Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Noisy leaders and the election

This election campaign may be boring at times, and too policy-light, but its risky to ignore its importance for our country’s future.

I read two excellent blogs this week on the challenge of getting the third sector heard.

Rosamund McCarthy of BWB, writing for Civil Society, made a comprehensive argument for why third sector organisations cannot be ignored in the pre-election debate, for the sake of good, informed politics and for the sake of improving political representation.

And then Andrew Purkis, former CEO, Charity Commissioner and ACEVO member, continued his excellent new blog with some reflections on political activity and the third sector.

Rosamund wrote:

The voice of the voluntary sector has been distinctly muted in this election campaign. The parties get their message across, dutifully amplified by the media, while business figures are regularly asked for their opinions. But charities are largely silent and excluded, all the while patiently awaiting a poll result that will hugely affect their beneficiaries.

Austerity will continue to have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable in society. Disabled people are paying nine times more towards reducing the deficit than the average citizen. The potential repeal of the Human Rights Act by the Conservative Party will affect asylum seekers most of all. The promised £12bn cuts to the welfare budget will transform the lives of thousands of people whom charities exist to serve. For legions of their beneficiaries, nothing is more important than where these cuts will fall. At their heart, charities are about speaking for the powerless, disaffected and vulnerable yet during this election campaign their views are largely silent.

Quite right. Apart from the Greens and the SNP, the major UK parties all promise further spending cuts and the odd tax rise here and there - which affect the poorest and the richest in turn. Their manifestos may well increase demand for the third sector while, perhaps, putting our sources of government funding in further doubt. Yet, despite the prospects for the future, the third sector is too often unable to speak out and give its views.

Business leaders, of course, have been as loud as ever. Rosamund points to a letter from 200 business CEOs in the Telegraph this month, endorsing the Conservative plans for the country:

These corporate chief executives were writing in a personal capacity but the Telegraph and the rest of the media made no secret that they represented companies employing more than half a million people. It’s questionable how relevant that is. Being an employee, customer, or supplier of one of these companies doesn’t remotely signify you endorse the political stance of its chief executive.

Charities speak for millions of beneficiaries, staff, trustees and members. Our expertise on the front line and in policy-making gives us formidable knowledge which informs government policy and public debate. We cannot afford not to continue the clamour for a Free Society, as ACEVO set out in our 2015 Manifesto and as we’ve been pushing for ever since.

Andrew Purkis has worked in detail through the history of charity campaigning regulation in his blog. He is rightly concerned about the Charity Commission’s impending review of CC9, and about the way their recent decisions on cases like the Oxfam ‘Perfect Storm’ campaign have worsened the ‘chilling effect’ we have faced for two years now.

In his words:

… despite a short term pre-election period of relative calm on this front, we find ourselves headed backwards towards the corrosive vagueness and instability of the 1980s. To have relatively clear guidance (CC9) but then confuse and undermine it through imprecise and negative public utterances and supplementary guidance, is poor regulation. This is good neither for the sector not for the reputation of the Charity Commission. The British public, who owe so much to the non-party political activity of charities, including churches, from the Abolition of the Slave Trade onwards, deserve a lot better.

It’s in the belief that third sector regulation can be better that we started our Low Commission on Third Sector Regulation. It’s been taking evidence far and wide, from ACEVO members, regulators and other experts. Its results are out soon after the election. Keep an eye on our policy blog for updates, and I’ll keep you posted too.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Bishop's Manifesto

It’s been striking, in recent years, how often religious groups have led the response to the hardships of austerity. Even in the days of declining church attendance in Britain, groups like the Trussell Trust have galvanised society and led the third sector’s efforts to prevent and alleviate the worst effects of financial crisis.

So how appropriate it is to see my old friend the Rt Rev Dr Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, writing in today’s Times about the new campaign he launches this evening with Tearfund.

Tearfund is a Christian charity - in their words, “Christians passionate about ending poverty”. The Bishop writes:

“Many of today’s global challenges have been brewing for many years and we should have seen them coming. Yet we have made the mistake of concentrating only on short-term issues.
We can reasonably predict that the floods, droughts and storms already ravaging countries and wiping out families will only get worse. For many of the world’s poorest people, those threats are already a daily reality.
We must respond to natural resource constraints by living within our fair share of the world’s environmental limits. We must meet poverty with radical generosity and use our power as citizens and consumers to demand that all people are treated with dignity, wherever they are.
Often, only crises produce real change. But actions taken at moments of crisis depend on the ideas to hand.
We need bigger ideas: a passionate concern for the common good and a fuller life for everyone, whoever they are and wherever they live — both now and in future generations.”

Tonight the Bishop will launch a campaign for a ‘restorative economy’ - ‘based on a movement of people willing to change their own lives so that everyone can share in an equitable global prosperity’.

The campaign is based around the work of ‘ordinary heroes’, people who change their own lives in ‘small but significant’ ways like flying less or consuming fairtrade products. It draws on the Biblical concept of Jubilee - to work to build a rhythm of productivity, rest and community to counter debt and exploitation.

‘Ordinary heroes’ are encouraged to use their own power and to set an example to the community around them. Their actions will combine lay the building blocks for a wider movement, that changes how we think about wealth, prosperity and consumption. 

In times of deep pessimism about the role of religion in society, and when we’re getting almost immune to concerns about religious extremism and its links to terrorists, this sort of campaign is worth everyone’s support. Do read more about it, and join up, here!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Celebrating 50 years and lobbying.....

Did you spot the irony of that full page advert from business leaders supporting the Tory party to win the election?

I wonder whether the Lobbying Act prohibitions against 'non-party organisations and individuals' trying to influence public votes during the election period shouldn't also apply to those 100 company CEOs who released their overtly partisan letter in the Telegraph?  

I suspect many of them have spent far more than the registration threshold on supporting party election campaigning too?  I wonder how much tobacco companies are spending in fighting against plain packaging and who they are supporting?  What would have happened if charity leaders had done the same?  This is yet another instance of the outrage of the Lobbying act and how it doesn't affect Lobbying but does gag charities.  It has had an insidious effect on charity campaigning. There is no doubt that the act has quietening our voice.  This Act has to be repealed and ACEVO will continue its campaign for this after the election.

Hopefully you all had a great Easter.  I was down in Kent with family celebrating the 50th anniversary of the consecration of St Matthews, Wigmore.  I was one of the first to be confirmed in the new church so a double celebration for me.  Some photos from the event. Myself with my mother and father and two sisters Lucy and Sara.

The Bishop of Rochester gave the sermon and I had a long chat with him afterwards about ACEVO and our work, which he had heard a lot about.  He was interested in the whole issue of rehabilitation because he holds the brief for prisons amongst the Bishops.  We will follow up that conversation.

The Bishop of Rochester

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Future directions....

So, it may be future directions for the country in May but it was "Future Directions" for me in Oldham yesterday.  I was there to help launch a brand new social enterprise, a spin out from the NHS, and providing community care and support for people with learning disabilities. It's certainly the future for people with learning disabilities and their families.  And I was delighted to be there to support ACEVO member Paula Braynion who from one minute past midnight became the latest third sector CEO.  Indeed she joins the CEO of English Heritage who has gone from being a quangocrat to a proper fully fledged third sector CEO. English Heritage has also spun out of the public sector to become a charity yesterday.  It's the future direction for the public sector!! Though whether there will be any money around to support them is a moot point as we look to spending plans that envisage large cuts whatever party you support (that's assuming the Greens and SNP don't form a new coalition government!)

Paula had put together a great line up to demonstrate the way they want to work with families and people with learning disabilities.  So we heard directly from them about their experiences of  institutional care and how they thrive in the community, supported by a great new organisation that is people centered at the heart of its values. What I particularly like is that this is a Community Interest Company and the aim is to have the shares vested in the people they support.

Future Directions CIC CEO, Paula Braynion
In my speech I talked about the conclusions of my Winterbourne Report but in particular my top 6 tips for success, beginning with inspirational leadership - and Paula is providing that.  A great mix of charm and determination backed by a clear vision of where she wants to take the organisation.

The others were about:
- Creating changed cultures- not NHS but third sector (innovative, flexible, adaptable, professional but passionate)

- Taking risks for future growth; not hidebound by orders from above

- Grabbing opportunities in the new style NHS where community gets more resources

- Putting people first, not the organisation

Always good to get out of the office to see what members are up to! Against a gloomy background of attacks on our core as charities and potential doom in funding it's a fillip to come and see what a difference we can make.

So let me wish you all a Happy Easter. I'm off to Charlbury for Maundy Thursday Mass and then back down to Wigmore in Kent, where I was born. It's the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the new Parish Church which I remember vividly as it was also the occasion of my Confirmation and First Communion. I was 12 at the time and mother had made me a new suit. I looked very smart and lovely. As you would expect.....

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The old and new - St John's Ambulance

At the heart of trendy Clerkenwell stands the ancient gateway of the Priory of St John. It may be cool now but in Dickens day this was a den of depravity.  The Priory has gone, falling foul of Thomas Cromwell, and the lovely church bombed in the Nazi Blitz. But it is still the home of St John's Ambulance and I was there to see Sue Killen, the CEO and ACEVO member. Great to get a tour of the old parts of the Priory still standing.  The photos show the place off so well and if you fancy getting married in a rather splendid environment - it's available for hire!

Sue Killen and the ancient gateway of the St John's Priory.

One of the great joys of my job is visiting charities - old and new.  Vibrant new social enterprises (I'm on my way to the launch of " Future Directions" in Oldham today), household names and community groups and ancient institutions that have been with us for centuries.

St John's Ambulance is a much loved national institution.  All football fans know of their vital work in enabling matches to be played.  Less well known is the work they do in the NHS in areas where they provide help in assisting 999 calls.  A growing role - they have an increasing role in commissioned delivery for the NHS as well as their core role in first aid.

And all institutions need change.  Sue Killen, their CEO has been there 7 years overseeing a strong change management programme.  Not always easy she says but vital to modernise a service that is as relevant to the 21st century as it was in the 19th.  She has had to turn around loss making activities and secure break even. And she is a striking example of someone who left one of the most senior posts in the civil service to join the third sector.  A move she does not regret!

The work they do is a reminder of the power of charities to harness the skills of paid professional staff with the drive and commitment of trained volunteers.  But volunteers need to be trained to the highest standards and that is not cost free, nor does it come without significant management and supervision.  So many governments have had volunteering initiatives that focus on getting more people to volunteer but forget this is not cost free for charities.  And let's face it, these days there are many issues around effective safeguarding and other controls because as with many members they face not simply regulation from the Charity Commission but from the CQC amongst others.

You can go and visit as there is a museum at the gateway that contains some fascinating artifacts and documents showcasing the fascinating history of St John's Priory and the Ambulance service.

Yet another example of the power of the third sector to do good.  Maybe we might hear a bit about this in the coming election campaign.  We have heard zilch so far.