The Public Services Forum brings together Government, unions and employers. It has been meeting for five years but two years ago it was opened to employers in the private and third sectors, and I have been an enthusiastic member representing the third sector with Liz Atkins from NCVO - we make a powerful team!
Yesterday's meeting was chaired by Tessa Jowell and she arrived breathless from the Olympics site and enthused about how well it was all going. She even suggested the Forum takes a trip there; I enthusiastically endorsed the idea; be a great trip!
We were in reflective mode as we were discussing a report to the Prime Minister on the last five years. ACEVO has played a strong role; for example we presented our report on the links and relationship between the unions and the third sector. Looking forward I suggested that the recession and public spending cuts offer an opportunity for innovation and rethinking how we provide public services. I spoke of the need for more skills training through full time volunteering initiatives. I could not say these points were greeted with cheers from the unions in the room.
However Tessa certainly recognised the need for change and asked me to present ideas on the future for public services in the light of the drive for personalisation.
Continuing reform is the the reality and the unions need to consider how they will react, particularly to a Conservative Government. ACEVO now has a union General Secretary in membership, Community, and we have had good discussions with them on how to pursue a progressive agenda for public services. But most unions regard any change as an attack on their public sector membership; even unions with a growing third sector membership have problems facing up to our role. They retreat behind the " privatisation" jibe which is, frankly quite offensive to my members. But in a changing climate I'm hopeful we can get a better dialogue: as I'm now a member of the McLeod Review on employee engagement's sponsor group with key trade union figures we can develop this.
Lunch is fascinating. Jonathan Lewis and I are meeting Yaron Shavit who runs " Chorum" a big French third sector provider of insurance and health support to employers in the French social economy. He is also behind the set up of CIDES, which is a French capacity building organisation for their third sector. We are discussing scope for developing together and in particular the scope for a European initiative on an EU SocialInvestment Bank. This is hugely exciting. This type of innovative thinking is what the third sector can bring to the development of a healthy citizen focused Europe.
And in between times I managed to order my compost bin for " Clinks". Now my vegetable garden is getting on a surer footing I want to demonstrate my commitment to sustainability in a small way by recomposting waste food, the weeds etc! It looks like my attempts at lettuce have come to nought, as I was told this morning by Jonathan Bland of the CEO of the Social Enterprise Coalition (with whom I was breakfasting), because I had let them go to flower and ruined them. So you live and learn. Still, I had a magnificent Vine delivered on Saturday and it looks stunning against the breeze block shed; and next to my equally gorgeous olive tree (from Tuscany naturally).