Monday, 30 September 2013

Speaking Truth to Power.

The phrase trips lightly off the tongue, but how many of us in the sector really stand up when times get tough? This next year will certainly be a test.

It’s been interesting to reflect on the debate over pay and now on the Lobbying Bill and see the balance between heads down and speaking out. We had an interesting ACEVO leadership lunch last week with Roland Rudd, one of the world's top PR experts and founder of Legacy 10. He is a strong charity supporter and has many trustee positions under his belt. He was crystal clear that the sector must be robust and spell out why professional salaries are right and why our voice should be heard.

I warned recently that the climate seems increasingly hostile to charities. I've had a mixed response and that is not unusual in such a diverse sector. Some feel the best approach is to hunker down and not be seen as critical.

I think this is wrong. Of course we have to be balanced. I'm clear no one likes perpetual oppositionists or whingers. So in the same week I strongly condemned Chris Grayling for his speech on "professional campaigning" and attempts to limit judicial review, I also gave him credit for the probation reforms and praised him and MoJ officials for listening to sector concerns and making changes.

But speaking out is a duty. I have no time for the view that you keep quiet publicly and only voice concern behind closed doors. That is a sure way for politicians to walk all over you.

I'm told an interesting story from the Blair years about a discussion on a particular policy announcement. There was a discussion about who needed to be spoken to. Various sector names came up but were discarded on the grounds they never criticise publicly so need not be troubled. A few were earmarked: those that would speak out on an issue where they felt the sector would be harmed. It is a big mistake to think never being critical publicly pays off. You get walked over. Now is the time to stand up and be clear where the dividing lines are. Praise where it is due, but criticism when it is necessary.

An interesting Sunday morning on that subject when I was debating " Big Society" with Nick Hurd on the religious slot at 7am. We were in violent agreement on the animating spirit behind the Big Society concept; that of empowering citizens and communities. And many of the initiatives supported or pioneered by Nick are ones that have helped grow the sector at a time when finances have been a problem. Any government will face the need to cut 25billion form the public finances over the next 2 years. So the challenge for our sector remains grave and voices must be strong. After all "big society" also means big voice. Civil society needs to stand up and be heard. That will require courage at times, but speak up we must.

Anyway, I'm in Manchester for the Tories, or to be more accurate in Salford where my hotel is. But whilst miles out it is near the brilliant Lowry Gallery so I popped in. So here are some rather splendid pictures...

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