Monday 30 March 2015

The power of the Hospice,shops and being a trustee!

Hurrah for charity shops!  I was in the Helen and Douglas House Hospice shop in Chipping Norton on Saturday - the top performing of the 30 plus shops the Hospice runs!  Well supplied by the "Chipping Norton set" its a rather good place to secure some up market goods at reasonable prices.  A Paul Smith suit in the window didn't fit, but a bargain at £150. Get there quick!  Of course, I'm not sure I'd actually want to know if the splendid tweed jacket I bought was from Jeremy Clarkson but perhaps it was a Cameron cast off?  They are both big supporters of the Hospice.

As indeed am I; I was persuaded by Angela, the Manager of the Chipping shop, to put up for a trustee position and I was appointed a trustee about 6 months ago.  I thought it would do me good to see governance from the other side, so to speak.  I've now been at 3 trustee meetings and found it all very revealing. There are challenges yes, but also opportunities for growth.  This was the very first children's hospice in the world, founded by the All Saints Sisters of the Poor.  In fact an interesting link for me because this Anglican order of nuns was set up in the Church I attend in London; All Saints, Margaret St, Buttterfield's masterpiece.  Once a very great order of nuns, it has declined, as have most of the religious houses. They moved from Margaret St some time back and the mother house is now in Oxford. The Helen House Hospice was established in the grounds of the convent, and later they built a Hospice (Douglas House) for younger adults when they found that the sick children they were caring for were living longer .

A number of us met the founder, Sister Frances last week to hear her account of the establishment.  What I thought interesting was the opposition from the medical establishment of the time to the set up of the hospice. The view of the consultants and management was that the care of dying children was the NHS responsibility and they should be in charge.  What they missed was patient and family choice.  It's sad that so often doctors don't always understand that care is sometimes so much better at home or in a hospice. We have now thankfully moved on considerably and there are few now who don't understand the power and relevance of the hospice movement.

There are however interesting parallels with the debate on A+E and the work that the Red Cross, RVS and Age UK have been doing in supporting frail elderly in casualty.  At our recent Hustings, the Greens and UKIP said we don't want volunteers in hospitals doing this work- it should be done by the NHS.  Of course I don't blame them for saying this; it was based on ignorance of what the sector does (fortunately Wilson and Nandy are very supportive).  There is no doubt we will see a greater partnership between sector and state develop over the years to come.  Both main Parties are making strong offerings on the NHS.  Cameron was good on the role of charities in his TV "debate" appearance and Burnham has explicitly made a clear offer for our sector.  If we are to have a 7 day a week health service (and we certainly need one!) then the role of the third sector must expand.  Our unique offer of paid staff and professional volunteers is just what is needed.

But back to the Hospice, the world of this movement is changing. We have some interesting developments in providing high quality care at home which helps families to manage better and respite care is playing a bigger role.  But still, far too many people die in a hospital bed when they want to die at home or in the loving environment of a hospice; where your family can stay with you, you can bring your dog and have more influence over the care and environment you are in.

And finally, for ACEVO members we are doing a survey today to inform the work of the Low Commission on better regulation.  We want views particularly on the Charity Commission, who have taken some very controversial decisions of late, which has caused much concern in the sector; not just around Muslim charities.  So if you are a member do respond to the survey!!

So now we look forward to Easter. I was at Palm Sunday 8am Mass this morning (somewhat early given the clocks going forward).  Our Parish  is soon to acquire a new Vicar; a woman who once lived in Charlbury as it happens.  She takes over the living in June.

Friday 27 March 2015

Lessons from Pakistan; solidarity with Muslim charities

Two weeks ago I was in Pakistan, a guest of the Muslim Charities Forum (MCF) and yesterday I joined colleagues at a press conference to report on that visit.  I went with 2 ACEVO members; Jehangir Malik, the CEO of Islamic Relief and Dr. Othman Moqbel, CEO of Human Appeal who were representing all the Ceos of the MCF.

The objectives of this visit were:

1. To show solidarity with the MCF at a time when they face unprecedented challenges to their work and demonstrate a leadership role for ACEVO in standing up for members working to build community leadership in the Muslim community in the UK.

2.  To see for ourselves how the MCF charities work on the ground in relief and development in Pakistan.

3. To publicise the visit in terms of lessons learnt and actions for Government, Charity Commission, the banks and other actors.  

We were there for 8 days. An intensive but highly rewarding visit which combined a somewhat punishing round of visits to projects and official events and discussions.  It certainly exceeded my own expectations. I feel I know much better the challenges our colleagues face, the importance of their work and the need for us to step up our support and our demands that Government builds community leadership. I also had a good chance to learn more about the powerful teachings of Islam, indeed it was the first time I attended Jummah or Friday Prayers.

We visited a number of schools, a health project, a project with orphans, a community leadership project as well as intensive discussions with key MCF charities (Muslim Hands, Islamic Relief,  Islamic Help, Muslim Aid and Human Appeal in particular).

We also had a number of key discussions with Government. We met with the President of Pakistan and President of Pakistani Kashmir.  The later meeting was particularly productive, and is important in the UK context because the vast majority of the British Pakistani community come from Kashmir (indeed a particular part, Mirpur from where Jehangir's family hail).  The Minister for Social Welfare in that Government is keen to pursue discussions and wants to host a conference to follow up.

We also had a meeting with the Minister of Religious Affairs in the central government; there are tensions with minority's like the Christian church (indeed a week after we visited Lahore a bomb went off killing 11 people near a Church I visited), and talked to the Anglican Vicar of Holy Trinity, Murree who emphasised how difficult his job is in tackling extremism and anti Christian feelings.  

The meeting with the President was perhaps more ceremonial than productive but I did have the opportunity to raise with him the concerns of civil society about a proposed Government  Bill which will introduce more regulation on the work of charities there.  The meeting was reported on the main news that evening.  Civil society faces challenges in that country with both Government and military suspicious of soft power and community empowerment.

Whilst there I presided at a ceremony where a memorandum of understanding between Kashmir and the charity Human Appeal was signed.  They are to train all the teachers in state schools in Kashmir, as the level of skill in state schools is abysmal.  Unlike in charity supported schools.  A rather dramatic example of the strength of the charity sector.  I also planted a tree at the office of Human Appeal, spoke to the press (which was reported in Pakistani papers that are printed in the UK), met the Rector of Lahore University and visited an area just 40 mks from where Osama Bin Laden was found and killed.  This emphasised just how difficult the humanitarian task is in a country where terrorism present an ever present threat and where aid workers have been killed.

We attended an event for International Women's Day and unusually at one of the meetings we had the introductory reading from the Koran given by a woman. This would be most unusual anywhere in the UK I was told. There was tight security around all hotels and key buildings which emphasised the background dangers faced by the population and the complexity of delivering humanitarian aid in conflict zones.

The visit ended with a press conference and a conference for all non profit workers and supporters where we talked about the conclusions of our visit.  I also met with a range of the Country leads for INGOs like  Water Aid and VSO.

On a personal level I much enjoyed the visit, not simply because of the experience of meeting and visiting some superb examples of the work charities do, but also because of the privilege of seeing the country and learning more about Islam.  This will enable me to speak with more authority about the challenges our colleagues face and reinforce my determination to show solidarity, support them in their job and speak out on their behalf when they feel unable to do so.

I have written to the Leaders of the 3 political parties with my conclusions on the visit and the need for us to tackle terrorism by legislation and security but also by developing community .

You can read this letter via the link below:

I have also been in touch with the Charity Commission and at her request will be meeting the CEO so that I can discuss the conclusions from my visit, the problem of the perceptions of the Regulator in the Muslim community and the need for proportionate and sensitive regulation for charities delivering humanitarian aid in conflict situations (the recent Lords/Commons Bill report emphasised how important this is).

As I said at the  Press Conference ,

"We cannot have an internationally cooperative future without caring about the work of civil society – charities and campaign groups – on the ground around the world. The mission I led to Pakistan was path-breaking and I hope it will be the first of many.

Britain needs to fight terrorism with both hands – not with one hand tied behind our back. We need high level strategic security measures but also better understanding of the conditions on the ground that breed or alleviate the threat of extremism. There are serious flaws in our current approach.

This depends upon sensible, credible, proportionate regulation and a common approach to issues like financial management and banking. I want to see action from all the major political parties, for them to meet with me and a delegation of international charities to discuss these issues, and to agree an agenda for the new government as a commitment to the fight against terrorism.‎

I have witnessed first hand the difficulties faced by organisations in Pakistan fighting the same battle that we are: for security, for a better way of life and for a better future for our children.”‎

Key to tackling terrorism is a strong security response backed by a major initiative to bolster community leadership in our muslim communities.  The harsh rhetoric of many government pronouncements risk alienating those communities we need to combat  extremism and radicalisation.  Lecturing Muslim communities that regard themselves as British on British values is at best patronising and at worst insulting. Supporting British Muslim charities on their work in building social cohesion and ensuring a regulatory and banking framework that helps not hinders that work is essential. That is a task Government must support and I look forward to positive replies to my Letter to Party Leaders.

Let me leave you with some of the images from our memorable delegation.

At a school run by Muslim Hands

Meeting pupils. Standards of education in charity schools are significantly higher than in state schools.

Agreement with Government of Kashmir and Human Appeal to train state school teachers. 

A lad who had heart problems and was supported through operations by Islamic Relief. 

The Minister of Religious Affairs in the Federal Government.

With the President of Pakistani Kashmir in his office. A picture of my old college friend Benazir proudly displayed.

In the mountains of Kashmir, on way to see a Human Appeal school in the mountains of Muree. Young women coming from college. 

The school in Muree. With the Principal in this Human Appeal supported school. 

A photo from the glorious Mogul Mosque in Lahore. 

Othman, myself and Jehangir in Islamabad

Thursday 26 March 2015

Muslims and community cohesion

Last night I went to the Muslim News Awards in Grosvenor Square; a grand occasion that brings together many of the leaders of our country's Muslim community.  A time of celebration but also of reflection as many in that community feel they must battle prejudice and intolerance.  Many good ACEVO members there and ACEVO has been proud to show solidarity with them as they battle to provide the services and community leadership we all need.

I have recently returned from Pakistan with members of the Muslim Charity Forum, where I have seen for myself the work they do and discussed the challenges they face.  Later this afternoon I will join colleagues in a Press Conference at The Initiatives Change Centre to discuss our findings and an initiative ACEVO has taken.  More to follow tomorrow morning!

There was an interesting echo of what I will be arguing in the Sermon of the Bishop of Leicester at the reburial of Richard 111 (a cousin many times removed) this morning.  He talked of the "we" society not the "me" society and the importance of avoiding tribalism.  Leicester is a strong and multi-cultural city where Muslims, Hindus and Christians live and work together, supportong the many vibrant charities in that city. That is why working to build community leadership is so important and why ACEVO will continue to work with the leaders of the Muslim Charity Forum. 

Wednesday 25 March 2015

The Social Leaders debate

A great Hustings last night at Church House with the 5 parties (the 3 main plus UKIP and the Greens) delivering their Party's view of the sector.

All very civilised; but then we are charity leaders, so we are polite. Indeed even UKIP got a fair hearing (though a few titters at some of the more "interesting" remarks). Nothing much of a revelation in terms of policies. Good questions from the floor.  An obvious one on the mystery of the missing £40m sustainability fund. Rob Wilson failed to reveal (said they were still working on it).  An interesting response on the issue of bank accounts for Muslim charities from UKIP who indicated the State should intervene.

The hated Lobbying Act was a clear focus.  The Greens and Labour pledging to repeal.

I had asked at the beginning what the Parties intended in terms of a " long term social plan".  We have heard a lot about the economics from all the parties but so far no coherent outline or vision of how they see society and how they intend to improve our well being as citizens and communities beyond the economy.  I didn't come away with many answers.

And the polling during the events was telling.  We asked the audience to vote on how optimistic or pessimistic they were about the opportunities for charities after the election.  The pessimists won. It hovered around 70% very or slightly pessimistic during the event.  I'm not surprised.  The Parties need to be more coherent about the offer they have for an essential part of national life.  Whether its building social cohesion or delivering better services, giving voice to the unrepresented or supporting those most in need, we must have a vibrant charity and social enterprises.  If we are all pessimistic that's hardly a good sign.

But in terms of the event itself, the CAF and ACEVO teams did a brilliant job.  Church House was a great venue and the podiums and lighting looked and felt highly professional; as befits the charity leaders network. 

Thursday 19 March 2015

Budgets, Blunkett and getting old...

So, the Budget. And the missing £40m. Its disgraceful that the Local Sustainability Fund still hasn’t been launched, more than a year after it was first announced. This idea - promoted by ACEVO and agreed by OCS under Nick Hurd - has been quietly dropped for now. They hoped quietly but I intend to ensure there is nothing quiet about this manoeuvre. Of course we suspect why this has happened. The idea that you need a ‘sustainability fund’ implies there are many charities in danger from funding cuts and rising demand for their services. This does not fit the current narrative of the ruling coalition. I suspect the hand of Lynton Crosby in excising this particular barnacle from the budget speech boat.

So will Rob, our civil society minister, now stand up for the sector and insist on the fund going ahead? We have only a week before purdah. I’m hoping that Rob will set the record straight at our ACEVO and CAF hustings on Tuesday. He will certainly be asked what happened!

Whatever the good aspects of the budget - raising tax allowances, moves on savers, etc., it is deeply worrying for our sector what might happen on cuts. The IFS comment about a “rollercoaster of cuts to come” will have been greeted with dismay in our sector as we and our beneficiaries will undoubtedly bear the brunt.

In fact I was in the Commons after the Budget. I was having a late lunch with Nick Hurd MP, for a catch-up and an opportunity to reflect back on the 6 years he spent in the job of civil society minister or spokesman. 

As you can imagine it was a wide-ranging discussion. But with a particular emphasis on social finance and how we promote it. And then onto a reception to mark the contribution that David Blunkett MP has made to society generally and to youth charities in particular. A great and emotional occasion as he is a towering giant of a politician and a friend for over three decades. Indeed there was a gaggle of us former local government types from the 80s reminiscing in the corner - led by the brilliant Margaret Hodge MP.

Of course the danger of getting older is the huge temptation to reminisce about the good old days. But more importantly, as the population ages, as the working life extends, as many of us get older and live longer with long-term conditions we need to look carefully at the role of our sector in working and supporting older people. 

Often this subject is approached from a negative and unhelpful position. Us oldies are a burden. We soak up resources. We get too many free perks. So it’s good that today we get the report Decision Time: will the voluntary embrace the age of opportunity? It’s the final report of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing Ably led by Lynne Berry, former active ACEVO member when she ran WRVS. 

As they say, “longer life expectancy is opening up new possibilities for individuals and communities”. It offers the potential of an age of opportunity in which the third sector could thrive. Worth reading. Worth taking up the challenge. 

This is a good approach, and certainly for those of us in our seventh decade (me and Stuart Etherington to name but two!) this age of opportunity is something to be welcomed.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

The different faces of the Charity Commission

Last Friday saw a very thoughtful editorial by the Editor of Third Sector Stephen Cook, on the Charity Commission. The points he make are pertinent and highlight the problem there now is with the Commission which is now concerning more and more of us in the sector. 

He writes,

"The Charity Commission has been busy recently, and it’s instructive to examine three of its latest publications for their differences in style and message. The first is the regulatory alert of 3 March, issued after the news that two charities had funded Cage, the pressure group that has suggested that Mohammed Emwazi, aka Jihadi John, had been radicalized by his contact with the security services; the second is a statement the commission issued on 6 March about charities funding Cage; and the third is an operational case report from 10 March on the Beatbullying Group, the charity that went bust last year.
The regulatory alert is a measured, helpful and factual reminder to trustees that they must undertake reasonable due diligence to protect the funds and reputation of their charity when making grants to non-charitable bodies. It reminds them that the funds should only be used for activities that further the purposes of the charity, directs them to commission guidance on decision-making by trustees, and points out that some charitable purposes such as community development and the promotion of human rights can be difficult to interpret. All very sound.
The statement on charities funding Cage is a different kettle of fish. It says the commission is concerned that the past funding of Cage by the Roddick Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust risks damaging public trust and confidence in charity, and that recent public statements by Cage have increased that risk. "In these circumstances, the commission took robust action and required further unequivocal assurances from the two charities that they have ceased funding Cage and had no intention of doing so in the future," it says.
It then goes into detail about how JRCT did not initially provide within a 24 hour deadline "an unequivocal assurance that the trust would not make any future grants to Cage under any circumstances", but did eventually give an assurance that "it will not fund Cage either now or in the future."
There are two notable aspects to this document. The first is its punitive tone and the way it dwells on the interchanges with JCRT, leaving the impression that a charity is here having its nose rubbed in it in public. No wonder the JRCT said in its own statement that it had been subject to "intense regulatory pressure" and that some charity lawyers say privately that this statement "smacks of regulatory muscle."
More seriously, the statement raises the concern that the commission is fettering the discretion of trustees. Normally it quite rightly insists that trustees’ discretion is paramount – as, for example, in the setting of senior pay levels - and here it appears to restrict that discretion. Charity lawyers are asking what power the commission was exercising when it required the JCRT to give unequivocal assurances about its future decisions, and feel that no explanation has yet been offered.
Similarly, the statement says the commission expects that "all charitable funds are used according to their charity’s purposes and in the way that the public would expect." This is an alarming proposition, surely. Who is to be the arbiter of what the public would expect? Different parts of the public expect different things. If the arbiter is to be the board of the Charity Commission, the way would be open for it to rule out funding of causes it deemed unpopular. And yet one of the most important roles of charities is to espouse causes that are not popular, concentrating instead on principle and morality, and challenging prevailing views and policies. What would happen, under such a regime, to charities supporting refugees and migrants or seeking effective methods of rehabilitating paedophiles? The adoption of unpopular causes by charities does not in itself damage public trust and confidence in charity - the issue is more subtle than that. Again, the commission has offered no rationale for this aspect of its statement.
The third document, the operational case report on the BeatBullying Group, is different again. This was a charity that was a darling of the government, which gave it £1.3m three years to expand its activities, but went out of business late last year when grants it was counting on failed to materialize. The report asserts that  it is up to the trustees to make decisions that a reasonable body of trustees would make "and we found that they had done this and had fulfilled their duties." And yet a few sentences earlier the report says "BeatBullying was not in compliance with its own reserves policy and had no reserves." It is hard to avoid the implication here that the commission considers it a reasonable decision for a trustee board to ignore its own reserves policy.
Overall this report, laced with sympathetic remarks about BeatBullying’s well-meaning attempts to avoid its regrettable fate, reads like a throwback to the days when the commission was more indulgent towards charities, and not like a product of the brave new world where "robust" is the watchword and the commission’s chief executive has said that charities should no longer get the benefit of the doubt.
How well do these three publications sit together? The speculation might be that the first was produced by the lawyers, the second was more a reflection of the views of senior board members, and the third may suggest that approved charities can escape robustness. But, all in all, the situation is quite confusing: could the real Charity Commission please stand up?"

As ACEVO has argued for many a month, we need a Commission that balances its role as regulatory enforcer with that of adviser and supporter of charities doing a difficult job. Recently, there has been a dangerous slip towards policing at the expense of advice. This has been seen dramatically with what appears to be the general approach to Muslim charities, where the wide perception of bias in that community threatens the good work they do and which we should support. This approach is a reflection of the wider discourse which seems to think we fight terrorism only through security measures and more legislation - instead of work to build up community leadership, and the institutions of society which bind people together in common cause. Muslim charities are crucial to this work - as are many parts of our voluntary sector - and they should not be uncessarily undermined. Stephen Cook’s point about the Commission’s very different approaches to BeatBullying and to faith charities is instructive.

I see in this morning’s Times an extraordinary, related story looking in depth at the Plymouth Brethren and the £13m they have secured in tax breaks from Government, despite a range of often unpleasant traditions and practices amongst their followers, and after alleged intense lobbying of regulatory authorities. This is another example of the discrepancies in the Commission's behaviour towards different types of charity.

Stephen Cook is also right to warn about the dangerous and unprecedented view the Commission now promulgate, that charity funds must be used in a way "the public expects". Who decides what it is that "the public expect”? 'Public benefit' is already clearly defined in case law and has been much-debated even in the last few years. And charities have for centuries been at the forefront of developing social boundaries, so these definitions are constantly evolving. 

I remember the time when needle exchange was highly controversial. I’m sure "the public” would not, back then, have wanted this activity to go on. The same applies to charities' work in helping asylum seekers or refugees. Charities should act in accord with their mission and with what works for beneficiaries. An additional and new regulatory test that this must also accord with "what the public expects" is not a feature of charity law, nor is it the job of the regulator to interpret the public's view.

These are warning signs that all is not well with our regulator. Far from maintaining trust in our sector they may well end up undermining it, and that damages us all. I'm glad that Lord Low is heading our Commission into better regulation and can examine these issues in more depth.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Health and care matters

ACEVO has a strong membership in charites and social enterprises in social care, health and disability, so we hold an annual national conference to debate issues of concern and hear from key people in the sector.

We had a bumper crop this year. All the main parties set out their stalls. Paul Burstow MP, Jeremy Hunt MP and Andy Burnham MP spoke, but perhaps the most interesting session was when Simon Stevens (head of NHS England) set out some of the issues he faces leading NHS England, and asked for our views.

Inevitably, since the emergence of the disgraceful new grant conditions to be imposed by DCLG to snuff out advocacy in our sector (that morning's Times) there were questions on this. Paul Burstow from the Lib Dems was quick to denounce what he called "the Pickles gag" and Jeremy Hunt, though he would not comment directly on the Pickles move, was clear about charities' right to campaign.

We launched our Alliance Contracting report at the conference. There's more details here.

Alliance Contracting is a new way to promote more collaboration in health and care settings - a post-competition approach that builds on more collaborative approaches and consortia-building. Current government procurement is so often costly and overly bureaucratic. It has favoured private sector bodies too much because we don't operate on a fair playing field. Andy Burnham was particularly supportive of this approach.

Indeed his policies of entrenched rights for the third sector in delivering services, and 5 to 20 year contracts were music to the ears of our members. In fact, as I observed to David Brindle of the Guardian, I think this is the most radical approach to the sector of any politician in any party. Much to be supported and perhaps a benchmark to encourage others to follow. We shall pursue at out forthcoming third sector hustings on 24 March - everyone very welcome!

And let me leave you with some photos of our speakers yesterday.

Tuesday 3 March 2015

The 'Pickles gag'

That was the way Paul Burstow MP described the news about the DCLG grant condition to prevent the third sector's advocacy role, when he spoke at our health and social care conference today. The Times carried this story front page today.

It’s clear that the idea of banning charities from campaigning, if they get government grants, offends the principle of the independence of the sector. But it is also bad for Government in developing evidence-based policy. Bad laws are made when governments fail to take account of the evidence from the front line of public services - whoever is delivering them. For several centuries charities have brought their lived experience to policy making and campaigned for change. Take smoking, seat belts in cars, sugar and salt in food as just four examples.

Simon Stevens made a similar point in his keynote address to our health conference. The 'creative tension' that our sector brings is very important to them as they develop better services.

Let's hope this is just a Pickles one-off. I'm a fan of Eric so I'm relying on him to see that this is silly idea and drop it. It's a problem we will increasingly face as the election campaign continues and gets more frenetic - the charity sector being seen as a political punchbag. But, if that’s to be the case, then we’ll be robust in our repose. I’ll certainly continue to be so. Speaking truth to power is not just a pretty slogan. It's how we achieve what we do.