Thursday 31 January 2013

New faces. New chances for social finance.

Last night we had a Board meeting of the Social Investment Business.

As the Social Investment Business Group enters its second decade of social investing, I was chuffed to welcome five new board members. The new appointments join us at a potentially exciting time for social investment and bring a diverse range of skills and experience from Whitehall and the City with specialisms in law, corporate finance, risk and public service delivery. I reckon it would be difficult to recruit a better bunch of non execs.

And why have we succeeded? I put it down to a great search carried out by top head hunter from Attenti, David fielding, and the fact we pay non execs. David said it was abundantly clear we got people at this level because we pay and so can compete with non execs in the Public sector (who are all paid).

The five new board members are:

• Carolyn Aitchison, who has been MD at The Blackstone Group and Morgan Stanley, and is a trustee for the Big Issue Foundation.

• Crispin Blunt MP, MP for Reigate in Surrey since 1997. He served as the Minister responsible for Prisons, Probation, youth and criminal justice until September 2012. His expertise in government commissioning will be invaluable and he made trenchant and amusing interventions at our Board.

• Louise Keeling started at the Bank of England before moving in to equity asset management at Insight Investment and Marathon Asset Management. Clearly a top class brain and analytic power.

• Edward Lord has been an elected member of the City of London Corporation since 2001. He is chair of Capital Ambition and until recently was chair of Local Partnerships LLP. He has also been vice-chair of the Whittington Hospital NHS Trust. He is Deputy chair of the City's loan fund and worked with the LGA on the potential for local government bonds. Another useful ally as we look at how to join forces with councils on joint loan funds.

• Jeremy Newman is chair of the Audit Commission and the former Global Chief Executive of BDO. He basically built up BDO into the power it now is. And he has a major role in a number of Jewish charities. And unusually for an accountant is most cultured and amusing. He quoted poetry at his interview. A man after my own heart.

These are top class recruits and I remain privileged to lead such talented boards. Our new appointments are the product of a rigorous search process and highlight the capacity of our sector to attract the very best if we do it professionally.

Last night we were discussing exciting plans for the coming year; building on our experience of supporting community enterprise and charities grow and increase their impact. In particular I see big opportunities for us in maximising the role of the sector in the rehabilitation revolution, and in forming new partnerships with local authorities. We are open to offers as we have an endowment of £15m which we want to use for leverage.

Charity Commission; questions to answer.

The Times today reveal a tax scam by a charity many of us had never heard of “The Cup Trust". It is reprehensible for rich people to use gift aid to avoid tax. When this is exposed it must be stamped out. The behaviour The Times reports does not represent charities in this country - what they describe are morally bankrupt people driven by greed, who have hijacked a scheme that benefits vulnerable people to enrich themselves. Such behaviour should be punished to the full extent of the law. But do not tarnish people who give to charities or those who receive money by association with these people.

For me the astonishing fact is the failure of the Charity Commission. It would be one thing if they had not known about this, but as The Times points out it was glaringly obvious. According to the report, The Cup Trust accounts disclosed that it was controlled by an off shore company set up by well known tax avoidance advisors and spent an amazing £97m buying government bonds that it transferred back to investees at minimal cost. This apparently generated a cool £46m in tax reliefs for them.

But the CC did know about them. They had a 2 year investigation and then, rather than stamping this abuse out by closing the charity they “offered advice and guidance".

Let's be clear. Our regulator has failed in its key role. We now need to know why and I expect that that at the very least the new Chair, Mr Shawcross orders an immediate enquiry and tell the sector why they failed.

I was also surprised in the light of this evidence from The Times the Commission had no comment. They have been free with their views on many issues not necessarily the role of the regulator; the welfare state, chuggers as a blight - but now silence on this? No doubt they are now looking at this but clearly the Commission has to account for its actions. They need to tell us what action they will now take.

We also need to know what the HMRC were up to. When we had the big row on tax reliefs and Ministers said there was abuse I demanded publicly to know who these charities were and what action was being taken to clamp down. No answer did I get. Well we know now about one. This abuse must be stamped out.

Our sector cannot afford to suffer any loss of trust. The commission must now act to stop this.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Health; time for radical change.

More than 7,000 men and women will lose a leg or foot this year even though most cases could be avoided if we sorted out better diabetes care.

2 stories in the press recently show the pressing need to radically reshape the resource allocation in the NHS; putting more into community and prevention and less into hospitals.

Diabetes now amazingly takes some 10% of the NHS budget and it is growing - some 5 million people will have diabetes by 2025. There are 75,000 diabetes related deaths.

Well done to Barbara Young, CEO of Diabetes UK and an ACEVO member, for highlighting all this.

As I constantly remind anyone listening, it’s not sensible that the majority of our NHS budget goes on long term conditions but it is badly spent. Spent when it is too late to prevent surgery. We know that money spent on advice and support for people with LTC pay off. We also know we do precious little on the public health front to stop LTC growing (what a sensible idea to put a tax on high sugar content drinks!).

The other interesting story was about cancer in the Daily Telegraph. This is reporting on the amazing research advances which are pointing to dramatic changes which will ensure personal cancer treatments, rather than as now an industrial scale chopping and radiating. The research on the genetic links and DNA profiles of people will enable personalised cancer drugs and care on diet and exercise which will mean that within about 20 years cancer too will become a long term condition. How fantastic is that. But how problematic for the way we run our NHS.

It's also worth noting that much of the research on cancer is funded by charities. Indeed in some areas of cancer research, like prostate, most is charity driven.

And let's be clear, who is best placed to deliver that care, support and advice? Deliver health and social care services? Who best to mount campaigns (like the excellent one now being aired by MIND and Rethink? Yes, you've got it. So let's see a major role out of “a major expansion in commissioning of the third sector ". Radical changes to commissioning and more support for the advocacy and public health roles we play.

The reform's now kicking in offer us a big opportunity on the health and wellbeing boards and on the new CCGs. Let's grab them with both arms. And legs. Assuming they not chopped off.

Tuesday 29 January 2013


So I was in Leeds on the day they announced the extension of the high speed rail line. Of course I'm sure the time saved on a journey to Leeds in 20 years time will be fabulous but as I shall be 80 I don't suppose I will care how long it takes! And it was windy!

I was up there to meet Alison Haskins, who has had an investment from SIB as part of our health innovation loan fund from the DH. She has been putting together a consortia of third sector bodies in Wakefield and is bidding to run the local health watch as well as being in talks about potential collaboration or merger with the local CVS.

An ACEVO member she demonstrated that essential core value a CEO must have; a driving ambition for our sector and a dynamism and determination to achieve it. Not for her hand wringing about "independence" but a desire to win contracts to deliver more for beneficiaries. ACEVO Solutions has worked with her on building consortia and she has plans to do more. We talked about partnership with the local council in Wakefield and how we can do more together.

So a rather neat introduction to my next meeting which was a dinner between my Chair Lesley-Anne and Joe Irvin, the CEO of NAVCA and his Chair Caroline Schwaller. Joe has just become one of my trustees and we are keen to develop a closer working alliance with NAVCA. ACEVO is doing more and more with local councils and health bodies and we see a natural partnership between local and national bodies in delivery. As public service delivery opportunities grow we also need to encourage collaborative working and so ACEVO and NAVCA are natural allies in promoting joint ambitions for our respective members. It is clear we need more scale to deliver contracts. PBR is here to stay and we have to find sensible ways to share risk and to manage new complex contracts. She, like me, wants to see more Third Sector "primes" and so collaboration schemes offer the potential for many smaller organisations to be part of a supply chain organisation that is rooted in our values and which dops not tie them up in tenders and bids.

And it was fun to catch up with Caroline. She and I knew each other from National Lottery Charity Board days when she was the regional development officer for Yorks+Humberside, based in Leeds. And of course Joe took on my job at the TGWU when I left in 1980. Amazing what a small world it can be in our jolly third sector.

So back to London. A pleasant train journey. I even managed to polish off a mound of work and arrived in our Kings Cross office feeling virtous!

Monday 28 January 2013

The Weekend

So I made it to Charlbury for the weekend and the last of the snow. I'm glad to say the Hound loves snow and shuns those namby pamby coats other dogs wear to keep out the cold. Our usual walk through the snow drenched fields around Cornbury Park to the Plough at Finstock was a delight.

So I thought I'd share a few photos. And continuing the Downton theme of a recent Blog here are photos of Lee Place, the Charlbury home of the Duke of Malborough and Cornbury Park from across some shivering sheep. Cornbury is home to the Rotherwicks; Lady Rotherwick is the sister in law of the new Governor of the Bank of England.

It is a little know fact that the village of Downton, as portrayed in the TV series, is in fact Bampton, a village some 8 miles from Charlbury (and so in the PM's constituency; how apt).

Back early Sunday for a flatwarming in Tottenham- somewhat of a contrast to Charlbury; my niece and her boyfriend throwing a party for the family. And now it's off to Leeds.

Friday 25 January 2013

Royals and criminals

Well, it's not often you get to go to meetings with Princess Anne, but when you do it's always worth it!

Catch 22 is one of the charity sector's stars. A charity established in 1788 to do work getting kids off the streets. It does work in prisons and in rehabilitation and as "Rainer" it invented the modern day probation service and then ran it for decades.

They had laid on a roundtable bringing key stakeholders together to talk about public service reform and, in particular, how the rehabilitation revolution might go.

They are clear about the need for our sector to run more public services and Chris Wright, the CEO and ACEVO member, gave an admirable address on the value of sector delivery and getting stuck in to deliver more. They have a no nonsense approach built on their history and experience. We should deliver more. The State should pay for it and ensure the commissioning process helps charities, big and small, to do just that.

They had invited their Patron, The Princess Royal, who has a superb knowledge and grasp of the sector and spends a lot of time with charities. She had been to see the path breaking work that Catch 22 and SERCO are doing in Doncaster Prison on a PBR contract. They also have a social enterprise called which Bridges Venture has bought into to provide capital for expansion

But she made an important point in her speech which I echoed when I contributed. She spoke of the importance of charity independence and I followed by saying we must always take the Government's shilling but kick them in the shins when they misbehave. As Ed Miliband MP used to say when he was Third Sector Minister, "bite the hand that feeds you". I recommend that. I do.

What good news on Peter Wanless from Big Lottery getting the NSPCC job. He is a great guy, superb operator and a friend to our sector (ACEVO membership pack in post!). I had lunch with Clare Tickell, CEO of Action for Children on the day his appointment was announced and she and I celebrated his appointment. The top children's charities need to work together on an agenda that protects children and young people when services to these groups are being savaged.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Musings on charity and independence

Roger Singleton has written to me with his Report on the state of “independence" and the sector. An important piece of work highlighting the need for our sector to retain its ability to speak truth to power and to articulate, without fear, the needs and demands of our beneficiaries. It’s core to our mission and our ability to deliver effectively.

In ACEVO I have always taken seriously the need to speak out on behalf of members. A great example of independence in action was ACEVO's recent letter to the PM setting out our frustrations and concerns. We did this despite the funding we receive from the State. And we were keen to ensure this was publicised widely. So Government takes notice. But we couple this with working with Government and Departments to ensure legislation and policies are well tuned to helping us deliver.

Funding from the State often facilitates our ability to speak out. This is not a picture of good and evil.

The Report points to some disgraceful examples of bad behaviour by the state - the gagging clauses in the Work Programme, for example.

However it is somewhat one sided. Over-dependence on a major source of funding can trammel independence but this applies just as much to an individual donor, a Foundation or a company. The Report does not tackle this so I have suggested to Roger he looks at this in his next report.

One thing is clear though. As we get closer to the election we will find more pressure on us to keep quiet. ACEVO will resist this and we hope others will too.

I had not previously noticed Jeremy Lefroy MP but I know from members of his great work in international development and in Africa He has sprung on the scene demanding that charities have their status removed if they have the temerity to pay Directors more than 100k.

Of course we do occasionally get these demands from the backbenches in the Commons, and indeed it reflects a certain strand of thinking about charity that was more common in the 19th century than the 21st.

I dub it the “Downton Abbey charity approach". Did you watch that splendid series (I got the box set from Santa!). There a marvellous scene with Maggie Smith aka the Dowager Countess telling Lady Sybil (the unmarried daughter of the Earl) that she needs to occupy herself “do some charity work ".

Fortunately our sector has moved on and we believe that our beneficiaries deserve top class professional services. That means finding top leaders who we need to pay effectively. I'm afraid the Lady Sybil’s of this world are not the answer.

I've just come from another breakfast meeting. This time on the role of social finance in driving the rehabilitation revolution. Then off to the Caledonian Club for a speech on personal health budgets. My report on choice and competition recommended that everyone who could benefit from such a budget should have one in 5 years. We are 2 years on. DH is far from achieving that target.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Europe and civil society

So now we have it. At last, the speech. What I find interesting about this debate is how it is always pitched in terms of what is good for the UK and the assumption that the rest of the continent has different interests.

In fact I suggest the direction of travel set out by the PM is good for Europe too. The European institutions are too focused on bureaucracy and aggrandising powers to themselves. It is a Europe of institutions, not people.

The EU needs to decentralise its decision making. It needs to involve civil society more in how the system operates and build more power to communities and citizens, not for the EU institutions. The move to more central control for the Eurozone is a process that will ultimately fail because it does not deliver people and communities. So Cameron is right to argue for looser links with Brussels. But this is what the rest of Europe needs too.

I'm just back from a great breakfast at the St Pancras Booking Hall with Sarah Neville form the FT. An eggs benedict to set me up for the day, with Eurostar in the background appropriately!

And finally, I'm indebted to my brother's daily retail news column for the following quote.

Gerard Way, the lead vocalist of the American rock band “My Chemical Romance”:

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it's worth watching”.

How appropriate for a third sector Leader.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Icy conditions....

Well, the snow put paid to my weekend in Charlbury so I has an unexpected stay in Brixton Hill. But sometimes nice to sample London at a weekend. I was able to go to High Mass at my favourite London church (All Saints, Margaret St) and take in the last day of the Harrods Sale. I bought a gorgeous felt hat. I've not had a proper hat before and now I'm old I feel entitled to one. Its very grand; but will I manage to leave it on the tube as I have with all 3 flat caps I have got through in recent months? I was emboldened after lunch last week with Paul Woodward of Sue Ryder and spotting his rather pleasant trilby!

And I even managed the cinema; Les Mis at that great indi cinema, the Ritzy in Brixton. Brilliant film. I recommend it. Hope my humming was not too loud?

Always interesting who you bump into in South London. I was in the picture framers in Herne Hill waiting behind a lady and her daughter seeking after a splendid frame for a print of an African woman. It turned out to be Harriet Harman MP. Then I bump into Michael Quicke, the CEO of CCLA at the tube as I head off to a Burns night supper at the Atheneum.

What a marvellous affair that was. In full fig, piper banging away on the stairs and steaming Haggis accompanied by its chef and 2 whisky bottles. I'm always envious of those who come in their kilts. I'm entitled to a tartan; the Somerville one following my descent from the Rev Thomas Somerville, my great grandfather x5 who fled Scotland for Ireland with his father (the Rector of Carnworth) in 1692 at the tender age of 3: persecuted by the wretched Pressbies. But as this was a century before the great Robbie Burns, it might have been pushing it a bit to don a kilt. And it was a draughty night all courtesy of top sector headhunter, David Fielding.

So now I'm off to Aylesbury for a meeting with the CEO of Bucks County Council. We leave from Marylebone station; it brings back sweet memories. In September 2000 I was appointed ACEVO CEO and the office was then in Harrow, so each day I would set off for work from Marylebone station. Obviously we had to move but I still have good memories of the office there and the pleasant lunches on the Hill, just by the school. And Marylebone station is London's most agreeable.

Friday 18 January 2013

ACEVO AGM and the Big Offer

It’s that time again for ACEVO’s Annual General Meeting, where we informed our members of our previous and future activities. Last night was also a chance for our members to swap their stories and share their experiences as sector Leaders since the coalition.

With a general election soon upon us and with all the recent razzmatazz around the coalition's mid-term review I was reminded of the heady rhetoric of the pre-election days and the serious wooing of our charity sector by all the political parties.

Oliver Letwin MP was our guest speaker during last night’s Parliamentary reception so I took the chance to remind him that back in 2010 ACEVO had organised our "Conservative Summit" with him, soon to be Chancellor George Osborne, nine future Cabinet Ministers and ACEVO charity leaders.

During the summit the conservatives talked about their plans for the sector and how crucial we were to reforming and modernising public services. So, I made them my "Big Offer”; stating that as a large and powerful sector we were ready to help transform public services and build stronger communities. I also pointed out that the third sector is a broad sector that is increasingly crucial to both the economy and society with an annual turnover of £120 billion and employing 1.3m people.

Consequently that “Big Offer" is still open and has no expiry date on it! Right across public services, charities and social enterprises have so much more to offer. Whether that is delivering more citizen focused public services or speaking up for communities, we need Government to realise what we can offer.

There is much frustration amongst charity leaders in the face of yet more cuts, increasing demand for our services and lower giving. Across health and social care, rehabilitation, children's and old people's services and employment the charity role must be expanded.

Oliver Letwin MP was generous in his response and highlighted the current plans for a rehabilitation revolution and how he does not see how this can be achieved without the close involvement of our sector. And he told me to carry on arguing our corner, even when that makes them angry, because that's my job!

Times are tough. But as I said to Oliver, charity leaders are resilient and resourceful. As Oliver Wendel Holmes said, "The thing is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it, but we must sail and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”

So we shall see what will happen in the next two years.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate CEO at Contact a family Srabani Sen and CEO at RNIB Lesley-Anne Alexander as they have been re-elected as trustees to ACEVO’s board. I would also like to welcome CEO of NAVCA Joe Irvin who has been elected to replace Cath Lee. I’m looking forward to working with Joe building on the strengths of national and local charities.

Thursday 17 January 2013


Somewhat lacking this morning after the fun of my dinner with old comrades last night. And I wake up to a request to speak to the good people of Birmingham, courtesy of BBC radio. It’s about the lottery; Camelot putting up the price of a ticket to £2.

If this means charities getting more money at a time of increasing problems then good. But will it put people off playing? Will Desmond see this as an opportunity to compete more and so lose us money. I guess not, when the Euro ticket is already £2.

Amazingly some 60% of the population play the Lotto. And let's remember over the years since it was established it has raised over £29 billion for good causes and over 30m a week is paid to charities- so it’s a significant source of funding for us.

And talking of energy, one of the things ACEVO does for its members is look to capitalise on its collective buying strength. Those of you who attended our superb Annual Dinner last November will recall the launch of the ACEVO Energy Basket. This is a brilliant way for members to save their organisation money on energy costs – an obvious burden for those with large or multiple properties. Basket members buy buying energy at group wholesale prices and get lots of other benefits too. There’s more info on the ACEVO website Get in quick – the more members in the Basket, the greater purchasing power it will have.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Banging on...

I know I bang on about how the NHS denies people choices at the end of life (why only Monday I was expanding on this theme on the Today programme!) but it's a powerful example of how we don't use our charity sector better.

My good friend Imelda Redmond, Director of Policy at Marie Curie has sent me an impressive report on their nursing service. They commissioned the Nuffield Trust to take our experiences of 29,000 people who received care from Marie Curie and compared "outcomes" with a control group of people not receiving MC care. So they found that 77% of those with Marie Curie nurses died at home (which was their positive choice) and only 8% in hospital. In contrast only 35% of the control group died at home and 42% died in hospital. They also found significant costs differences for the MC nursing service as opposed to the NHS.

So strong evidence of the value of home nursing at the end of life, both for patient’s choice and for cost effectiveness for hospital resources. So please tell me, why are we not commissioning these services more?

Anyway, now I'm off for lunch with Paul Woodward of Sue Ryder and no doubt we will touch on this theme again!

And tonight I'm entertaining at home; the class of '95 of the Duke of Edinburgh Leadership Forum. This was a scheme (I don't think it still exists) where younger leaders (I was one once!) spent 3 weeks on a residential course to discuss and learn about leadership. Each cohort was around 150 people so we were split into groups of 15. My group really gelled and we still meet up every year. This year it’s a trip to see the Sally Army in Denmark Hill (one of our group is a senior director with them) then it’s a taxi ride to Brixton Hill for shepherds pie and champagne at mine. The bottles will be nicely chilled as I have them in the garden!

And I guess the course worked as the group now contains a Dame, the chaplain to the Archbishop of York, a top official in DWP, the Deputy GS at the Civil Service union, an NUT regional official, a top exec at BP(he wins the highest salary award) amongst others. I shall have to be canny with the champagne as it’s the ACEVO AGM tomorrow and our annual Parliamentary Reception which Oliver Letwin MP will speak. I have to make 2 speeches and I want to be on form!

Tuesday 15 January 2013

In training...

I know it seems improbable, but I began the week at the Gym; in the impressive Brixton Rec (run courtesy of the well known social enterprise Greenwich Leisure). At 60 it’s important to keep fit so, as well as my long bucolic rambles across the Cotswolds’ with the Hound at the weekends, I have a personal trainer who abuses me on a weekly basis. There are no photos available of this strange phenomenon I assure you!

Of course I probably spoilt it all with a dinner in the evening. This was a gathering of the key people involved in the social finance business. Ben Hughes (Community Development Finance Association) and I thought we ought to have an informal get together to discuss where social finance was, the opportunities for the future and potential for lobbying both in Europe and with the political parties as we lurch towards the next election.

Now that social finance is trendy, the politicians have latched onto it, but with improbably high expectations. How many times have you heard about “social impact bonds”? They clearly have a place. Indeed as we move forwards with PBR in public services we need new ways to capitalise our sector. But as I have blogged before, the key demand is for simple loans and not enough bodies are doing that at the moment. The process of developing Manifestos is already under way in the Parties. What role will they propose for our sector? If charities and social enterprises are to play a bigger role then access to capital is one way we can grow.

We had a lively discussion about the potential for growth in rehabilitation. I remain optimistic though there were plenty of voices outlining the problems. The spectre of the Work Programme hung over the soup.

So a good dinner and as I was Chairing it did not mean missing much of “Lewis" on the dear old BBC, though of course I did miss The Archers. Goodness, how old I must sound; wanting to rush home, put the slippers on and watch TV; but a good work life balance (much to be desired though not often achieved) is important. Anyway now I'm off to Cardiff and an assignation with the Welsh Government! I have members in Wales and we will be doing more work there...

Monday 14 January 2013

We ran it once. We can do again.

Probation that is. Indeed it's a third sector invention and we ran it for many decades; where the emphasis was on rehabilitation; indeed "reformation" as the 1601 Charity law has it.

Since it was taken over by the State the emphasis has changed and there has been less rehab work- not solely the fault of the service it has to be said but the demands of the prison and criminal justice system.

I welcome the proposals from Chris Grayling. Opening up the service for bids by the sector can help shut the revolving door of prison, release, back in again. Half of prisoners currently reoffend within a year. Surely an indictment of our current system, not to mention a massive drain on resources and harm to communities.

We must learn the lessons of the work programme and ensure proper access to capital, a PBR system that recognizes the weak cash flow of charities and encourages consortia rather than a private sector prime approach.

ACEVO will be working with the MoJ to try and ensure a system that fits charities and also helps members prepare for bidding. As I blogged recently, some charities have magnificent records in keeping people out of prison; ... Jocelyn Hillman and her organisation Working Chance achieved a 1% reoffending rate. So PBR could be hugely valuable. But only if we are able to take part!

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Making the NHS care about health.

It's always been a bit of a misnomer that we call our national sickness service the NHS. As we know, good health and wellbeing is not simply delivered in hospitals but in the community; in public health and environmental protection and in the work of the charity and voluntary sector. One of the problems with our current system is that hospitals have no real connection in prevention work or support to people with long term conditions. That needs to change and it is one of the reasons ACEVO is working with the Foundation Trust Network. Public health and the role of councils in promoting health and well being is one of the key aspects of the recent Health Act and it is welcome.

Had a great meeting with Duncan Selbie who is the new CEO of the Public Health England. We were as one in agreeing the third sector must be at the forefront, with councils, in promoting public health. ACEVO will be working closely with him in pushing this agenda. It matters!

It has been an education reading some of the more rabid tweets and comments on my letter to the PM. For example some comments from the far right of the Tory party claimed most charities are "funded by the taxpayer". What they fail to understand is that the vast majority of the money charites get from councils or the State is in return for contracted services; for social care, children, employment and training and so forth. If this means we are funded by the taxpayer then large swathes of the private sector is too and they should be attacking Serco, Capita etc.

Some of the green ink brigade are also much exercised by the fact that charity CEOs seem to get paid at a professional level. One comment peddled the myth that our average salary is 160k. As if!!! A mere glance at ACEVO's Pay Survey shows it is actually 60k. But some of this is just highly amusing; as for example one commentator who pointed out I worked for Jack Jones in my youth, "just a phone call away from the Kremlin" it commented. Still, it makes a change to be denounced as a crypto communist as opposed to the claims by one large trade union that I am an arch privatiser! I reckon that means I must have got things right!

But on the other hand I have had a lot of supportive comments and emails from members who are glad ACEVO is saying what needs to be said and doing what we must do to hold the Government's "feet to the fire".

One thing is for sure. This is all going to get much more heated. We can expect many more attacks. More personal abuse. But whatever happens, let's not be put off telling it like it is. We speak for the vulnerable and marginalised. Those who do not have a voice. We must continue to highlight the harm that welfare changes are making and not be put off by the nasty side of the current debate on shirkers or strivers. And I'm sure in this role we can rely on the Charity Commission to promote and protect our independent voice.

2013 is going to be interesting!

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Media and Crime

I have to admit I enjoy doing media work. Is this shockingly vain? Probably, but then it's a good job I do because yesterday I was able to highlight the frustrations that many ACEVO members feel about where the coalition has got to and the way in which charities and the contribution they make is ignored.

I did a round of the studios - I particularly enjoyed the slot with Adam Boulton of Sky News and the famous Huw Edwards of BBC News. I even did "Voice of Russia" (I jokingly asked the producer if I'd get a passport in return for the interview!) and was fairly whacked by the time I returned home.

Fortunately Newsnight, who had wanted me earlier, cancelled me which meant I got to watch the start of the new "Lewis" series. Always wonderful. Lots of shots of my old College!

Amazing to note that "Big Society" appears almost as a footnote in the Mid Term review the coalition published yesterday. I will let you judge for yourselves by what was written;

"Social Action and the Big Society

This Government believes that the good society is one that is built from the bottom up, not the top down, and that the process of helping to build it – of putting something back in to society as well as taking something out – matters as much as the practical result. It is not the grand plans of politicians and bureaucrats that will ultimately deliver social progress and build social capital, but the ingenuity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of the British people – the Big Society. That is why we have offered support to all those who want to improve their communities and their local services.

• We have created Big Society Capital, a social investment bank capitalised with money from dormant bank accounts and investment from the four leading UK high street banks, to provide finance for neighbourhood groups, charities, social enterprises and others.

• We have introduced the National Citizen Service. More than 8,400 young people took part in our first pilot in 2011 and pilots for 2012 have just completed. We will commission 90,000 places for 2014.

• We have encouraged charitable giving and philanthropy through a range of measures including match funding, and innovative schemes such as ‘ATM Giving’, now available at 12,000 ATMs, which allows people to donate to charity when they withdraw money, and through delivering the Small Charitable Donations Act which will allow charities to claim a Gift Aid style payment on small cash donations for the first time.

• We have supported the establishment of 13 social impact bonds which help to finance early intervention.

• We have set up the Social Action Fund to support established programmes that provide opportunities for people to get involved in social action and volunteering.

• We will train 500 senior community organisers and recruit 4,500 volunteer community organisers in the most deprived communities by 2015 through our Community Organisers programme.

• We will further encourage charitable giving by distributing the remaining £7.5 million of the £10 million Innovation in Giving Fund; expanding the ‘ATM Giving’ scheme; providing more match funding to new charities and causes; and working to improve and expand Payroll Giving to enable more regular donations from the workplace, with a consultation to be published shortly.

• We will improve the administration of Gift Aid through the introduction of online filing for claims, expected to be available from April 2013.

• We will continue to support public sector workers who want to establish mutuals, and provide service commissioners with the information they need to support the creation of mutuals and co-operatives. We will continue to develop ‘Right to Provide’ policies that will enable mutual and co-operative organisations to deliver a wider range of public services."

This is not to suggest that there are not achievements. In fact my letter to the PM set these out much better than this badly crafted extract. But alongside the flowering rhetoric of the early days of the coalition, the reality falls so much shorter.

It's a problem for Governments of all sorts and sizes. They like to big stuff up. Then the achievements end up looking paltry. As I tell staff, "promise small, deliver big ".

And a rather good example to back up the letter I wrote yesterday was provided by Jocelyn Hillman, a new member who runs "Working Chance", a charity that gets women ex-offenders into jobs. As she said, her reoffending rate is 1%. The national rate is 54%. So why are we not commissioning her charity more? It simply underlines the point in my letter to the Prime Minister that charities need to be at the forefront of a modernised public sector.

Monday 7 January 2013

A challenge for Government!

So we are mid term in a coalition government and today the PM and the DPM set out the options for the next period of coalition. In considering policies to pursue we need to see a renewed commitment to the country' charities. So I wrote to both Cameron and Clegg setting out how I see the opportunities for our sector and yelling at them about how frustrated charity leaders are with the failure to galvanise charity action in public services.

Here is the letter;

The Rt Hon David Cameron MP

By email

04 January 2013

Dear David,

I am writing to you about the coalition government’s plans for the second half of this parliament, ahead of the proposed "update’ of the Coalition Agreement.

When the Coalition Agreement was signed in 2010, many charity sector leaders were cautiously optimistic about the future; in spite of the significant reduction in Government spending that we knew was to come. The Coalition Agreement stated that though difficult decisions lay ahead, “we will ensure that fairness is at the heart of those decisions so that all those most in need are protected.” The same document spoke of a desire for “people to call the shots over the decisions that affect their lives”, and the Conservatives had run on a manifesto titled “An invitation to join the government of Britain.”

As Prime Minister, you described building a Big Society as your “great passion" and “central to my vision for our country”. You spoke eloquently of your desire to reform public services, with a significantly greater role for charities, stating your ambition for “one of the great achievements of this Government to be the complete modernisation of our public services”. You were entirely right, in my view, to argue that "it’s not that we can’t afford to modernise; it’s that we can’t afford not to modernise.” Entirely right because if we remove tens of billions of pounds from public spending and do not reform the way they are delivered, it is the people who rely on them who pay the price.

Since 2010, the Government has to take credit for some major achievements. The establishment of Big Society Capital represents a historic milestone, putting Britain at the vanguard of the development of social investment across the world. Reforms to Inheritance Tax Relief and Gift Aid have made it easier to give to charity. The Localism Act has brought about historic new rights that could enable charities to transform local places and services. Health reforms could offer a bigger role to charities to deliver key services and act as advocates for patients and citizens. In education there are new rights for citizens to establish schools.

But elsewhere progress has been slow or has stalled. Charity leaders feel frustrated and demoralised at this lack of progress.

The ‘Big Society’ is a strong concept, even if Whitehall has struggled to communicate it or implement it consistently – but now the phrase is effectively dead. The potential for charities to transform public services remains largely untapped, with reforms in too many areas either glacially slow (as in the reform of social care funding or offender rehabilitation), or with the reality divorced from the rhetoric (as with the Work Programme, where too many charities are now struggling or withdrawing from what was first described as a “massive boost for the Big Society”).

A much heralded White Paper was delayed, and bold proposals like a ‘right to choice’ basically dropped. The mood music across Whitehall has been that reform is off the agenda. The reality many charities now face is crippling spending cuts: half of local councils admit making disproportionate cuts to charities in spite of Government guidance to the contrary. Most ACEVO members whose funding is being cut have had to respond by reducing the services they provide. Meanwhile charities who find themselves defending their beneficiaries from welfare cuts suffer ministerial attacks on ‘benefit scroungers’ – attacks that they know increase public hostility to those genuinely in need of support. Rather than ‘joining the government of Britain’, they are told that their rights to be consulted or challenge government policy will be reduced, and find decisions on where the axe should fall increasingly taken in the context of a scrutiny deficit – at a local level, where democratic participation and the media spotlight are weaker, and with the central apparatus that would once have scrutinised those decisions pared back.

Despite the size and strength of the charity sector, our role in creating jobs and economic growth is generally ignored.

It is hard for those charity leaders to escape the feeling that when it comes to promoting the potential of charities in this country, a Government once sincerely full of ambition, vision and urgency has lost its way, and now lacks a clear narrative on the role of charities in the economy and society.

We would like to be constructive, rather than fractious, partners. I hope that together, over the second half of this parliament, we can get the relationship between Government and our sector back on track. And I believe the ‘coalition update’ could provide a firm foundation for doing exactly that. In particular, I would urge you to ensure that it:

1. Reaffirms the Government’s commitment to supporting charitable activity. For instance, the Government could help grow the number of employees donating to charity through payroll giving, by building on the Government matching scheme of the early 2000s; or commit to a swift payback of the hundreds of millions borrowed by the last administration from the Big Lottery Fund to pay for the Olympics; or commit to substantial action to incentivise social investment.

2. Shows ambition on reforming public services. For instance, the Government could commit to reforming social care funding along the lines of the Dilnot report within this parliament and should follow through with the oft-stated ambition to achieve an offender ‘rehabilitation revolution’, capitalising on the voluntary sector’s enormous potential to contribute here. A cross-Whitehall action plan on delivery of public services by charities and social enterprises could ensure our sector's potential is seized across the piece. A key reform would be to introduce a general right to choice and a right to challenge for citizens for their public services.

3. Reaffirms the Government’s commitment to protecting the most vulnerable. For instance, the Government should find some way of introducing independent scrutiny of major spending decisions to ensure that they do not disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, whether that be through extending the remit of the Office of Budget Responsibility or some other means – thereby fulfilling the coalition’s commitments to protecting the most vulnerable.

4. Clear incentives for charities to create jobs and economic growth as part of the broader initiatives to promote the growth of SMEs.

A reaffirmation of some of the principles and vision that so clearly animated the coalition in its early days would send a clear signal, and lay solid foundations for successful partnership between Government and the charity sector over the second half of the parliament. I would urge you to seize that opportunity.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Stephen Bubb
Chief Executive

And it is first day back in work for me and as punishment I was up at 5.30am to do an interview for one of my favourite programmes " Today". Evan Davies grilled me; but it gave me a good chance to set out what charities can do given half the chance and so why modernising public services is so important and how bad it is that Government have gone slow on it.
And the rest of the day gives me plenty of time to push the arguments on the airwaves.

Amusingly I bumped into David Cameron at the weekend when we were both out shopping in Chipping Norton. Gave me the chance to introduce him to The Hound! Can't say the Hound appeared overly impressed to meet the PM, but we had a good chat; I am, after all, one of his constituents!

The break was great. Enjoy some pictures of my sojourn in Charlbury.