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.