Posts Tagged: Acevo

My day with the vain, corrupt, and unmerged

There was a sense of excitement as the outspoken Sir Tim Smit, the co-founder and executive vice-chair of the Eden Project took to the stage at the Acevo Annual Conference 2014 yesterday. Smit is never backwards about coming forward (appropriate really, since ‘Tim Smit’ is a palindrome), and started his speech/rant – he admitted that he hadn’t really planned what he was going to say – by warning that he was “going to say some very horrible things”. Read more on My day with the vain, corrupt, and unmerged…

Gift Aid reform proposals are expected. What will the outcome be?

Later this week, we’ll see the results of the sector’s two year efforts at Gift Aid reform – a set of proposals which will be given careful consideration by Justine Greening, economic secretary to the Treasury.

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Big society means big change ahead

Lord Wei, the government’s big society guru, weighed in recently with a warning that some charities and social enterprises had become too bureaucratic because they received most of their funding from the state. “They have ended up becoming big charity, not big society,” he said.

This chimes with Conservative arguments in recent years about the “Tescoisation” of charities, and with the party’s often-stated preference for local, community-based organisations. This government does not much like larger charities that get state funding, many of which are contemplating the future with some trepidation.

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, responded by arguing in his lecture last week that “big society requires big charity as well as local charity. Properly speaking, big society means new life being breathed into the state-charity partnership.” He urged the government not to forget that the partnership between the state and the third sector is rooted in our history, has enjoyed cross-party consensus and is crucial to the well-being of society.

As we await the public spending review, it’s hard to predict in any detail what’s going to happen. The government is committed, as was Labour, to making it easier for the sector to bid for public contracts on a level playing field. That’s good in its way, if it actually happens, but public contracts are likely to be fewer and smaller, producing a countervailing effect.

The Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, also told Third Sector recently that the government was keen to open up public services to new providers. But he emphasised that it was interested in “community-based solutions.” That doesn’t sound encouraging for the bigger voluntary organisations.

The most that can be said with certainty is that the state is going to shrink, and with it many parts of the sector that depend on the state. And when such large cuts are made so fast, many babies will go out with the bathwater.

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Large charities win contracts, but how does that square with big society rhetoric?

Are small charities better than big ones? Few questions provoke more ire.

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, says it is a “senseless and divisive argument”.

But the new government seems to be following the path trodden by Iain Duncan Smith five years ago when he contrasted “bureaucratic and risk-averse” big charities with “the instinctive understanding” of small, local groups.

It was noticeable that small groups, rather than the sector monoliths, were invited to Downing Street to discuss the big society last month.

This month, Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said the new Communities First fund would be “super-local, seriously neighbourhood-based and almost microscopically granular”.

I’m not quite sure what he meant but it didn’t sound like an invitation to Cancer Research UK to apply.

Yet charities still face pressure to get bigger and more centralised if they want to tango with the government.

The Alzheimer’s Society is a high profile example. It has tightened control over local offices, which has upset some volunteers but was done to improve accountability and enable the charity to win more contracts from the government.

I interviewed Jeremy Hughes yesterday, who, it was announced this week, is leaving Breakthrough Breast Cancer to become the society’s chief executive. He thinks cancer charities’ model of closer collaboration with government is the way to go if you want to win contracts and influence people.

It’s difficult to argue with that, yet it’s hard to see how it squares with the ‘big society’.

Like it or not, I suspect the size issue will be one of the key themes of the years ahead.

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Six-hour Tory love-in at the Acevo summit

How many ways can you say I love you? That was the dilemma facing members of the shadow Cabinet when they turned out in force yesterday to cosy up to a hundred or so charity delegates at the Conservative Party third sector summit.

Chief executives body Acevo is staging summits with the three main political parties to find out their plans for charities.

This one was held in Millbank, where Labour masterminded its 1997 election victory. Millbank is now the Conservative HQ and, as Acevo chief executive Stephen Bubb pointed out in his welcome speech, home of our dear Charity Commission. This caused some titters.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne got things going by talking about charities running more services. Shadow Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude then criticised Labour’s ‘initiative-itis’, but with a general election probably just seven weeks away delegates could have really done with a few more details.

In the absence of any new policies or initiatives and with six hours to fill, the speakers resorted to ways of saying how inspiring, professional, passionate, innovative and expert charities were.

The last time the Tories were in power, Dolly the Sheep was being cloned and the closest many Conservatives got to the voluntary sector was opening the annual village fete. Who would have thought then that 13 years later the party’s entire top team, bar its leader, would fill a lecture room overlooking the River Thames with humble charity folk?

The Tories have certainly come a long way, but time hung heavy. Engaging is all very well, but at this stage of the electoral cycle something more conclusive is required.

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Fire and brimstone missing at Unite’s mass meeting for charity workers

The mass meeting last night of charity sector workers organised by Unite showcased a side of the Labour Party rarely seen these days.

Labour MPs initially outnumbered charity workers in committee room 11 of the Palace of Westminster, as delegates battled with hordes of tourists and schoolchildren to get through security. The MPs declared themselves only too anxious to be lobbied on the woes of being a charity worker in the era of competitive tendering, while charities minister, former charity worker and Unite member Angela Smith oozed sympathy and concurred with Unite’s assessment that management in the sector needed to pull its socks up and become “more union-friendly”.

Perhaps this friendly, genteel environment accounted for the lack of fire and brimstone from the floor. One delegate from Edinburgh did his best to get the pulse racing by announcing he was “fed up” with cuts in sick pay and pensions, and of being treated as part of a “second-class workforce” by councils.

Another delegate said he was “quite emotional” about his charity’s announcement that unless its workers work four extra hours a week without increased pay the organisation could go under. “A gun is being held to our heads,” he said.

The Government was also accused of being a “disgrace” for pitting legal charities in direct competition with one another “based on price and nothing else”. But such barbs were spread relatively thinly among reasoned and, in some cases, pre-prepared analyses of contracting culture.

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