliver took us to the Formal Hall afterwards and then to see his charming garret room (once occupied by Michael Palin he tells me). But standards are slipping. In my day one had to wear a jacket and tie; as you can see Oliver is somewhat casually attired.

Oli and my sister Sara in his room

DWP have just published the results of an academic study of the Future Jobs Fund reviewed by the NIESR. This is the brilliant scheme that James Purnell MP introduced on the prompting of ACEVO. In one of the less clever decisions on taking office the coalition abolished it. IDS has often attacked it, but now we know it did work. And in fact ACEVO members have always been clear that it was a remarkably effective scheme. I met an ACEVO member in Devon who told me that they had achieved a remarkable 80% employment rate among the hundred or so young people they had employed

The bottom line is that the impact of the Future Jobs Fund (FJF) on the chances of participants being employed and/or off benefit was substantial, significant and positive. 2 years after starting the programme (so long after the programme itself had ended, so the participants were back in the open labour market), participants were 11 percentage points more likely to be in unsubsidised employment.

These are remarkably positive results for a labour market programme: it is clear that the Prime Minister's description of the FJF as "one of the most ineffective jobs schemes there's been" was wrong.

But it's too late: the programme has already been cancelled, so instead of spending money on something we now know works - for young people on the dole and for society as a whole - we're spending it on other things. And we don't know (yet) if they work or not. That's a stupid waste. Like the decision to end the futurebuilders programme, a piece of party politics that has ended by harming young people.

Any chance of DWP eating humble pie. Don't hold your breath

Friday 23 November 2012

The Bow Tie Brigade

Why do so many Doctors wear bow ties? I was wondering about this as I was at the NHS Alliance annual gathering in Bournemouth. It's a big collection of GPs talking about health and I wondered if bow ties are somehow more healthy than ties. Perhaps ties carry more infection? I think we should be told. I prefer a tie, if only because it hides a paunch better?

But a fun event. I like Doctors (well when I meet them like this as opposed to the one who quizzes me annually on my drinking habits). They are an interesting bunch and full of amusing tales of illness and disease. And the GPs at the Alliance tend to be the more progressive ones who see the value of changing how they commission services. Indeed ACEVO has done a joint publication with the Alliance on how to commission from the third sector. (Click to view).

I did my usual set piece on choice and competition in widening out the use of our third sector. I'm getting a more receptive audience now that the furore of the health bill has died down and we get on with the task of implementing it all. And I think increasingly GPs in the new system are thinking how they can commission our sector. But as always here are some who want to re-fight battles of old! Amusing to see the "national coalition for independent action", whatever this is, denouncing NCVO, NAVCA and ACEVO (amongst others)for having apparently signed up the voluntary sector to privatisation and the dismantling of the welfare state. It says this shows we have signed up to a party political agenda; they clearly don't have a sense of irony! Never quite understand why arguing for more third sector delivery of public services should be equated to "privatisation". In fact it's rather insulting to all those third sector staff and volunteers delivering excellent citizen and community focused services across the country.

Jeremy Hunt was there; a man on a mission. There to charm his way around the professions, not talk about reform and only talk about health and patients. Actually not a bad strategy! The NHS talks too much about organisation and process and not enough about the citizens who own it! He has a particular brief to improve services for the elderly and he knows he can't do that without a bigger role for the third sector in advocacy and delivery.

Earlier the Red Cross, in the excellent shape of Annie Bibbins, was talking about their work with the elderly. In 2011 400,000 people were supported by them to regain independence at home - especially in preventing admissions to hospital and facilitating early discharge with support being provided at home. They have 161 contracts with councils and NHS bodies across the country.

They want to expand their service and for the NHS to commission more so they can provide more services, for example a 24/7 offer in A&E, as they have been developing in Bristol. It's all about support and care on a practical and emotional level. Deloitte the accountants have assessed these schemes and looked at costs vs alternatives and they show a significant return on investment.

She also talked about the example of Hertfordshire village wardens. These are part time workers in villages; the job of the warden is to get to know the most vulnerable in their parish, particularly the over 80s. They also recruit and work with 120 volunteers and so 600 people are being supported. With help on transport, nutrition, safety, paying bills, advice and emotional support. It was a great example to support the announcement from Hunt about the survey to determine and tackle isolation.

So let's commission more of this. That's not privatisation. It's common sense and we want more of it!

Thursday 22 November 2012

We need Leaders!

We ain't seen nothing yet; more cuts are on their way and changes on welfare and housing are going to lead to much pain in communities. So the leadership of our sector's CEOs is as crucial as ever. You can seen signs of a more hard line approach from parts of the coalition; less hoodie hugging, more talk of the work shy and indolent. More stupid spin like we got on equality audits. Our voice will become more and more important in speaking out for social justice and the vulnerable.

I see ACEVO as having two key roles; speaking out and helping shape Government policy for the better, but also in supporting our members in their leadership task.

It's a hidden secret that all new members joining ACEVO get an opportunity to discuss and plan their personal development with my Director of Leadership Development as part of the membership offer.

We have now completed 150 such plans - not just with our new members, also with many who have been in touch with us about our leadership programmes or through our helplines.

As no two CEOs are alike - neither are the discussions or plans. So the plans are very personal and reflect this, as well as considering financial constraints.

I know that development budgets are dwindling and that many CEOs will prioritise team's needs. My message is, don't forget yourself.

We also have a strong Emerging Leaders programme too and so support Directors through Associate membership.

It's interesting to note what we have offered. The most common theme by far is the choice of a mentor - from either within our own membership who have told us they will do this, or from business or public sectors.

Later this year we will be launching a new round of cross-sector mentoring arrangements with the NHS top leaders.

Many take up our coaching offer as well.

Leadership learning is not all about programmes, but we do ensure we can offer this as well, especially the Accelerating Leadership Development. We are gearing up to launch a new partnership with the Leadership Trust whose CEO, Rob Noble, is an ACEVO member.

And on the grip and thrust theme of my recent Blog we also hear that many Chairs are not discussing their CEOs development. Having the chance to develop your plan with ACEVO gives you something positive to take back to the Chair, which in turn might remind them to consider their own development!

I'm on my way to Bournemouth to talk at the NHS Alliance Conference ahead of Jeremy Hunt. It's becoming a big part of my job these days; talking to the health service about the third sector and our offer. Just wish I didn't have to get up at 6am to do it. The Hound looked at me quizzically as I left the house at such a godforsaken time...

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Oh really...(And health awards!)

I thought the Zac Goldsmith MP tweet was amusing . Referring to PM speech on red tape and growth he said, "so the same PM whose dithering on airports will cost 3-6 years, is now enraged by the delays affecting big infrastructure projects".

Frankly, the idea that what holds back development, amongst other things, are equality impact assessments is ludicrous. This policy announcement has little to do with growth but much to do with keeping restive reactionaries happy and a smart Mail headline.

What has happened to the Government that was keen to promote citizens rights in local communities through legislative change? The right to challenge? The right to acquire assets? To request change? Putting power in the hands of local people and communities?

Now apparently sector activists in communities or environmentalists become obstacles to growth. Judicial Review is now dismissed as "time wasting" rather than the way we use the law to challenge the overweening might of the State and vested interests.

Surely we have a right to a debate on the real issues not spin? Apparently much of the increase in the use of judicial review is to do with asylum cases. In many cases we need more red tape not less. More safeguarding protection for children not less. More protection for our environment not less.

The proposal on equality audit is particularly sad; a move that delights the Daily Mail yet is unsubstantiated by any evidence that it hinders or harms development. It is a measure that if used sensibly can ensure policy makers take account of the effects of change on disadvantaged groups, on women and the disabled.

Whatever happened to evidence based policy making?

End of rant.

Last night was the Health Service Journal Annual Awards dinner at the Grosvenor Hotel. An unbelievable 1,400 people so packed to the rafters. Mainly NHS professionals but a good sprinkling of ACEVO members like Jeremy Hughes of Alzheimer, Paul Woodward of Sue Ryder and Prof. Philip Sugarman of St Andrews Health Care in Northamptonshire. I was one of the judges for the innovation awards and got to present the prize to the lucky winners; the St Levan Surgery! What I liked was the way they had developed a new system for seeing patients that does not involve the ridiculous phone call at 8.30am to be told you can't see Doctor till next week (so bugger off and be ill elsewhere please). A simple new system that all GP surgeries could implement, where you ring the surgery, explain the problem and the doctor rings you back the same day, talks you through the problem, decides what needs to be done (blood tests for example) or says come in now, and when you come in they are already primed about the problem. Efficient use of time and resources. Patient satisfaction tops and major cuts in visits to A&E. Simple.

Of course a good networking opportunity. I chatted to Jeremy Hunt on the new mandate and my old friend Clare Gerada from the RCGP. I was sat at dinner next to Norman Williams, The President of the Royal College of Surgeons; a charming and interesting man who I had met during the listening exercise and we swapped stories of amusing visits to No 10.

Late home, but as there were too many doctors present I was most sober!

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Grip and Thrust; the role of Chairs!

My main job is obviously as a Chief Executive! However I am also a non executive Chair of the Social Investment Business Group and Chair of its Charity, the Adventure Capital Fund; now the largest social investor in the UK. So, I guess I have an interesting perspective on the 2 roles; one an executive one, the other non executive. I thought I'd commit some of this to paper - well at least to a Blog.

How does the Chair role go?

I'd sum it up as " grip and thrust", a term I owe to Headhunter guru David Fielding.

"Grip". A chair is a non exec role and I am clear that the CEO runs the business. So they manage and lead the staff, ensure financial sustainability, propose, then implement strategic direction, work with a non exec Board.

But the key relationship is the Chair - CEO. And there is no one model. I think you need to be slightly laid back as a Chair but you can't be so laid back you just only ever say " yes Chief Executive". Sometime you need a grip. That might be along the lines of; well your decision but if I were you...", or a friendly warning and occasional metaphorical slap on wrist.

"Thrust". The key role as far as I'm concerned. Strategic direction. Stakeholder engagement. Using networks and influence to promote the organisation. Opening (or pushing open) doors. Being an Ambassador and spokesperson. Looking for the trends and influences that will affect the organisations growth.
The reality is that the balance between the 2 roles differs between individuals. There is no set recipe. The partnership between the 2 people is going to determine how it works.

In my ACEVO work I see very different interpretations that are based on the skills and personalities of individuals. But core is that you "get on" and getting on involves a shared understanding of the role each wants to play. So some Chairs do not want to do a lot of the networking and media, others do. And it's pretty important that skills to do the particular role is taken into account! If you have a Chair who has big contacts in business and not use them, or a CEO who has a stunning media presence and not use that.

But one thing puzzles me. We have a professional body that supports CEOs; ACEVO, but no body that supports Chairs. However that may be changing. Ruth Lesirge, who some years back was my very first Vice Chair at ACEVO and who now works at CASS Business School, is hoping to establish such a body; a Chairs Institute. I want ACEVO to be strongly linked. Good luck to Ruth!

And finally, if you're not already booked on to ACEVO's annual conference (link to It's open to (and indeed reduced rates for) CEOs to come along with their chairs, and the focus is on the relationship between the two. In other words, the gripping and thrusting event of the year (plus some great speakers of course...).

Monday 19 November 2012

The Arab Spring

So what did you do at the weekend? I was in Tunisia with Stuart Etherington as it happens. Not a romantic knightly tryst but at a conference I better add!

The British Council had laid on the first of a potential series of leadership conferences to bring together delegates from across North Africa and the UK; one of the key themes being to role of civil society. Fascinating to hear the stories of those who had been involved in the events of the recent Arab spring and their thoughts about whether real change had been achieved.

We had a series of workshops on how civil society was developing; after all countries like Libya did not allow civil society organisations and where they did exist they were largely connected with faith organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood. Why, there was even reference to "Big Society" but it is not an idea that travels well, even with some of the leading BigSoc groupies present.

So one of the exchanges was on the role of the sector in service delivery and whether this was an appropriate role or whether that is what the State should do? I obviously suggested it was a key role; especially in challenging repressive state practices with, for example people with disabilities or mental health problems.

We heard how difficult it still is for organisations to protect minority rights. An energetic Egyptian from the Safadist party described how a protest from a group of disabled people who were merely demonstrating outside the President's office about their ability to access government forms were beaten up by the military. Gradually the same old people who ran systems under old regimes are emerging to run the new regimes, but wearing different robes.

It's always problematic to assume you can transfer learning from a civil society like the UK's where we have a thousand year history of development to emerging democracies. But I was keen to suggest there is one lesson that is that for civil society organisations to thrive you need strong leaders. They need support to develop their leadership skills and that is an area where we can provide support.

It is what we did through Euclid in our leadership programme for emerging civil society leaders in the Balkans. We had a work shadow exchange which worked well. Even I was involved with a prominent leader from Serbia.

I hope the British Council will establish something similar.

And obviously it was not all brain work. We had an exotic dinner in a tent and a visit to the old Medina and souk of Hammamett where I was mercilessly attacked to buy rugs, slippers and other tourist tat. I survived; apart from the bottles of olive oil and the dates!

Friday 16 November 2012

Chairs need to get with it!

Frankly, charity Chairs need to do more to drive up the performance of their Boards. New figures from ACEVOs Annual Pay Survey suggest CEOs tend to be significantly more worried about Board performance than their Chairs. A problem surely?

The figures are drawn from the annual ACEVO/Attenti Pay Survey, which this year surveyed 576 Chief Executives and 159 Chairs. It found that Chief Executives were significantly more likely to be dissatisfied than Chairs on:
  • The skill set of the Board (Chairs were more likely to be satisfied by 10 percentage points, with 57% satisfied versus 47% of CEOs)
  • The experience and knowledge of the Board (Chairs were more likely to be satisfied by 7 percentage points, with 67% satisfied versus 60% of CEOs)
  • The variety of general views/outlooks on the Board (Chairs were more likely to be satisfied by 12 percentage points, with 77% satisfied versus 65% of CEOs)
I hear a lot from members about their Boards and their Chairs. Too many CEOs worry about the skills on their Board, but don’t feel they have an active ally in their Chairs when it comes to tackling the problem. There is too much complacency about Board performance in parts of our sector, and Chairs need to be at the forefront in tackling it, rather than relaxing while their Chief Executives worry. We need more Chairs to talk to their Chief Executives about whether their Boards are set up to succeed – and to act if they are surprised by the answer.
We know that having the right skills, knowledge and mix of outlooks on a Trustee Board is pretty key to a charity's success - so it is worrying that so many CEOs and Chairs don't see eye to eye on whether they have that mix.
I have always felt that leadership by Board Chairs is a very mixed bag and its one of the reasons ACEVO does work in this area. We are gearing up to do more. We have recently launched a new suite of governance review services and a governance helpline. We are also supporting the foundation of a new Institute of Chairs, being driven by the great Ruth Lesirge , ACEVOs Vice Chair when I took up my role at ACEVO.
The tradition in ACEVO is for our Annual Conference to bring together Chairs and Chief Executives at our Annual Conference. And we even offer discounted places for those that want to do that! I like to feel it's a way we can promote and develop that vital partnership. I know some of my members would rather I didn't encourage their Chairs to attend; but that's just another sign of the problem surely? More here:
Come on, let's sort this!

Wednesday 14 November 2012

The role of Government, health and the Taoiseach.

Does working with Government hinder or help our sector deliver? The voices that loudly proclaim the dangers of taking Government money often miss the point of Government in working with the sector in delivering for beneficiaries.
I listened to a fascinating presentation yesterday from the former head of Obama's Social Innovation Fund, Paul Cartter.

He was arguing that social innovation is needed to support the non profit sector in times of financial troubles. He reminded us that whatever the financial problems let's remember we do still have huge resources. We just need to marshall them better.

We need to look more closely at what we do and how effective we are.
Innovation is not always about what is new but what is better. It is an important point. Too often we get told innovation is what is new and shiny. Nothing to do with old organisations. Or large ones.

Social Innovation processes has different stages. The early stage is the ability to find new solutions and ways of working.

But how to get to scale? We need to transition to scale which is where Government comes in because they are often the largest funder and enabler of change. Amount of resources in US that go from Government to non profits is 10 times larger than from philanthropy and foundations. So Government is the "funder in chief". Government is key to promoting innovation and we must consider Government as a key partner. But both are under performing.
He made an interesting point on scale. He said the top 10 largest non profits in the US have an average age of founding as 1903! So problem is not invention.
There are 30-50,000 new non profits a year in the States. But they don't grow to potential. Hardly anyone grows. 200,000 registered since 1970. Only 134 grew to over $50m. Hardly anyone is growing. I wonder what the stats are in the UK?

He also argues that we have inadequate interest in evidence. We can't establish that our programmes make significant difference to people. we often measure the impact of a project but do we know if what we do makes a real difference to our beneficiaries lives?

We need to find and to evaluate evidence on what interventions make for long term good. But we often don't.

So Government working with sector is important in developing positive interventions; for example the RNIB works for better lives for blind people by campaigning and providing services but it knows that only Government can develop national policies to make lives better which is why they developed the UK wide vision strategy and argues for Government ot adopt it. Which they did.

Meanwhile back in Blighty the NHS Mandate was published by Jeremy Hunt. It's good. It provides a real opportunity for the sector, whether that is in advocacy and community campaigns, or in research or in delivery of health and social care services.
ACEVO and the Foundation Trust Network (FTN) have welcomed the new NHS Commissioning Board mandate and we announced a new work programme to assess how NHS Trusts and third sector organisations can jointly contribute to delivering the new mandate.

The work programme between our two organisations will:
  • Showcase existing best practice that has been developed by NHS trusts and voluntary organisations working together in the mandate’s priority areas;
  •  Assess how this partnership can develop further to deliver the improvements the mandate requires;
  • Identify up to 20 concrete actions that either NHS trusts or voluntary organisations, or both in partnership, can undertake to drive the required improvements;
  • Identify what is needed from the rest of the NHS to deliver these actions.
Results in a joint report to be published in spring 2013
Third sector organisations and NHS trusts already do a great deal in partnership; but there is huge untapped potential for us to achieve more. The UK has one of the most vibrant third sectors in the world, and one of the best health systems. Getting the two working better together could be key to the NHS's success in responding to the new mandate.
Chris Hopson, the new CEO of the FTN is an ACEVO member and I've been impressed with how he has grasped on this agenda as a way to develop Foundation Trust's work in better health outcomes.
And finally, a great evening at Trinity College. Had an interesting chat with the Irish Prime Minister. We got on well as you can see;
He made an interesting speech on the role and importance of Ireland's voluntary sector.
And finally, outside the birthplace of Wellington. My Great Grandfather x4, Colonel William Somerville Limrick, fought with him in India, notably at the Battle of Seringapatam. I didn't mention this to the PM!

Tuesday 13 November 2012

In Dublin's Fair City; leaving clear footprints!

I have put on my Social Investment Business hat and arrived in Dublin for the European Venture Philanthropy Association's annual conference. A relatively new organisation (but then social investment is a fairly new concept) it gathers together those involved in social finance, venture philanthropy and impact measurement.

The Conference started in a supposedly traditional Irish way with drummers. See them here:

I've been involved in social finance now for 8 years in my role as non exec Chair of the Adventure Capital Fund and the Social Investment Business group. The ACF celebrates its 10 year anniversary this year and its interesting to reflect that back then the idea of making loans to charities and community enterprise was seen as esoteric, if not positively dangerous. Loans were seen as a tool of the devil. Indeed there are still people around who think like that! But I always took the view that the devils tool can be turned to social advantage. And the last decade has shown the power of that idea.

The work of the SIB group in Futurebuilders, the community builders programme and the health social enterprise investment fund has been independently evaluated twice. The record is clear. Loans work. Our default rate is very low and our investee organisations have grown. And for me the fact that we have been able to invest in small community organisations and help them grow is a tribute to the power of loans to grow the sector.

Our loan work is based on the concept of the "engaged investor" so differs from the devil banks approach. That does not mean we shy away from taking drastic action to correct problems (we have had to step in and remove poor management and governance in a number of cases) but generally it's about supporting organisations on their growth journey.

Now, a decade later, social finance is the new fashion. Nearly everyone is an expert. Why, even the EU Commission has got into the act (not unhelpfully I have to add). The EVPA conference is packed out. New trends tend to attract geeks and fools as well as those making some remarkable innovations. There is now a lot of interest in bonds and equity. These seem very sexy and exciting. Yet what the sector now needs most are straightforward loans. So let's not get carried away with the new. Its a point I intend to ram home in my interventions.

One of the participants from Norway talked about her organisation's mission to make impact and "leave clear footprints". I wonder if we in the sector are always clear on that need. So we get involved in innovation and then fail to scale it up or spread the lessons. So one of the key aspects of social finance needs to be measuring impact and scaling what we do. How many examples of good practice do we hear about and then wonder why they are not spread around the country?

Great to be in Dublin. I feel at home; indeed my family used to have a house in Merrion Square before the Troubles. And tonight our reception with the Taoiseach is in Trinity College where generations of my mother's family studied; many of them to become Priests in the Church of Ireland. So I'm observing their footprints; the books of my Grandmother's cousin, Edith Somerville, for example, but also the silent footprints of the contribution the many Limricks and Somervilles; alive and dead, have made to building this beautiful country.

Monday 12 November 2012

A transparent NHS and a gorgeous weekend.

A depressing story fronting the Guardian on Saturday about a former GP collective going private, with its founders taking large profits from the sale of Harmoni to Care UK.

But the irony of this story was lost on the Guardian. GPs are not public sector workers; they are in fact private sector contractors and as such free to make such arrangements as this. However, I think many of us do feel uneasy that money that might otherwise go back into providing health services is now in private hands. I have always felt this is one of the strong selling points of the many charities and social enterprises that operate in the health service. It is one of the reasons I believe the right for health service professionals to set up on their own as a mutual is so powerful. There are over a hundred of these new mutuals, doing well and where they ensure the surplus they make goes back into the business.

But the bottom line must always be the service standards to the NHS client. Commissioning must ensure that the patient gets the best service regardless of the uniforms worn by the employee.

One of the issues that emerged in the listening exercise that caused much debate and concern was over the transparency and accountability of the new commissioning arrangements at local level. I believe GP commissioning will be an advance but it is clear that, following the guardian article, we must ensure proper handling of conflicts of interest and transparency of the commissioning processes.

What a wonderful weekend that was! Charlbury looked particularly great for the annual Remembrance Sunday parade and the usual walk to the Plough with Hound was thereputic.

We now await the publication of the new NHS Mandate tomorrow. I think this will be a good document, setting out the priorities we expect from the new NHS Commissioning Board.

And finally; have you booked up yet for the annual national ACEVO Conference? It's our 25 anniversary one and mixes academic input with good speakers on issues from governance to how to tackle the recession. This has traditionally been the chance for our CEOs to come along with their Chairs or other trustees and we make concessions particularly to encourage that. So book now.

Bookings can be made via the website:

Or by emailing:

Friday 9 November 2012

Chatsworth and Barnsley Hospice.

An unlikely pairing perhaps? Yesterday I went across the Yorkshire Dales into Derbyshire and to one of Britain's most magnificent stately homes, Chatsworth and today visited Barnsley Hospice.

In 60 years I had never got to Chatsworth so this was one to tick off that list. And what a stunning place it is; not just the marvellous building and historic treasures but the stunning grounds set in the splendour of a British hillside autumn. Deborah, the Dowager Duchess is the last surviving of the 5 Mitford sisters who lived at Astall in Oxfordshire, just 6 miles from Charlbury and one of my favourite pub runs. In fact she still has a house and the Swan pub in Swinbrook where you lunch surrounded by the Mitford girl's in photos on the walls. Her 4 sisters are buried in the lovely Swinbrook churchyard.

And talking of lunch we (Hound and I!) had a delicious Derbyshire pie in the Devonshire Arms nearby after the Hound had romped through the gardens. A splendid country pub that welcomes dogs; pity London is not more like this.

ACEVO member Ian Carey runs the Barnsley Hospice; a small but highly effective organisation much loved in the town. Good to be able to look round and meet staff and to hear about their building expansion plans.

Palliative care is now much more in the news. Lord Warner has recently been sponsoring a debate in the Lords on amending the NHS Constitution to give people the right to die at the place of their choice. Too often people die in hospital when they would like to end their days in a hospice or cared for at home. These days a lot of health care can be provided in homes and many hopsices help support this. So, for example, many of those who come to the Barnsley Hospice stay for a period- around 11 days and then are able to spend the last few days at home with their loved ones. They also have a well equipped day centre which also provides much needed support. Ian says they have plans to expand the care they can provide for people in their homes.

Why do the majority of people at the end of life die in hospital? We talked about how the NHS culture can sometimes be hostile to perceived "outsiders" like Hospices and so hospitals and GPs fail to see the advantage of working in partnership to enable people to exercise choice. The vision of Dame Cicely Saunders all those years ago, of a quiet and spiritual place which can offer superb medical care as well as love and dignity at the end of ones day's is yet to be fully realised but Ian and his team are battling to do this in Barnsley. They well deserve support.

Well, my few days in Yorkshire have been a joy and it's now depressing to be blogging from a traffic jam on the M1 as we head back to Charlbury!