Tuesday 27 January 2015

Closing the institutions

There was an interesting story in the Sunday Times about plans to close Calderstones Hospital, the biggest of the NHS institutions for people with learning disabilities and autism. It’s not surprising that Calderstones, as one of the largest and having had a very bad CQC report, should be the first.

One of the things that struck me in doing my Report in November was the strange reluctance of the ‘system’ to talk closures. They preferred the 1984-esque ‘bed reductions’. But this is to ignore the lessons of history.

When we closed the old mental asylums this was done as part of a clear closure programme. Politically it was agreed that institutions were not right for people with mental health problems, and that closure was going to happen. Clearly, then, there had to be a strong programme to support the move of thousands into the community. But no one doubts that it was the right approach. And no one would want to go back to the old ways. So why do we tolerate the existing system for people with learning disabilities? I made a clear recommendation on closure. It’s good to see NHS England are to implement it.

Now NHS England need to be brave and clear on closures. I’m pleased they want to start with Calderstones. But being coy and using vague language and circumlocutions to avoid the problem is not going to work. It’s not about ‘reconfiguration’ or ‘bed reductions’. It’s a principled stand which says clearly: large institutions are not an appropriate form of care in the 21st century.

The third sector is happy to work with NHS England, and I propose that they look at commissioning a consortium of charities and social enterprises (local and national) to work with each individual and family to ensure proper, effective placements. We must all ensure a proper  closure programme happens within that context. But the bottom line is that we need whatever is best for all those people with learning disabilities who are in such institutions. Doing this effectively will also mean working with the commissioners and management of hospitals like Calderstones. I’m sure we can all work together to do this.

Monday 26 January 2015

New blood: ACEVO leading the defence of civil society

A great AGM last week. And a decisive debate at our Parliamentary Reception. It was my departing Chair's last speech to ACEVO's annual meeting. A feisty and robust defence of our right and duty to speak truth to power. Indeed Hilary Benn MP, Shadow Communities Minister, said in his speech how ironic it is that we all pledge "Je suis Charlie" despite the fact we have a government who introduced the disgraceful "Lobbying Act" which tries to stifle our right as charities to campaign .

In my speech I said how proud I had been to support the vigorous campaign to oppose the Act and how we must continue to campaign. "Keep calm and carry on campaigning" is the rule we must follow. 

I also warned against conceding ground to the enemy and fighting battles on their terms. We must avoid the transparency trap – that we have to reveal all, and certainly more than any other sector of society. I said that was why we must reject the idea in the current NCVO consultation that, as CEOs, we ask our senior staff or our trustees to formally declare their political affiliation. No sector does this; not councils , not civil servants and, as my Chair pointed out, not even SERCO. This is where transparency comes face to face with civil liberties and the employment rights of our staff. Civil liberties must win every time. Je suis Charlie, not Je suis a member of a political party. ACEVO’s member CEOs have rightly rejected this ideas in their responses.

Charities certainly have to trumpet their impact and explain what they do. But we must also be robust in defending our right to be professional. To pay CEOs properly and not be ashamed provided – as ACEVO’s Good Pay Guide said – that trustees, donors, beneficiaries and staff agree pay is good value for money. Of course there are critics out there. But they are small in number and hard of heart. Our trust rating and standing remains extremely high. I keep in mind George Bernard Shaw’s advice: "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."

We had a great turn out at our AGM. Why, we even attracted Geoffrey Howe, the former Foreign Secretary, and we had kind words from our host Nick Hurd.

This was the swansong of my chair Lesley-Anne. She has been a tremendous support and guide. An individual who represents all that is fine in a charity CEO. And she was ably supported by Virginia Beardshaw, CEO of ICan, the departing Vice Chair. They have served 6 years. And now we move to a new Chair and vice Chair; Paul Farmer of MIND and Sharon Allen of Skills for Care.

We also have 4 new trustees. They are:

Jon Sparkes - Chief Executive of Crisis. Prior to joining the charity he was Chief Operating Officer of UNICEF UK, which raises money for UNICEF’s work with children around the world and campaigns to improve the rights of children in the UK and globally. Jon led the partnership between UNICEF and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014 which raised £5m and played a significant role in fundraising for children affected by the conflict in Syria.

Previously Jon was Chief Executive of SCOPE, the national disability charity, delivering services for disabled people with complex support needs and campaigning for the right of disabled people to choice and control over their own lives. Jon was the Chair of the Disability Charities Consortium and worked closely in alliance with disabled people’s organisations.

He has wide-ranging experience across the charity sector, including as a trustee of SeeAbility, a charity for disabled people with a sight impairment, and through working voluntarily for charities. He has also worked on economic development projects in areas such as long-term unemployment, support services for lone parents, and employment improvement projects with black and minority ethnic communities.

Before working in the third sector, he was a Human Resources Director in the both the public and private sectors. He is a Chartered Companion of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), formerly a member of the Editorial Board of People Management magazine and Vice President of the CIPD responsible for Diversity. While leading Scope, Jon chaired an ACEVO working group bringing forward recommendations for voluntary sector chief executives for improving employee engagement.

Jehangir Malik - Director of Islamic Relief UK. Jehangir Malik graduated with a Law Degree in 1992. He first worked with IRW in 1991 as a volunteer-steward at the Islamic Relief Games and was later appointed to various roles including Development Director of IR USA and Deputy Country Director in Afghanistan. Jehangir engages with government departments by providing policy briefings & strategic engagement on international development and foreign policy issues while also often visiting field missions and disaster zones for fundraising and media purposes. He remains active at the UK community level through encouragement of civic engagement, initiatives for youth development and a passion for Muslim engagement on mainstream issues. In 2006, Jehangir was awarded an OBE in recognition of his 20 years of contribution to the humanitarian cause.

Kate MacDonald – Kate joined the sector three years ago as CEO of the Young People's Support Foundation, a smallish charity based in Manchester supporting more than 2,000 young people facing homelessness each year. Previously Kate worked in local government although her professional background is in the Probation Service. A theme throughout her career has been socially excluded young people and her current role has provided the opportunity to understand what a crucial role the VCS has in engagement.  She is involved in a range of partnerships both in the North West and nationally with the aim of improving delivery, campaigning and ensuring service sustainability. Kate's championing of the needs of young people is a primary reason for her other roles as a trustee for a local youth leadership charity and as a governor at The Manchester College

Rachel Kelly – An active ACEVO member, enthusiastic, passionate, grounded in reality about the work, challenges and role of the Third Sector, who believes in representing charities and voluntary organisations with smaller turnovers. Following university, Rachel spent 10 years in private sector management, training and quality, and 3 years in education before joining charity and social enterprise Reading Matters in 2009. She became Chief Executive in 2012, turning their finances around. Reading Matters improve reading, literacy and communication skills of children and young people and offer volunteering opportunities and training. Working predominantly across Yorkshire and increasingly across the UK, last academic year they supported 4600 children, improving reading ages by 13 months on average with 10 hours' support, and trained 1000 individuals. They are a relatively small charity with 5 employees, and manage 100 Reading Mentor volunteers.  Based in West Yorkshire, she has 2 'tweenage' daughters and is trustee of Canterbury Imagine, affiliated to Dolly Parton's Foundation.

Lastly, I hear from many members about continued plans for massive council cuts. I know times are hard. But as I saw from the work I did for Government recently on A+E, there are still great opportunities for our sector, and we should keep optimistic.

I used a quotation from Robert H. Schuller in my speech: “Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come”.

Maybe not spring 2015. But we’ll see…

Thursday 22 January 2015

Social Justice in Church House

I’m blogging from Church House this morning (though not as a bishop). I’m at the launch of the Centre for Social Justice’s “Breakthrough Britain 2015”, and the recommendations in their “Social Solutions” report.

A major feature of this report is the urgent need for transformation of public services. There are some very good proposals which Government need to take seriously. These include recommendations on better commissioning practice - which should receive particular attention. The drive for public service reform, so strong under Blair and in the early years of Cameron, has dulled and in some cases almost disappeared. The radical proposals of the white paper on better public services have dropped into a pending tray.

Frankly, it’s hard to see how the big problems of health or social care, rehabilitation, employment and the like can be solved without a central role for the third sector. This theme has been in the news this week, for example, with ACEVO’s recommendations for reducing acute winter pressure on accident and emergency departments using third sector staff and volunteers.

The day started well with a late breakfast with Laurie Lee, CEO of CARE international, sharing perspectives on the work of NGOs and charities in the UK, and the wider policy framework for charities under the cosh of the Lobbying Act and other attacks on charities’ role in civil society.

And the day will end with our ACEVO AGM and our annual Parliamentary Reception, both in the Palace of Westminster. We officially hand over the chairship of ACEVO to Paul Farmer of Mind. And Penny Morduant MP and Hilary Benn MP, both old friends, will be speaking on the role of the third sector in the next parliament. They are both great advocates for our role. One in her ministerial role at DCLG and the other as a pretender for the throne currently occupied by Eric Pickles!

Must get round to doing my speech....

Tuesday 20 January 2015

BBC news, hospitals and Oxford hospices...

I'm not a morning person. Especially not in winter, so getting up in the dark to do BBC Breakfast and other interviews was a trial. I know I'm being wimpish! And of course a great opportunity to talk about how charities and social enterprises working together with health professionals deliver better health outcomes in hospitals and in the community. 

Of course I had to battle against the usual stereotype of charities as do gooding volunteers dispensing tea and sympathy. Surprised to see the Royal College of Nursing being so dismissive, indeed patronising, about the value of our intervention in the long term. I'm afraid they are out of touch with the nurses in casualty in the hospitals who have professional home from hospital services like those the Red Cross and RVS provide. The BBC breakfast package this morning had a good case study along these lines, of a trained volunteer helping frail elderly people get out of hospital quickly. 

Nurses and doctors are keen on the professional support they get in A+E from charites who work with them to tackle problems like a lack of suitable transport to get older people home and ensure they are looked after there.

Look also at services like Voluntary Action Rotherham, who have helped cut casualty admissions by 20% through supporting people in the community.

Or the collaboration in Calderdale and Kirklees between Community Transport and Age UK. This provides a home from hospital and befriending service, which enables older people to stay independent and safe at home. 

I did a round of interviews and then off to do my new trustee role at the Helen and Douglas House childrens hospice. I'm a new trustee and its a good thing, I'm sure, for me to see governance from the other side of the table! I know many charity CEOs have trustee positions and this can only be for the good. 

Helen House was the first children's hospice in the country - set up in Oxford and then joined by a hospice for young adults. I had my induction last week. A very professional day when I learnt much about safeguarding amongst other things. 

This will now be my second board meeting and I'm blogging from the coach up to Oxford!

January has proved to be incredibly busy and in many ways very challenging. I'm hearing a lot from CEO members about pending cuts in council spending. I'm afraid it will be a similar story whoever wins in May; austerity is here to stay. 

On that subject Acevo was at the launch yesterday of the "Inclusive Economy" report, jointly chaired by Ed Balls and Larry Summers. The launch was at the FT and featured a number of what we might call ‘macro’ recommendations about the changing world of work, technology and the fight against inequality. 

It might be a little unfair - given the scope of the report - but as my Policy Director pointed out, a report that was supposed to be about inclusive prosperity was strangely silent on the role of the third sector and what we do every day to help families and communities stay strong in the fact of change. An inclusive economy requires social cohesion and strong communities. It requires an effective third sector and great social leaders. I'm afraid too many politicians on the left and right still don’t get the point.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Recognise what charities can do in A+E

On the sofa at 6.45 this morning! That is, on the sofa for ITV’s ‘Good Morning Britain’, where I was talking about how charities and social enterprises can work with the NHS to relieve pressure on A+E.

Of course we often forget charities have been working in hospitals for centuries. Indeed we used to run them. Not that I want to see a return to those days, but I do think people in the NHS increasingly see the value of our sector – professional staff  and trained volunteers – working alongside medical staff to ensure the right care and treatment for the frail elderly.

It’s scandalous that so many hospital beds are occupied by people who are not sick but cannot get back to home because of social conditions. It’s scandalous that older people who attend casualty are signed off by medical staff but end up in hospital because of a transport breakdown or worries there is no one back at home and it’s bitterly cold. Hospitals are bad places for people who are not sick. And it’s a senseless use of scarce hospital resources.

Addenbrookes, a hospital ACEVO has been working with on this issue, says 20% of their beds are occupied by older people who don’t need medical care. This is not a clever way to run our NHS. And charities can help solve that problem.

Last year I worked with my CEO colleagues in 3 big national charities whose mission is to support older people in the community: the Red Cross, RVS and Age UK. We worked up a proposal for Government that would ramp up the role of our sector in hospitals and in the community. We wrote to the PM setting this out. Letter is here.

We have been working on this since and discussing with hospital CEOs etc. There is great interest, but also, frankly, huge barriers in the system to implementing this.

Yesterday, along with a range of colleagues from the sector, I went to a meeting with the Cabinet Secretary and the Department of Health Permanent Secretary to talk about how to mobilise support for the most stretched A+E departments. It was productive and helpful. I was tasked with providing a report to indicate what we might do in the short term for the highest-priority hospitals and I'm now busy talking with my CEO members on what this might mean. I have until Monday to report back. I have a round table with some of the charities most involved tomorrow morning to discuss practicalities.

Longer-term we need to grip this issue and sort it. The point I made at yesterday’s meeting was that there are 3 main barriers to change:
  • Culture – the NHS doesn't generally understand the modern third sector and too often thinks of ‘do gooders’ not professionals.

  • Systems – the third sector is not embedded inside hospitals at A+E, or on the wards, in planning or in early discharge teams.

  • Commissioning – this is done on transactions not outcomes. There are no incentives for hospitals to work with the third sector and the current commissioning process generally ignores it.

Now we need both to help in target areas, to secure better care for our elderly citizens, and to seek organisation reform. Ultimately we need radical approaches to health and care that galvanise the third sector. Systems that move us from the margins to a partnership approach in the NHS and in councils, that does the best for the individual’s well being.

One of the earliest tasks for our charity sector, a millennium ago, was securing good health and care for the sick and old. It’s time the nation rediscovered the genius of charity.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

What about Society?

Well, what was noticeable about David Cameron's speech yesterday setting out his 6 priorities for the election was that it had no reference to Society, Big or Small. A sharp contrast to the 2010 election where 'Broken Britain' and a 'Big Society' featured strongly.

Will the full manifesto even mention their plans and aspirations for civil society, and the role we play in service delivery, voice or social cohesion? I guess we will have to wait and see, but the omens are not looking good.

I'm surprised. And disappointed. This election campaign has so far been marked by a failure to appeal to aspiration or any vision of a better society. Life is not all about economics, cost of living, GDP and the deficit. David Cameron got that back in 2010. What has happened?

Will we see better from Ed and Nick? And as for other parties I could name, I suspect their view of the sector predates even Queen Victoria.

This lack of narrative means our role as leaders of civil society must be to put the case for a bigger role for the sector. We're central to building a better more cohesive society, and this message needs to be out there. We must also defend our right to speak truth to power - under threat from the Lobbying Act.

Whilst on the subject of the Lobbying Act, all those who thought it would be benign should be aware of the latest nonsense from the Electoral Commission. They have written [http://order-order.com/2015/01/09/electoral-commission-trying-to-regulate-blogsnotifies-guido-conservativehome-labourlist-libdemvoice/] to "Guido Fawkes", the eminent if somewhat right wing blogger, to warn him he may need to 'register' his Blog.

This is not dissimilar to recent advice from the Charity Commission suggesting we should all have 'pre-authorisation' for tweets and blogs!

In the wake of the Paris attacks - and the stirring sight of millions marching to defend free speech - it's vital that we should be alert to any attempt to censor civil society, or try and make us censor ourselves.

As always we need to make the case that a free civil society makes for a better democracy. Our voice needs to be heard - in this election campaign and more widely.

Friday 9 January 2015

Supporting Muslim Charities

In the light of the appalling events in Paris we need to redouble our efforts as social leaders to promote community leadership and support the work of Muslim charities in their mission to promote cohesion and tolerance. If there are " British values" then tolerance for people of all faiths must be central to that. Living in Brixton over the decades shows me how a multi-cultural approach works. Farage is wrong and divisive to try and claim otherwise 

Acevo has been working with our Islamic charity CEOs to support them at this difficult time. I came across a brilliant article in The Times today. It is worth repeating here.  

Haras Rafiq (Director of Counter-Extremism Think Tank Quilliam) writes;

…“In the light of these terrible events, European Muslims will enter into a period of soul-searching and condemnation. Yet condemnation is not enough. Mosque imams, community leaders and Muslim politicians must come together to talk openly about the ideas that drive men such as the Kaouchi brothers to commit such offences. The discussion must be candid, it must be intrusive and it is likely to be uncomfortable. However, if we are to shift the discourse on Islam away from foreign fighters and beheadings, we need to ask why it is that so many of our Muslim youth — not just in France — find the ideals of groups such as so-called Islamic State so persuasive.

This is not just a job for Muslims, though, Non-Muslim counterparts must also involve themselves and recognise that our society has become impaired. There are a lot of disaffected teenagers out there, and they are not just Muslims. If the rise of the far right across Europe reflects anything, it's that non-Muslims can be radicalised too. This is rarely reflected in discourse on extremism.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the whole of society must move on together. As it does, the political class must work to repair the widening cracks that separate it from the people.

In doing so, no section of society should seal itself off from the rest, least of all Muslims. It is only by reclaiming our voices and beliefs from the extremist threads that poison our communities that we can hope to move beyond the expectation from non-Muslims that Muslims apologise for their religion after horrific acts of extremism."

Monday 5 January 2015

Happy New Year!

A new year, and it’s looking exceedingly political already. Will we all be bored to distraction over the next 4 months of hyper-electioneering? I suspect so, though we know it's an important choice that must be made.

We begin the new year 2015 in the certain knowledge of at least one election in the next twelve months. One political adviser was quoted over Christmas saying he could think of at least 10 likely outcomes of May 7th’s poll. It is a critical but uncertain time for charities and social enterprises, and all we know for sure is that demand for our services will increase while funding will continue to be under pressure.

Today's the start of the party election campaigns, and so with 121 days to the polls I thought I'd outline ACEVO's vision for the year.

We think the top priority for politicians of all parties should be ensuring the economic and social recovery extends to all of society. Charities are vital to making this happen, by reducing demand for public services and working with the most vulnerable, and they need careful support. Yet too often the sector is viewed as an afterthought, an optional extra. It's time politicians recognised this.

Britain continues to be among the most generous countries in the world, as the Charities Aid Foundation ‘World Giving Index’ shows. Our 2.3 million civil society workers are a bedrock of British society, as are the 29% of the population who formally volunteer at least once a month. It’s vital that politicians recognise and do their best to protect this part of society in the run up to the election.

The General Election debate remains far from satisfactory for our sector. There is clear consensus among the larger political parties for an additional £50 billion of spending cuts over the next parliament. But there is little honesty as to where cuts will fall. Charities that provide the other, social safety net need urgent clarity so that they can prepare to fill the most urgent gaps when state provision is cut.

Our 2014 ACEVO Social Sector Tracker indicated that 89% of charity leaders expected rising demand for their services in 2015, while only 32% were confident this increased demand could be met. I have seen little in recent months to suggest that this picture has improved.‎

But our sector will not be passive observers of political debate. This month I'll be writing to the leaders of all main political parties to set out our stall. I will send them copies of our ‘Free Society’ manifesto for 2015, and draw attention to three key demands:
- For a 5-point blueprint for a ‘Free Society’ that protects civil society free speech
- For a Charter for Citizen and Community Rights in public services, to boost third sector delivery and ‘put the care back into public services.’
- For a grown-up debate about funding the infrastructure of the third sector, with possbilities to be discussed at a pre-election summit on the third sector. This would debate how to fund the sector as it further relieves the pressure on statutory public services.

2014 saw Britain’s civil society free speech compared unfavourably with the likes of Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia. When charities like food banks and homeless shelters are working harder than ever, it is vital that civil society is free to speak truth to power and point out the causes of the problems they seek to address. Politicians and others in power may find these uncomfortable truths, but they should not be silenced.

Our top-line ask is the urgent repeal of the Government’s Lobbying Act, and the introduction into law of safeguards for charity free speech.

We're also making sure politicians see charity leaders at the forefront of public service reform, to give Britain more responsive, citizen focused services that work with them not to and for them.

Too often citizens are still left disempowered - and this is something our sector can change. My November 2014 report on the Winterbourne View Care Home Scandal was adamant that service reform depends on empowering citizens to demand better services closer to their homes and in accordance with their needs.

ACEVO will call for a Charter for Citizen and Community Rights, that will safeguard rights to choice and voice for public service users in law.

I hope you enjoyed the break. I was in London, Charlbury and Yorkshire! Now it's back to the office with a vengeance. And with a resolution to cut down on excess sugar and wine. Let's see how long that lasts...