Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Yes to Localism!

I disagree with Vince Cable's comments about the Local Government reforms going too far. The localism Bill is a major and historic change in the relationship of Local Government both to communities and to the central State.

Giving Local Councils a power of general competence is a major and important constitutional change.

For the third sector the new rights to challenge and to buy are of huge significance and mark a turning point in relationships between Councils and the sector. It turns on its head the usual relationship of patronage, where power resides in a Town Hall and may be given away if Councillors decide that, to a position where our sector, for the first time, has the right to demand power and be given it, not as patronage but as a right.

I met with Greg Clark MP in the Commons for a very useful and frank discussion of these opportunities and challenges. ACEVO will be working with him and DCLG in making sure this legislation gets onto the statue books. I suspect local Government will be arguing these new rights are not necessary and create more bureaucracy. We will resist any attempt to water this down and we are developing our briefings for MPs for the second reading on January 17th.

We talked particularly about the right to challenge and how this is not limited to only local voluntary organisations. There is a wonderful opportunity here for local and national to work together and ACEVO is going to do work with our members to explore this new potential for partnership.

This will build on work we have done with the Community Alliance, and BASSAC in particular, to exploit joint working in the sector between small and large organisations.

It was good to see Greg. He held the third sector brief in opposition and has a clear understanding of the sector and what we can achieve. He also has a strong grip on his brief and a determination to make lasting change. And as these discussions go we had a good chat about owning dogs, (I have on and he was asking about the challenge of dog owning), the glories of the weather and holiday plans!

I moved from the Commons to the Cabinet Office for a meeting of the Public Service Forum Employers side. This is the first time ACEVO has been asked to join the employers side - a group of the public sector and Local Government employers. We discussed the recent decision to scrap the "two tier code", a good thing as I said, and Government consultations on public service reform and on commissioning.

I notice there has been some criticism in the sector over the short timescale on consultation given for these green papers - responses have to be made by Jan 5th. I don't agree with such criticism. These papers deal with issues that rehearse well known problems and where our views are well developed. So let's get on with it.

ACEVO has a clear view on what members want from commissioning reform and from more diversity in public service provision. We should do, we have been pushing these points for years! So we will not have a problem in getting our response in!

One of the key points for Government that I made at the meeting is to think again about long term contracts. We have argued for ages that contracts should often be 7-10 years. We seem to have settled for three. But if you want to promote opt outs and mutuals then a first time legacy contract needs to be of sufficient length to enable effective capitalisation.

I also argued that transitional leadership training is essential as culture change is crucial for success.

The Public Services Forum is at the end of January when we meet with the Unions. Francis Maude MP (who Chairs) and Oliver Letwin MP will be attending. It may be a sparky meeting, judging by the comments made by Len McCluskey, the new head of Unite. An amazingly ill judged interview in The Guardian.

Some highlights:

"I would argue there is no case for cuts at all"...

"So I hope Ed Miliband is going to continue his welcome course of drawing a line under Labour's Blairite past".

"This is a capitalist crisis"

"There are Labour councillors embarking on union-bashing under cover of cuts, something we won't tolerate"

"While it is easy to dismiss 'general strike now' rhetoric... We have to be preparing for battle" (or in other words, general strike now)

Unite was a once great union, led by giants like Ernest Bevin and Jack Jones. Amazing to reflect that this union is supposed to represent workers in the third sector! It's high time there was a modernisation movement in the unions. Time to look forward to a new settlement for public services, rather than back to 1929. Thank goodness Ed slapped him down.

And after all this heavy policy discussion it was good to relax over an agreeable Thai meal with Loretta Minghella, the new CEO of Christian Aid. Good to have her as a member. It's a charity I have been supporting since youth and she is a charming and talented representative for this great organisation.

Good to donate to them for Christmas. Click here.

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