Sir Stephen Bubb

Sir Stephen Bubb

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. 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Manchester and Health

The news that the health and social care budgets in Manchester are to be integrated is a massive step forward for better health and well-being there - and a beacon for the rest of the country.

When I wrote the Winterbourne View report I recommended that budgets for health and care for people with learning disabilities must be combined. This move in Manchester will enable better planning and commissioning that ensures community placements,  not placements in institutions. Interestingly, the figures on the use of institutions show that the North uses institutions for people with learning disabilities significantly  more than the rest of the country. Often councils have block contracts with institutions like Calderstones in Lancashire, and it is too easy for them to use those places than make proper provision in the community. And shockingly these cost up to £12,000 a week. Community places are both more cost effective and better care. The move in Manchester and the decision by NHS England to close institutions like Calderstones are welcome.

I had lunch with the pioneering journalist Marie Woolf of the Sunday times this week. She has written many stories on the abuses and problems that confront people with learning disability or autism and told me some shocking stories of abuse in institutions. Some of these come from whistleblowers- the recent report from Sir Robert Francis will hopefully encourage more whistleblowing and help spell the end of institutional care for people with learning disability.

Fascinating to read the reactions to the Manchester announcement. The most surprising was from the Kings Fund which has for years argued how important it was to integrate health and social care, and yet gave a very negative response pouring cold water on a what is an extraordinarily important move to do exactly that. What we now need is to see this followed through for the rest of the country. Starting with London!

The great Bishop Harries, defender of charities’ right to campaign, was on "Thought for the Day" this morning making the very interesting point that this move is very much in line with Catholic social teaching which argues the principle of subsidiarity; where decisions are made at the lowest appropriate level. The Manchester decision is a great example of that. So when you have the blessing of the Church then this has to be a good move!

Charity leaders know from experience on the ground how difficult it is to get effective support for people from the health service and from councils. It is often not remotely joined up, and is beset by arguments over money and actions based on system and process not the individual.

So acevo is going to organise a workshop for our members to hear from the key Manchester leaders in charge of this move to integration. We should give this full support. And we will be talking about it at our National Health and Social Care Conference on Tuesday. This will be the first opportunity to hear from Jeremy Hunt and Andy Burnham on these plans. Indeed the BBC are going to be filming the whole event. Still time to sign up!  You can even come as my guest if you respond to this Blog!

Use comments to register.  Bubb Blog readers most welcome.....

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Semolina pudding, Angela and the Charity Commission

It's a long time since I ate a semolina pudding! But Monday I was having lunch with Baroness Angela Smith in the House of Lords. Angela was the last third sector Minister before the coalition took over and appointed Nick Hurd. But she had the rank of Minister of State - the coalition demoted the role I'm afraid. Angela was also my parents' MP when she was in the Commons, so we like to keep in touch. She continues to take a huge interest in the third sector and is one the Commissioners on the Low Commission on better regulation (they have a meeting on Friday).

Last night was a fun and somewhat poignant leaving party for Anne Longfield who is leaving 4Children after 27 years to become the Children's Commissioner. Anne has been a superb CEO and a long time member of ACEVO. The distinguished guest list was a testament to her success. Why, I even bumped into Cherie Blair (literally, as I was reaching for my coat!). Harriet Harman emerged from her bus and many doyens of the children's sector were there to pay tribute.

And whilst reflecting on the Charity Commission I was pleased to see the report of the joint Commons/Lords committee on the draft Protection of Charites Bill. Some sensible points - and a clear recognition that if the Commission are given more powers to issue Statutory warnings and to disqualify people from being trustees, there must be safeguards. And a strong recommendation on the need to support humanitarian work.

Commenting to the press I said the Charity Commission must be prepared to protect, defend and champion the sector and if these powers help them in that crucial aim then we support them. However the evidence does suggest that many of the Commission’s existing powers were sufficient and indeed the Commission have not made the best use of the powers already at their disposal. That is why we welcome the recommendation of safeguards to keep the Commission to task.

Another important point was the role of charities in helping to rehabilitate former offenders by engaging them in community life. This is a key moral purpose in our work and, save for exceptional circumstances, we do not want or need government or the regulator getting in the way. We welcome the report’s call for this role to be protected.

We support the amended list of offences that may disqualify people from becoming charity trustees, but it is important that the Government are not over zealous in the application of the power to disqualify. It would be a grave error for those who have been cautioned rather than convicted of such offences to be excluded from involvement in charitable activity.

Lastly, my evidence to the Committee highlighted the unintended consequences of tough regulatory legislation when it creates difficulties for charities that provide aid in warzones. I’m pleased the Committee agree. It is absolutely right that humanitarian charities are given help and guidance to allow them to operate freely in war zones, and I have called on the Charity Commission to create such guidance without delay.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Tory Victoria sponge and the Bishops

In these times of somewhat frenetic electioneering, a charity leader needs to be even-handed on the party political front. So I was happy to support the West Oxfordshire Conservative Association coffee morning on Saturday in Charlbury. Bought a very nice Victoria sponge from Sarah Potten (her husband later sold me some of their excellent eggs!), and a jar of Seville marmalade. I even met the Chair of the Association. Sarah has an important role to play in village life as she is one of the Parish representatives for selecting our new Vicar. Interviews are on Friday. My only advice: please don't choose an evangelical!

The Bishops’ letter last week continues to stir things up. My sister Lucy sent me a copy from the Chelmsford Diocesan newsletter. All entirely reasonable and sensible. It’s a sign of the times that critics have piled in to condemn. Most of them not having read the letter. Camilla Cavendish in the Sunday Times was right to point out that these critics need to tread with care. The Bishops have made an important point, that there is a lack of discourse about society amongst the political parties.

This is a point ACEVO will address in our third sector hustings on 24 March. It’s time for civil society to have its say in the run-up to polling day. And it is certainly the role of the Church and of other faith groups to be part of the political debate, as it is for charities. Those who criticise the Bishops’ letter should address the issues they raise, not try shooting the messenger.

But I’m afraid at present the stakes are so high for the Parties that they can’t stand any criticism, and try to suppress or distort what they see as criticism of their particular line. This is not good for sensible debate. It undermines democracy and adds to the cynicism people feel for the political process – which is itself, of course, another point the Bishops were making!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Third Sector Hustings!

We are in a surfeit of party leader speeches and it is still 80 days to go before the election. Will all this debating help or hinder? I was having dinner with Andrew Barnett, the dynamic and charming (no he’s not giving me money!) CEO of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and we were both agreeing it is all a bit tedious. Even though we know it's important. 

I was interested in Ed Miliband's speech yesterday on Labour’s ‘Better Plan for Britain’s Prosperity’. The plan builds on the feedback and ideas that many  in the business community have given Labour and sets out “how the next Labour Government will chart a path to higher productivity in all parts of the economy as the basis of a renewed and inclusive prosperity. Central to Labour’s plan is an understanding that Britain only succeeds when working people succeed.”
And David Cameron spoke recently on the Tory plan for the economy. Clearly both parties are vying for the business vote and both are setting out their alternative visions for the economy. What is striking is how little they both have to say about society and the role of citizens and communities. Although we know Big Society is not a feature of the current 6 Tory themes, last election there was at least a debate on society. At present it’s completely absent. What role social action? What role the third sector in public service reform? What role in building social cohesion through volunteering or promoting giving? 
And yet when you think about it, a prosperous Britain depends on a strong society where there is social cohesion and communities are strengthened through citizens’ social action and volunteering. When society is fragmented there are serious consequences – as we have seen with past riots and social unrest. So business needs to be underpinned by a society that is at ease with itself. The role that our third sector plays in building a strong economy is usually overlooked and yet it is important. 
This is why ACEVO and the Charities Aid Foundation are holding a our 2015 Gathering: The Social Leaders’ Debate. We are challenging the main political parties, as well as those who aim to hold a balance of power, to a hustings to debate their party positions with the third sector. It will be fun. And who knows, it may even be illuminating…

The hustings are at Church House in Westminster, in the evening of Tuesday 24 March. If you fancy coming along, do book your place soon!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Politicising the Charity Commission

It's part of the Sunday morning ritual in Charlbury. I go to the 8am Holy Communion at the Parish Church, then pop up to our friendly newsagents for the morning papers. On this Sunday my pack contained the Sunday Telegraph, as I had heard it might mention the row over the Charity Commission Chair reappointment. I do like the weekend Telegraphs – their news coverage is always rather good even if its tone is true to type – and the travel /reviews etc. are very good. And their assistant editor Philip Johnston is like me an Old Anchorian!

But I digress. Back to the Charity Commission. The recent report of the Independence Panel had some stringent criticisms of the regulator. As they reported , "our concerns about the leadership of the Charity Commission on the independence of the sector have deepened over the last year."

They charge that "the Commission is giving the impression of being politically driven. Its focus seems to be an agenda determined by Government, despite its statutory independence."

This is strong criticism but a view that is now widely shared across our sector. Of course a regulator cannot become too cosy with the sector it regulates. But a regulator following agendas that have little to do with the priorities of that sector or the public, and a lot to do with government politics, is a very dangerous place to be.

That is why I felt it important to raise the issue of the reappointment of the Chair. In his reply to my letter the Cabinet Secretary makes it very clear this was a Ministerial decision by Francis Maude. It is unclear what exactly the civil service advice on this was. The Cabinet Office have a Director of Ethics who I assume was consulted, given this reappointment did not need to happen till after the election. I wonder what she said?

I also noted that there was an appraisal of Mr Shawcross by the Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary Richard Heaton, as required by the OCPA Code. Strange that this appraisal ignored the views of the sector, indeed as far as I know no one (and certainly not me as the charity leaders network head) was asked to input into that appraisal. And given that the NAO had specifically highlighted the blurring of the executive and non executive roles at the Commission I wonder what account was taken of that? It would be useful in the interests of transparency if this appraisal was published.

However the key point here is much broader. It is how we secure an appointment process that is free from political patronage. This role, and indeed the appointment of commissioners, needs to be established free from government.

This will be one of the issues reviewed by the Lord Low Commission on better regulation. We need a new government to urgently review the appointments process and establish it above politics.

If the key task of a Charity Commission is to maintain trust in charities then we need to see an independent regulator. Independent in people's perceptions as well as in reality.

A real test for the Commission is on the horizon. Will they reinforce and support our role as advocates and champions or will they follow yet another government bug bear and try and water down our right to campaign as established by CC9? They have said they will review and somehow I don't think anyone in our sector thinks they plan on strengthening it.

As observers have noted, there was a strange logic in their comments on the Oxfam ‘Perfect Storm’ advert which implied that because someone might think it’s party political campaigning then it could well be. That's a green light to the green ink brigade.