Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Queen and UKIP

Always a fabulous spectacle, though the elegance of the outfits rather outshone the dreary nature of what She must read.

Although all the commentators seem to have focused on a "thin" programme, two of the measures are of huge importance and great significance for the future. The Care Bill is a start, not just to ending the scandal of people being forced to sell their homes to pay for care, but other measures leading to a more sensible approach to care. The Government need to take this further by working to integrate health and social care, but I'm sure the Lib Dem Care minister, Norman Lamb has this goal in sight.

The pension reform bill is also important. The new universal pension for all is a needed change.

It is also worth mentioning the "rehabilitation revolution" bill published today. As I told Nick Hurd last night, ACEVO welcomes this new legislation. We have been closely engaged in the consultation process over these proposals and MoJ have listened to what we have said, particularly on the size of contracts and the area they cover, as well as on a sensible division between up front payments and payments based on results. The proposals show the Government have listened to our criticisms of aspects of the Work Programme and Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling MP should be congratulated for having the courage to make changes to what was his baby at DWP. I'm confident our members will rise to the challenge of the new programme. We have spectacular results from the work we do with ex-offenders and I'm sure we can make a PBR system work for us. ACEVO has been working with a number of our members on the investment readiness programme, run by the Social Investment Business, to get ready for a big expansion of our work.

Its deeply irritating to read press reports which can only focus on "privatisation" and how it is all about giving the work to SERCO, etc.

But let's be clear. We will judge whether this works by how many contracts are won by charities. I want to see at least 50% being awarded to charities and social enterprises. I want to see charities as "prime" providers, not as chain feeders for the private sector. Rehabilitating people leaving prison is what we do. We know how it works. We invented and ran the probation service. We can do it again. So bring it on. 

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Speech was what was left out. Like many sensible folk in our sector, I was horrified by the gains made by UKIP. I don't know what UKIP policy is on the third sector, but I guess they are anti it. They are defined by bile and opposition, rather than by policy. I suspect they would be in. The camp of the "charities should be seen and not heard " brigade. I expect fag smoking Farage thinks we paid too much. Who knows!

But they are already exerting influence in a wholly unpleasant way. The Tories are drifting rightwards. "Big Society" is not just dead but unceremoniously buried. And we see the direct influence of them on two crucial measures that weren't included in the Speech: plain packaging for cigarettes and minimum pricing for alcohol. I applaud Sarah Wollaston MP for criticising government on this and for pointing out the apparent disturbing role of Lynton Crosby who thinks these are "barnacles". The company he founded, Crosby Textor, represented British American Tobacco in their fight with the Australian government over fags plain packaging. The Department of Health need to redouble their efforts to get No. 10 to see these two measures as crucial to better public health.  The recent ACEVO task force, led by former DH Permanent Secretary identified health prevention as a top focus for reforms to the NHS. Dropping these measure is an  indication that getting better public health is not a priority. It must be.

UKIP look set to be a divisive and unpleasant force for the next few years. The sector need to be on its guard and continue to fight the corner for the marginalised and oppressed. 

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