Friday 28 September 2012

Where is civil society?

The Korber Foundation is housed in a splendid building in the heart of the redeveloped Port area in Hamburg; a brilliant conference space which they use to promote debate and discussion about the role of civil society. 

One of the special aspects of this German Foundation is an interest in developments in civil society in the Anglo- Saxon world and its relevance in Germany. They run an annual conference and I'm going to be speaking here later. 

And the theme;  " Where is Civil Society; On the path to a new political understanding"

So we explore the role of third sector organisations in promoting a stronger "citizen society" (rather like that - so much stronger than civil society, especially when I like to think we shouldn't be civil when there is such injustice and incompetence around). Looking at getting more political in a culture where large charities are seen as more complicit with the State and largely uncritical of it. 

So the Foundation believes in encouraging more "political" action by civil society and one of the early discussions was about community organising!

A pretty stunning range of speakers; Prof Sievers from Stanford , Prof Leo Pinta one of the world experts on community organising and the great third sector guru, Prof Anheier of  Heidelberg University; a world centre of research on civil society. (And I should just mention Prof Anheier is speaking at our Acevo Annual Conference on Nov 29th. Book now!) As a mere Knight not a Prof I felt outgunned!

What was particularly interesting was the debate around the "independence" of the sector as opposed to its role in delivery , advocacy and development of government policy and action.

Prof Anheier was particularly provocative about the role of Foundations who he described as working in " non explosive " areas and not seeking challenge. He thought they needed to be involved in politically explosive areas! I thought this was rather pertinent to the UK.  How could we encourage our Foundations to be more explosive as opposed to project driven? Less safe?

Of course the role of the independence of the sector from  Government is an area of debate in the UK but the issue can be overplayed. The trick is to both work with Government and be critical of it. As Ed Miliband was fond of saying," bite the hand that feeds you ".

Its something Acevo has tried to exemplify even though that can be a tricky ride. I suspect the next 2 years of coalition government will get more problematic for our sector. So the debate in Germany about encouraging a more politically active sector is a crucial one , given their role in EU leadership.

Stephen Bubb

Thursday 27 September 2012

Getting a grip

Here's a quote for all you third sector leaders facing increasing problems;

Voltaire: “Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats".

And we see from the Kings Fund report that the health service is facing more funding problems. This illustrates the danger of a salami slicing approach to cuts. It is unacceptable for hospitals and managers to try to save money be limiting access to treatment or delaying it. Routinely hospitals are giving less priority to non emergency treatments like hip and knee replacements and hernias.  They cynically ignore provisions in the NHS constitution that give people a statutory right to access treatment after 18 weeks. 

In fact a radical restructuring of the service is needed and third sector organisations need to be demanding change. More resources out of hospitals and into prevention and community care. More diversity of provision. More choice and competition.  But I've banged on about this too often in these blogs! Still ,i will be making the same point to Jeremy Hunt when I see him shortly. 

And now , would you believe I'm off to Hamburg. I have to admit it was a pleasure to return home from a wet and windy Malmo late on Tuesday. My own bed. My dog. A cup of proper tea . Sure beats a wretched hotel with a gurgling radiator. And a day in the office! 

I  have been invited ro give a key note address at the conference of a big German Foundation ; they want me to talk about the role of the sector in helping develop Government policy and challenging Governments. The German third sector has less of a tradition of political engagement. I shall stir them up. A bit of agit prop and speaking truth to power. Our dual role of delivery and Challenge. 

Indeed the way things are going here with the coalition Government's lack of any coherent policy  on our sector as part of the answer to current economic and social challenges we will need a bit more speaking truth ......or singing it!

Stephen Bubb

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Europe needs Capital!

So, maybe last week was communing with nature and wildlife. This week its Europe and the euclid AGM which this year is a 2 country affair; Denmark and Sweden!

Starting off in Copenhagen, in a rather cold and dilapidated warehouse which now hosts various social businesses : we sit around in our coats. But the interest of these euclid events is the chance to meet  with third sector experts from across Europe

It is clear that problems in accessing capital is a European wide problem.

 But there are also interesting initiatives to look at how to remedy the problem. In both Denmark and Sweden the Governments are developing social innovation strategies. We heard from Danish civil servants about how they want to spend 43m danish kroner on social businesses in a newly developed National Civil Society strategy. Yet when I asked if part would be loans they looked surprised. Yet I also met with Lars Johansen, CEO of the "Sociale Kapital Fond". and it does loans. Set up quite recently and backed by a charitable foundation it is beginning to make loans and is looking at developing bonds and equity investment. Very interested in the UK examples and experience. But I tell them the UK government appears to be turning its back on loans.  Despite evidence there is demand they wound up a brilliant loan-making programme in Futurebuilders.

Its clear that the EU Commission have woken up to social finance, " social business" and its potential. But its not at all clear they understand it and there is a danger that in discovering this new market they try and regulate and bureaucratise it. Like a kid with a new toy; they play with it and break it. However if we ensure proper input and involvement- as we are in an expert panel advising  Commissioner Barnier  We might get the EU behind an initiative to grow the social finance market?

But one warning, the EU official who was talking at the event said they wanted to develop one index to measure social impact. At one level this may be good; indeed there are at least 70 different measures of social impact so a more common guid would be good. But the EU has a habit of wanting bureaucratic conformity and in advocating or devising one model may stiffle different approaches and make loan funding more problematic. This will need watching. Just as we are opening up social finance we do not need Brussels regulation. Guidance yes . Advice yes. One size fits all no.

Then at 6pm we were all transported to Sweden. Over the new bridge that links Denmark and Sweden. To a reception at the University of Malmo. In a heated building. Though its a gale outside. And wet. And the hotel doesn't run to food or room service so I brave the elements to find an Irish bar and have a swedish steak!

Stephen Bubb

Monday 24 September 2012

Better governance.

As Nick Young said at our recent SilverJubilee Lecture , whilst the sector has moved on on size and professionalism , little has changed in our governance arrangements.

It's time for action. Hodgson offers a way forward. Today we have submitted our views on the way forward to Nick Hurd MP.

They are based on a survey of our members. This showed that amongst charity leaders 52% feel they have difficulty re ruining trustees. 30% believe there are problems with Board performance. And 25% would like to review paying trustees.

It is clear the majority of boards do not want to consider paying trustees. But as we point out to Nick , the question is not do we pay trustees , but do we allow boards that want to pay trustees the power to do so. In our letter to Nick Hurd we also put forward proposals for safeguards if boards decide to pay trustees so as to avoid conflicts of interest.

(You can see both my letter and the survey here.
It's time for action Nick. Don't fudge this.

Friday 21 September 2012

The Graph of Doom

Fascinating insight into the consequences of spending cuts from Dr. Phil Norrey the CEO of Devon County Council. He and I were sharing the platform at the Devon consortium of vcs in Exeter yesterday.
He was commenting on the fact that the turnover of the vcs in Devon is about the same as that of the County Council so we are a big player in the future of services and voice in Devon. But he went on to explain the dire consequences of spending cuts for the Council.
On current plans they need to cut spending by 50% in real terms in the next 7 years.

Devon has the forth highest concentration of people over 65 in the UK. He explained that on projections done by the Council on current Government spending plans , by 2019 the Council could only afford to provide services for the elderly. And bury waste. The so called " Graph of Doom". Frightening indeed.
This is a snapshot of the challenge facing all councils. Its an indication of the need for a radical overhaul of how we deliver health and social care for older people. Only by transferring resources from hospital to community and to prevention can we hope to cope.
Fascinating to hear the former care Minister Paul Birstow MP on "Today" talking about Treasury obstinacy in reforming social care and implementing Dilnot. As often the case HMT are unable to look long term.
But it is not just in health and social care we need change. And if you look services for children and young people, crime, jobs and regeneration, arts and culture part of the answer to the problem lies with the third sector.
At a strategic level Acevo has identified influencing debate and decisions on the next spending review as a priority. Over the next 2 years the Parties will be debating their manifestos. The Treasury will be developing their plans; and let's remember that over half of public spending is on health and welfare.
I enjoyed listening to Dr.Norrey. Not because of his ugly graph, but because he does see the importance of a strategic relationship with our sector. I'm going to be returning to talk to him and hid director's team about how we can help each other. I'm looking forward to that.

Stephen Bubb

Thursday 20 September 2012

Building on our strengths!

A brilliant evening in Topsham on the mouth of the Exeter estuary in Devon. Staying in a small 16th century former coaching Inn.

Just look at the fantastic photos of one of our country's most beautiful spots

And good to meet up with my Devon cousins, Terence and Sandra. We grew up together in Kent but then my Uncle Francis moved to Devon so we lost a lot of contact. Really excellent to catch up tonight. Oh , and I discovered a local vineyard, Pebblebed, which produces a passable champagne!

And to continue the wildlife theme of this week I went to see the Bowling Green Marshes sanctuary belonging to that wonderful charity, the RSPB. This is an internationally renowned reserve, home to thousands of migratory wading birds in the winter. It's on the Exeter estuary and is a particularly beautiful spot. It reminds us of the importance of the work of charities like RSPB. The real defenders of our environment. And we will need to support them more as the Government tries to encroach on the green belt and dilute planning controls.

And then first thing off to the Exeter Football Club grounds for the AGM.

I said I'd tell you what you what I was going to say so here it is;

"No one can doubt the challenges our sector faces in speaking up for the marginalised and vulnerable and in delivering crucial services to communities and citizens. Recession and public spending cuts will remain a feature of public life for possibly a decade.

So our organisations and those we serve face some of the toughest tests in a generation. Now is the time for us to be united as a sector, not divided.

And yet our sector is divided. Two stereotypes are at play. Big charities are often seen as the third sector equivalent of Kraft (predatory, foreign, corporate) while small charities are stereotyped as the equivalent of the village shop in the League of Gentlemen (loud, incompetent, and ever so slightly weird). We need to acknowledge that both stereotypes are false, that both large and small organisations share common cause, that we are platoons in the same army. Division and argument do not help our beneficiaries.

Are we too quick to criticise the private sector for aggressive competition but too slow to recognise the value of partnership and cooperation between our own organisations? I know there is often talk of mergers in our sector but in my view more emphasis should be put on partnerships and alliances.

Every so often there are complaints about one organisation or another having " stolen" a contract. Arguments about unfair competition. Or unfair advantage. National bodies riding roughshod over local and well established organisations.

Of course there will always be controversy in this area. After all, we know the public sector is not very good at commissioning!

But if we put the interests of beneficiaries first then is it time for a more productive relationship between big and small, local and national?
We are a hugely diverse sector. Large local organisations. Small national ones. Large national bodies that are federated like Age UK and the Scouts. Community based, volunteer led bodies like the Kingsbridge amateur dramatic association whose summer production I enjoyed recently. Or Alzheimers who have worked closely with many other charities to develop a dementia alliance and strategy. Or RNIB who have worked across sight loss charities to develop a UK vision strategy. I know from my own experience the unique contribution that smaller locally based bodies can play, often in a way others cannot. That was why the Future Jobs Fund was so successful because it enabled small organisations to deliver jobs but not be saddled with the cumbersome necessities of public sector tendering. Scale can sometimes be important. But local knowledge and connections and "rootedness" in the community are a special prize that commissioners smother at their peril.

ACEVO is working to support partnership working between large and small organisations in our sector.

We have developed a toolkit to support consortia working. One of the organisations we pioneered this with was the Hammersmith CVS . We intend to significantly expand our support in this area over the next few years.

We are working to ensure national policies on commissioning recognise the particular nature of our sector and both encourage consortia working and do not strangle the role that local and community based organisations can play. So, for instance, ACEVO proposed and developed with DWP the code of conduct that governs welfare-to-work subcontracting, and then the Merlin Standard to give it some teeth. We need to continue strengthening these measures, and to ensure they are applied to other areas where subcontracting is set to become the norm, such as work with offenders.

ACEVO has a particular strength as a national body of leaders but we too need to work in partnership . So I am committed to developing the links and connections we need with NAVCA as the organisation that represents the CVS movement nationally. My top team and NAVCA will meet soon to talk about how we work better together.

I recognise there are some difficult issues, and we don't have all the answers here. But what seems certain to me is that the decade ahead requires us to bury the Kraft and League of Gentlemen stereotypes, and to collaborate more in the interests of our beneficiaries. The diversity of our sector is one of its strengths. We need to harness that strength rather than concentrating on our differences and our divisions."

And I was impressed that my friend Joe Irvin, Head of NAVCA was able to respond in a speech he gave to Bromley Community Links CVS ;

“The sector needs to stick together during the hard times. Reduced funding and competitive tendering will encourage division but turning against each other will do nothing for the individuals and communities we are here to help. The voluntary sector is stronger when it works together. And this is a message for NAVCA as well. We need to work together better with other national umbrella organisations, something I have made a priority since becoming Chief Executive in January. You may know we are looking into a merger with Community Matters. We are also talking with other national umbrella organisations to see how we can give the best possible support to the voluntary sector. One example of this is that we are meeting with ACEVO to explore how we can break down barriers between big and small charities.”

Now back to London I’d better show my face at the office or they might forget me. Difficult to conceive I know! But I can't quite put the travel bag away as it's the Euclid AGM next week in Copenhagen. It's great to see how Euclid has grown as a network of European third sector leaders. Modelled on the acevo concept that you need to develop Leaders of organisations if you want to develop civil society. My role as Secretary General is a great honour; particularly as this means the hard work is undertaken by the Director, Filippo Addarii and the Euclid team. I do the hold handing and diplomacy, and ensure thee strategic direction is correct (not am easy task in the European context).

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Tywcross Zoo explored!

How unbelievable! Dining with the snow leopards. Not literally obviously but the splendid visitor centre and conference room where SIB were dining backs onto the snow leopard enclosure. There are only some 30 of these left in the world so the breeding programme here is essential. Indeed the chap you see here has 2 cubs! (Photo courtesy of Seb Elsworth ; on the iphone beats a blackberry on photos I find! )

The SIB away day was fascinating. What was revealing is that we have recently surveyed our investees and potential clients in terms of what. Appetite there is for loan finance and what plans they have to expand

188 organisations said they want to access loan finance to the tune of £343m. Yet there is practically no source of loan finance for them. Big unmet demand.

It really is time for the Cabinet Office and BIS to tackle this as part of a growth strategy. Whilst we have big society capital it is not yet in the position to make loans at this level. It has only just goi started on it investment strategy and we ought to be looking at how to plug the gap.

Obviously key to the discussions at our awayday was how we continue to invest in the growth of the third sector and in community enterprise. We celebrate 10 years of the Adventure Capital fund- the founding charity of the SIB group. We know there is appetite for loans and that an " engaged investor" approach works.

We were looking at how we lever more funds into the sector- for instance into youth unemployment work or health and social care integration.

But efficient chairmanship ensured we ended in time for a quick trip round the Zoo. A fantastic place. You must visit!

Monday 17 September 2012

Windsor Castle, Levenson and Twycross Zoo

Always great to have an opportunity to go to Windsor Castle! This time for the Annual Windsor Leadership Trust Lecture; "After Levenson: the ethics of journalism". So that was fun. It is always a joy to reflect on the wickedness of Murdoch and to glory in the downfall of the mighty, as we sat in the Quire of St George's Chapel a bunch of luminaries in attendance. I spotted former Cabinet Secretary Robin Butler and Martyn Lewis (Chair NCVO). And as I was in the company of headhunter extraordinaire David Fielding he was on hand to pinpoint notables ( my eye sight not being what it once was ! ).
Alan Rushbridger , Editor of The Guardian, was our lecturer. We should all be proud of the role The Guardian played in bringing the wicked Murdoch Empire to book. It took time though as Alan recounted. At first no other paper took up the hacking allegations. But eventually the floodgates opened.

And now I'm on the way to Twycross zoo for the SIB away day; a pleasant drive up from Charlbury through our gorgeous Cotswolds and into the Midlands. We are staying in the rather lovely Asppelby Magna, a great place to think through the future of social investment.

We have a report from the Boston Consulting Group which is looking at the market and supply and demand and then where the Social Investment Business should position itself. The SIB group is now 10 years old and we have a good track record of loans to the sector- small and large organisations, community based and national. There is demand for loans to grow but the supply is woefully inadequate. Hence the need for Government to act and to force banks to look more pro actively at our sector. More on this tomorrow ...

Thursday 13 September 2012

Health needs good commissioning 

Rushed from lunch with one of my members  , the charming Sarah Hamilton- Farley,  to the launch of a new publication , launched jointly by acevo and the NHS Alliance. "  Clinical Commissioners’ Guide to the Voluntary Sector, ".It is calling for a revolution in NHS/community links and closer collaboration between clinical commissioners and voluntary sector organisations.
The guide contains examples of good practice and demonstrates how the voluntary sector’s wealth of expertise and capacity for innovation will play a pivotal role in shaping the new NHS. It explores three key areas – QIPP, patient and public involvement and collaborative commissioning- and gives commissioners a road map to working and developing partnership with voluntary sector organisations.  
The examples range from initiatives by relatively small organisations which helped to improve health services to local people, to national organisations whose work translates into savings of millions of pounds to the NHS.
I was delighted to launch this with Dr Michael Dixon, who  chairs the NHS Alliance,  as he said at the launch ,  “‘The NHS has in the past failed to make the most of the 
potential of the voluntary sector and that needs to change." 

He argued that our sector is key to developing health services that are integrated, innovative, patient-led and meet the needs of local communities. 

The issue is whether Clinical commissioners will develop strong relationships with the sector to create a platform for collaborative commissioning and strengthen links with organisations and the people they benefit?
 Commissioners and the sector have a lot to learn from each another to maximise the potential of strong local partnerships which, not only will improve outcomes for patients, but also will provide better value for money as well as promote effective community engagement. This guide is just the beginning and we will continue to work with clinical commissioners and the voluntary sector to foster and nurture a working relationship which will be crucial for the future of the NHS.
It's  vital that clinical commissioners and the sector work closely together on the design and delivery of health and social care so the guide sets out principles and examples for developing the relationships between local communities and commissioners that will help to shape the future of NHS services. And let's face it , commissioning in the health service is convoluted and bureaucratic.   That has to change. 

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Time for action Nick

Strange isn't it? The Government are keen to boost investment and Vince Cable is talking about a " state bank". And lots of discussion about how to support SMEs.

Perhaps someone could point out that there is a sector employing some 1 million people. SMEs providing jobs and opportunities as well as volunteering positions- otherwise known as charities and social enterprises.

And there used to be an organisation that provided loans for this. Remember it? Futurebuilders.

Currently the Social Investment business is sitting on £28m in loan repayments and interest because the Office of the Third Sector wants to keep this for projects. We know there is huge demand for loans from our many investees, let alone third sector organisations with good ideas and strong business plans for growth. We can't get loans from banks. So why not free up this money know and get it working Nick?

When Futurebuidlers was closed it was getting loan applications running at £90m a month. The demand is there. But there is practically no supply.

Big society capital is getting started but even when in full throttle it will probably not meet what we need. And we need action now.

Practically no one is now making loans to our sector. It is time for proposals from OCS to tie in with broader Government action to boost growth.

The Treasury need to be reminded of the role third sector organisations can play in job creation. We need some vigour put back into the limping public service reform programmes. That's the agenda for OCS and Nick Hurd. Let's get cracking.

Am I the only one who gets a sinking feeling the sector is being overlooked as an agent for change , innovation and growth?

Tuesday 11 September 2012


Well, it was one Parade you could not miss; the chance to salute the Olympic and Paralympic athletes as they wove through the throngs in London yesterday.

I know from members in the many disability charities how much they hope the Paralympics will help change public attitudes to disability. We have long battles ahead. Already we know how the disability benefit changes have been botched and we also fear the same will happen with universal credit, as many charity leaders warned at the weekend. We need public opinion on our side.

And I rather agreed with the comments of Brendan Barber, the outgoing General Secretary of the TUC at his Annual Congress that the Games show the importance of the public sector and he said;

"We can't muddle through greening our economy. We need investment, planning and an Olympic-style national crusade.

"We won't build up industrial strength unless we work out what we do best as a country, whether it's cars, pharmaceuticals, aerospace or the creative industries, and help them do even better.

"And just as the Olympics needed new infrastructure, so does the rest of the country. Not just new transport schemes or energy kit but new schools and colleges to nurture world-class skills and new housing to provide affordable homes and get people back to work.

"So let's build the council housing Britain is desperately crying out for, and while we're at it, let's build a new banking infrastructure as well, with a state investment bank, regional banks and a financial transactions tax to fund our national regeneration."

But let me leave you with a few shots from yesterday.

Monday 10 September 2012

Strategic Planning?

I've quoted from my brother's Daily "Retailer" column before. A recent quote caught my eye from General Eisenhower:

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”.

Having just completed acevo's staff awayday and my own Director's awayday I'm preparing for my Board awayday. So strategic planning is on my mind.

We have been putting together plans for the next 2+ years to take us to the Election in May 2015.

This is a period of great uncertainty; further cuts in public spending, more recession and hardening attitudes to the excluded and marginalised. Yet also of potential for our sector's delivery role and voice.

You can have the most well crafted plan, the result of months of careful research and analysis and just get it wrong in reality. Sometimes events intervene. Your instinct tells you part of that careful plan just don't work.

And its crucial for a CEO to avoid the detail nerds! There is a class of people for whom a strategic plan process sure beats working. I remember talking to a new CEO in an organisation which was ripe for change. I asked what was she planning and she told me it was important they made no changes till they had carefully reviewed their current strategy and got the Board to agree a new Plan. I suggested some change was so blindingly obvious it needed sorting now.

That is not to suggest strategic planning is not important. It is.

However strategic planning is iterative. Life don't get set in aspic so neither can a strategic plan. But there is a huge truth in the Eisenhower quote. Any CEO has to be constantly questioning direction and mission. Debating how changes in the climate affect the sector and beneficiaries. Getting boards and teams together to debate, to share wisdom and to think out the box is a key activity in any innovative organisation.

I'm keen on real awaydays- where you go away from the office for a day and night. We have done this in acevo in the past we have done Windsor castle, a convent and a farm. Fortunately I have had the offer of a stately home for next year!

And the Social Investment business is shortly to do such a real awayday. Next week we are going to a zoo. Not any old zoo but one run by an amazing acevo member! (See a previous Blog on Tywcross Zoo ). We will review our investment plans and options for growth.

On a broader front, one of the problems I have been discussing with colleagues in Sheffield University is our lack of real long term strategic thinking. Not a 3 year time frame but decades. So how will a decade of austerity in public spending change the welfare state? How will health and medicine change the way we live and work? For example, how will changes in shopping habits over a decade or so affect charities running shops? We’re pursuing some ideas to help CEOs on this broader front.

So yes, strategy is crucial. Big glossy 3 or 5 year plans that inhibit change maybe less so?

And finally what a glorious weekend it was in Charlbury so her some photos to enjoy:

Friday 7 September 2012

Supporting Almshouses

Almhouses are a wonderful institution. They date back to the very beginnings of our charity history in the UK. Established as places of refuge and safety for the most destitute in society, they continue a great charitable tradition today of supporting older people to live  independent lives, yet in a safe and caring environments. Small communities that provide a safe haven in what are often fabulous historic buildings. 

So I was delighted when Barbara Young, who is the dynamic CEO of Diabetes UK suggested I might become a Vice Patron of the National Association of Almshouses. They are undertaking an anniversary appeal for funds to support their work. 

I've always been fascinated by the great history of charities in this country. It is a hugely under researched subject. The 2 main books on charity history are quite old and, bizarrely, written by Americans. Paul Palmer at CASS has written his doctoral thesis on this but its not published. At some stage I intend to rectify this myself. I have been dropping hints around Oxford; you would think they would have a fellowship here (let alone a professorial chair) but they don't. And they do of course have a great archive around the colleges and in the Bodleian. 

But in the meantime I shall do my bit as a Vice Patron to support this marvellous bit of our sector! Let me know if you want further information.

Wednesday 5 September 2012


Always difficult to know what exactly a change of personnel will mean for our own sector, but one thing is for sure. We need to get to know the new people in the new roles.

One of the key areas for our sector is social care and health. Jeremy Hunt has in the past been very open to reform of public services and a broader role for independent and third sector organisations in delivery. That is a crucial part of the agenda.

2 facts about health Jeremy must hold firmly in mind:

70% of his budget is spent on long term conditions

The majority of people in hospital beds are over 60.

So the task is to shift resources from acute hospitals into prevention and support for people with LTC.

That inevitably means a bigger role for the third sector. I’m seeing Jeremy shortly so will reinforce this message. Acevo had a strong working relationship with Lansley and we want that to continue with the new guy.

On welfare to work, no one can pretend the relationship has been sparkling. There have been huge problems. We hope we can start afresh with the Department now that we have a new Minister replacing Grayling. And I do hope that in his new role Grayling will remember his key job is not to put more people in prison but to tackle the revolving door which means the majority of people who have been in prison are back there in a year.

I was delighted to see the talented and able Nick Boles into the planning job. He is a real star. He was on our Big Society Commission and he charmed members at our last AGM in the Commons. I'm sure he will not want his first Ministerial job to be marred by destroying the green belt As a supporter of localism I'm sure he will not allow any changes that diminish the voice of communities in planning decisions !

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Carry on dithering!

How odd to read comments from George Osborne about planning changes.

" It's absolutely ludicrous that it takes years to get planning decisions in this country. You can get much faster decisions on the continent, let alone countries like China".

Is that the China where planning laws, where they exist at all certainly do not favour the citizen or community. And where neighbourhoods can be torn down overnight to make way for a big new development by a well connected and powerful developer.

It's worth recalling that " dithering" saved many an important national landmark from the hands of developers; St Pancras station, the Christ Church meadows (to be torn up for a ring road! ), the old victorian district of Jericho in Oxford and perhaps most monstrous of all the plan to turn Princes St in Edinburgh into a highway where inconvenient pedestrians would be banished to a first floor walkway!

So the National Trust, CPRE and other lovers of our great countryside heritage need to gear up. In fact we need a wider third sector campaign to protect our environment and to ensure that growth and development, which we need, is not at the expense of communities.

And I have swapped the glories of the magnificent devon coast for the incomparable charm of what must be one of the world's most gorgeous citites; Edinburgh.

We have a meeting of ACEVO scottish members and our sister organisation ACOSVO. We will be talking of our joint challenges and discussing the different approaches of the 2 administrations to our sector and to economic recovery as we wait on the results of the reshuffle. Will Hurd remain? Be promoted? Who will we get?

And finally so good to see that ncvo are coming behind our campaign to protect the National Lottery and have written to Hunt in similar vein. It is always more powerful when we have a united front on such matters. We cannot afford to have the health lottery eating into proceeds from the National Lottery's money to good causes.

Monday 3 September 2012

The glories of the local voluntary sector!

Well, excitement in Hope Cove! The strong overnight winds yesterday tore 3 boats off their moorings and smashed one of them onto the rocks. But all was well by the time we went to the annual production by the Kingsbridge Amateur Dramatic Society in the evening.

" California Suite"- a really rather enjoyable evening in the Marlborough Village Hall. And I'm glad to report on my win of a bottle of Californian Rose in the raffle.

It was good to support the local voluntary sector. We forget how big a place amateur arts and sports play in making Britain healthier and creating well being. These entirely voluntary organisations play a crucial role in local communities and, with the rest of the charity sector- national as well as local- make up the backbone of civil society. It is a mistake to try and pit one part of civil society against the other. Local voluntary or paid professional staff in bigger charities.

A rather rural shot of me, mother and sister Lucy at my brother's cottage. As Dr kyle remarked; all that's missing is Miss Marple!