Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Leaving Manchester

Well , I need to get back to the office! Although by way of Radio 4 where I'm due to do PM on a rather interesting report from NPC which is suggesting a moral index of giving. Don't like the sound of this at all. Who is to be given the impertinent task of determining what is moral or good. And so what is not. Giving is an individual act. If my Great Aunt wishes to give to animal charities(as she does) who am I to tell her not to. See the Guardian report on this here.

But my final act in Manchester was to give my lecture on, " Rediscovering charity; Defining our role with the State" to ACEVO north members. A good session, reflecting on the worries of members about the axe to fall. But also good natured and dynamic, as you expect from sector CEOs.

Yesterday's highlight was, of course , the debut of the former Third Sector Minister as potential PM. A great speech which demonstrated Ed's real qualities as a thoughtful and genuine guy. He could have improved it no end by reflecting on the role of our sector though. A strange omission I thought. He does need to develop a better narrative on the Big Society, so I am suggesting he does this soon.

I spoke about " Big Society or Big State ?" at one of the fringes we jointly organised with the Policy Exchange. The answer to this is obviously neither. Both are essential. The theme of my lecture is all about the historic role of charity working in partnership with the State. If the State withdraws society and the sector do not fill in the gap.

I was at a fringe with AgeUK where they were explaining that probably the hardest to be hit by upcomiing cuts will be the over 75s. A particularly vulnerable group. Social care will be hammered by council and heath cuts. The vital fabric of the sector bodies that try and provide support to this group will be damaged, perhaps some will go to the wall .

I do not see how the Coalition will meet its fairness criteria if this happens. I know members are increasingly fed up with the macho " cuts are essential " talk from Ministers, when no indication of how they will protect the most vulnerable from harm is given . We still have no response from the Chancellor , or Danny Alexander to the letter signed by 370 charity CEOs calling for the fairness test to be applied to cuts.

The basic point is that our sector organisations, small and large, natioanl and local provide essentail support, advice and succour to millions of our most vulnerable or excluded citizens. And Councils are actually targeting our sector. At a dinner for council CEOs I'm told almost to a person they said they are cutting support to the third sector. Sickening and hypocritical.

An example of potential damage comes to me from one of my members, David Fitzpatrick who runs the Hertfordshire Community Foundation who has pointed out the good work of the Grassroots Small Grants Programme. He says " It has been a major success in England. A mere £80m all told, over three years that is!.It has reached the parts other grant programmes have not touched and built capacity right across the board, deep down in what we are all calling Big Society... ahem."

The word is that this programme will not be repeated, post 1 April 2011, but will become a programme focussed solely on the 50 top tier authorities with the worst average Indices of Multiple Deprivation. Fine in theory but wholly missing the fact that places like Hertfordshire (indeed most of the shire counties) have huge major areas of need and deprivation, picked up at so called Super Output Area level but hidden by the county wide averaging. These areas WERE tackled by the Grassroots programme but now will become the ghetto areas they were.

And , as I am reminding colleagues, we face two more " cuts". A rise in VAT and transitional relief going in April. At the very least we need to argue for relief to continue.

But before I become a doom and gloom merchant there are still opportunities for delivery through third sector bodies. Cuts may lead to more service redesign. More use of our citizen focused services. So our case must be, do not damage the fabric of our sector or hit the most vulnerable. Use us to deliver better.

I have a sad confession. I took team ACEVO uut to dinner and then went back to my hotel ; despite invitations to all sorts of events and more opportunities for networking! They, I am glad to say, went onto them instead. Indeed Mr Elsworth did not return to hotel till 3.30 ! That's the spirit!

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